Is Good Enough Good Enough?

tool theme for publishingpioneer

An informal group of 20 creative professionals crawled out of their respective work stations to get a breath of fresh air and dinner. Our leader, Nate Marx,  is one of Chicago’s most revered and classic designers. Whenever I see him, he says something that lingers. This time, he described how when desktop publishing erupted in the mid-80’s, the tolerance for poor typography increased. What was never acceptable such as bad letter spacing, awkward line breaks, or clumsy style choices, became ignored. Similarly, with e-mail, social media, and texting, the desire for good content-crafting can succumb to the expedient.

I’ve experienced the high modularization of design content that I provide for clients (and for my own communications): piece design. Logos. Banners. Mastheads. Ads. Articles. Posts. What I’ve learned about discerning clients is their shift in focus for what matters over crafting. They are very careful about project management, especially in a tight economy. These are practices they employ:

tools of the trade Prioritize budgets and invest where it matters most. Usually this entails a distinguishing logo or publication banner or book cover—what most represents.
For example: Since I am in the idea business, I use a lot of symbolic images, think in series, and scale to venue parameters. My blog about visual collections  shows how the theme for this page translates into series that can be used as a library.
tools of the trade  Rely on templates. We all do. Just like this blog does. Rather than create a template that supports the content, the content is created to support the template structure. Such reversal in thinking also changes the creation process. As one who does it myself, there are pros and cons to either creating or following templates.
For example: In this blog, I use a template. For my website, http://www.lianesebastian.com I evolve my own template. The image library becomes shared by both.
tools of the trade Spend to convert print publications to online delivery. The dependence on PDFs is dangerous. Again, I am guilty—I have an e-book I promote. However, I am quick to point out how the e-book is fast, has a small file size, is fast to read or print, and is ecologically responsible. However, most of my articles are not downloads. Readership studies point to more clicks than downloads.
For example: I’ve enjoyed a much higher readership with my Communication Challenges tips series (a controlled offer to prospective clients) than I expected. If you are not on my list to receive the free “Crafting Consistency” or “Crafting Character,” please contact me lsebast999 (at) aol (dot) com and I will be happy to send the URL.
This is a crusade for me. It drives me nuts to download brochures—big files that I can’t read onscreen and have heavy ink coverage so I won’t run out on my desktop printer. Are these presentations merely tokenistic? Are you okay with wasting time and money on such documents at the expense of readership?
For example: I experiment with PDF formats and how they are read onscreen on my publishing page. http://www.prosperiapublishing.com PDFs have advantages over normal print that can be exploited for onscreen presentation—being sure that your reader sees the content you want them to see and not fly past due to scrolling or eye fatigue.
tools of the trade Craft the home page to every detail but let the new releases flow where fast matters more. Updating is a challenge for all web sites. Content that changes a lot isn’t crafted as much as portions that are more representative. Level of the page, via readership measurement, prioritizes the crafting towards the most visited. The deeper into the site, the rougher the content can be.
For example: I’m not happy with many of the deep pages on my site (most of them older and not often visited); I emphasize the home page, landing pages, offer robust content for the curious, and lead to my portfolio and/or store.
tools of the trade Save through consistency. When all communications use common elements, themes, and styles, not only is readership recognizability raised, it saves from reinventing the wheel with each project. A procedural development system, library maintenance, and standardization of parameters between projects can save a lot but can also stifle creativity or new options if not structured carefully.
For example: Developing visual symbols that are treated similarly allows me to tie together my website, blog, publications, and further my branding. The look and feel of my graphics are intended to be creative, super-simple, easy to maintain, and fun to work on. Not a tech wiz, I prefer to put my efforts into the content itself more than the structure. Thinking modularly saves on how resources are used.

So my answer to this quality question of “Is good enough good enough?”? Where it matters it matters and where it doesn’t it doesn’t. The problem is when communicators don’t know the difference.

This portrayal of successful practices is based on prioritizing. I’ve always drawn the line here: If flaws will affect sales or readership, it is worth perfecting. If it is a detail that can only be found if scrutinizing and doesn’t affect the goal, it is usually worth letting go. Context dictates. I expect some typos in e-mails. Not in articles. I expect some run-on verbiage in blogs but not in newsletters. I expect newsletters to be terse and magazines to be comparative.

There is always expectation. If you are a group of certified surgeons, your professionalism demands crisp structured design. Sloppiness undermines. Whereas for a community arts group, looser parameters and casualness are expected. On a blog, the expectation is an individual personality where charm and warmth matter. In a newsletter, the expectation is to receive timely and relevant content that reflects significant changes and developments. On a website, the expectation is to get information easily, and gain a flavor of the group’s character quickly.

How do you prioritize the development of quality? Do you have a plan for where visual crafting matters and where expedience matters?

Liane Sebastian, illustrator, designer, writer, and publishing pioneer

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