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Sponsored By Mingo Press

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote this, legend has it, as he was ploughing a field and accidentally disturbed a mouse nest. We all know its meaning: you can plan carefully for everything, but the randomness of life can disrupt anything. Granted, knowing his reputation, Burns was probably drunk and ploughing under the influence (PUI?), but the sentiment remains a potent reminder that forces outside our control can disrupt even our “best laid plans.”

You designers always want to control things; it’s in your nature. You’re focused, meticulous, exacting. This is your work, after all, your art. And you’ve gotta make on-the-fly decisions about everything from typography to printing method to paper type.

“Other people may see a straight line, but a great designer sees that microscopic curve in the middle,” writes Igor Ovsyannykov in “7 Personality Traits of a Great Designer.”

“Where others see perfect balance, a great designer notices that 0.005-millimeter difference between the margin to the left and the one to the right. This is what makes great designers come up with unbelievable results—the eye for detail that gives them the ability to see things that regular people will not be able to catch in a million years.”

True as this is, Murphy’s Law (the most annoying of all the Laws) is always just around the corner, creepin’ on you and just itching to disrupt your day with those “Oh $--#!” moments. When a drunk poet ploughs the roof of your home clean off, what do you do?

Imagine: It’s Friday, you’ve put the finishing touches on that monster project that’s been eating your lunch for the last month, you’ve justgotten approval from the client, and happy hour is calling your name. The file is ready to go to Mingo. You hit submit…

And five minutes later your client calls requesting to nix the gold foil and change the paper to 20# bond.

Or the client calls to say that you need to change the print order from 5,000 to 10,000.

Or maybe the mistake is in the copy. Perhaps you spot too late that the copywriter confused “complement” with “compliment.”

Or perhaps, heaven forbid, you made a mistake. I know, I know—just suspend disbelief and humor me for a sec: Did you forget to include the die-cut specifications? Did you accidentally select the wrong paper coating? Did you spot an inconsistent alignment in page numbers?

These mistakes and curveballs happen all the time; we’ve seen it firsthand. Fortunately, many of these FUBAR moments can be avoided through anticipation, planning and good habits. Here are five quick tips to help safeguard against mistakes that can lead to missed deadlines, migraines and unnecessary freak-outs.

1.    Slow down. A professional designer is often challenged to work extremely quickly in the face of multiple projects and short deadlines. The pesky truth is that there will never be enough time, but it’s important to resist falling into a “turn-and-burn” mindset in which you sacrifice thoughtfulness for fast completion. As much as possible, try to hit the brakes, pace yourself, and avoid treating creative work like a task to be checked off a to-do list.

2.    Communicate with your team. Are you and the project manager on the same page? Do you and the copywriter have a strategy for how your design and their copy will complement each other? The more your team communicates during the creative process, the better the final product will be.

3.    Copy and paste, fact-check, spellcheck. A friend who works in advertising recently told me about a time in the ’90s when she oversaw the brand redesign for a cable company. She and her team worked extremely hard on a killer ad campaign to introduce the new look and feel of the company, and they were all very proud of the outcome. One of their anchor media buys was a two-page print ad in a major magazine. The problem? The morning the magazine hit stands, the team realized with horror that the 800-number listed in the ad for new subscribers was incorrect, off by a single digit.

Paging Dr. Murphy.

Never assume the copy has been properly vetted. When you receive the copy doc, copy-and-paste it into your design project to avoid introducing errors, and for god’s sake, double-check every phone number, email address and URL for accuracy. Spellcheck is your best friend. Get to know it.

4.    Remember context is key. Actually, context is everything. When executing a creative task, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees: you’re so focused on what’s right for the current job, you fall into a vacuum and forget to consider how the project fits into the larger campaign strategy. (Are you inadvertently repeating your past work?) Or you forget your audience. (Are you using an urban sensibility to appeal to a rural audience?) Take time to think about the big picture.

5.    Read your client’s tea leaves. Has your client contact been hard to reach? When you do manage to get them on the phone, do they speak in panicky, hurried tones? If they seem overwhelmed, there’s a good chance they’re not paying close attention to your work, and self-policing is that much more important. Don’t assume that just because your client approved the copy they also fact-checked it. Don’t assume that just because they approved your new logo design, they’re not going to ask you to overhaul it at the 11th hour. Set early deadlines for yourself in case they change their mind on the color scheme or typography. Communicate with them as much as possible, even if you don’t hear back right away.

Keep these tips in mind; I promise, they’ll help.

Still, best-laid plans, right? This is where resiliency and collaboration comes in. A designer has to adapt quickly to setbacks, improvise when necessary, and always keep a cool head.

It helps tremendously when your collaborators are equally committed—and adaptable.

At Mingo Press, we’ve worked hard to cultivate relationships with designers, to provide support, stability and flexibility when life intervenes—without sacrificing speed.

For us, that flexibility means accepting projects for print in pretty much any file type.

It means never printing a project until we receive final approval of the proof.

It means not charging rush fees for fast turnaround or penalizing for re-sent files.

And it means staying in tune with the unique needs of each designer and project, avoiding the one-size-fits-all, turn-and-burn mentality that can lead to mistakes.

As technology continues to evolve at a mega-fast rate, all you creatives must straddle the line between tradition and progress, between digital and offset printing, between computer and hand-drawn illustrations. I feel for you; designers and printers alike must keep up with the increasingly break-neck pace of change in our industry, and if we’re going to succeed we gotta work together. 

Like Burns’s poor mice, you can plan all day, but $#%t is still going to happen. Be ready!

Amy Gravley Witkowski is account director at Mingo Press, and a printing buff. She routinely geeks out on Gutenberg, G7 System Certification, and the Gravley family heritage of quality printing that goes back more than 50 years. She’s super pumped about this latest development in digital printing at Mingo Press.


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