Tracking Trends

tools of the trade
People like to think that progress implies improvement. But progress is really a give-and-take proposition: the best solution is not necessarily the one to survive. A simple example is the keyboard design. Though others have designed better arrangements of keys for efficient typing, the traditional configuration dominates because of momentum. Sometimes it takes stepping back to go forward—the ultimate replacing of the keyboard by more efficient input devices. To examine ‘progress’ in publishing is best with the perspective of looking back while looking forward. In the last twenty years:

Tradeoffs in publishing trends:

tools of the trade 1. Project phases are compressed. The biggest phases remain the same; speeding through each is much faster. So escalated schedules are demanded. Although this is attractive to those needing published materials quickly, such compression allows more errors, for there are fewer checkpoints with fewer eyes reviewing each stage. Mistakes cost, so an approval and proofing process is the best protection against oversights.
ACTION TIP: Set up a system for proofreading with at lease four sets of eyes on every important publication.
ALSO SEE: “Is Good Enough Good Enough?”

tools of the trade  2. Disciplines are reduced. The process of creating publications is simplified because the author can wear more hats. The creator has more control and one person can handle more functions. Gone are production roles that were discreet. Consequently, the pressure for greater skill sets increases. Designers or authors (perhaps the same person) have to know everything they did in the past (with the exception of specing type). But now the necessary knowledge-base has doubled through the use of electronic tools. It is always true that the more the creator knows about production, the better scaled the design. Yet in this rush to do more, new specializations can’t help but emerge because one person can’t be good at everything.
ACTION TIP: Choose resources that have a network of disciplines available so that the strengths of each contributor balance.
ALSO SEE: “Sustain Strength”

tools of the trade  3. New niches are created. It has become more imperative with greater competition that each creator know and build upon a focused expertise. Working alone means making hard choices because there are too many disciplines to learn. It means building a network of complementary colleagues to bring in as needed. Team collaboration to produce larger projects is more necessary today as roles overlap. But there is less knowledge about how to integrate various contributions. It takes a big step back to sort through various functions to develop a sound project plan. Monitoring new technical roles stretches management; it is easy to make expensive mistakes on complex unknown processes.
ACTION TIP: Identify strengths of each contributor, make appropriate assignments in a project plan, and get additional supervisory help to monitor.
ALSO SEE: “Priorities to Promote Strengths”

tools of the trade  4. Complex skills escalate. Business has moved beyond the demand of left and right brain distinctions. A third brain is now needed: one that can merge the other two. In the spirit of one person not being able to know or do everything (unlike the past where a designer or publisher served an apprenticeship that enabled a career-long shingle-hanging), a communication professionals’ education is not a clear path. A single expert offering equal quality in both creative and technical services doesn’t exist. Similarly, it has always been rare to find a designer who could illustrate or write with equal excellence. Now, it is rare to find one person who can both design and produce electronically. Yet while new niches are created, there is the equal need of those who can master the overview to integrate the parts.
ACTION TIP: Put complementary teams together where skills overlap but don’t duplicate; set up a communication system of shared information.
ALSO SEE: “Ignite Creative Collaboration”

tools of the trade  5. Audiences have become more demanding. Visitors to websites want freebies. What they will pay for versus expect for free extends the study of buyer psychology. Every group needs to weigh what they give to attract participation and what they sell for revenue generation. The lines between the two have become blurred and careful strategy must lead the viewer to want more. Additionally, the proliferation of information creates more potential viewer confusion. Able to measure visitor behavior to websites has opened opportunities for experimenting and sharpening targets to greater readership.
ACTION TIP: Divide content into modular levels and lead the viewer on a journey, entice them to want to know more and to respond.
ALSO SEE: “Experiment in Publishing”

tools of the trade 6. Editors are more needed—both for the creation as well as the processing of information. Each professional has an unlimited amount of information to keep up with, new skills to develop, background to search for, and processes to evolve. Everyone is overwhelmed, so understanding responsibilities outside of specific project pressures will make working on them much smoother. It is more important to know where to find information than to develop it.
ACTION TIP: Build a personal resource system for go-to sources on each topic specialization.
ALSO SEE: “Impatient for Better Editing”

tools of the trade 7. Challenges converge. Initially, the Internet doubled the work of graphic designers. Then the competition doubled. New opportunities are offset by a difficult economy. Unfortunately, the industry has experienced a glut of new professionals with cyber-stars in their eyes. The number of corporate refugees flooding the freelance market undercuts existing entrepreneurs. The convergence of cyber advances, increase in competition, and a poor economy make uncomfortable bedfellows. These challenges pressure good decision-making more than ever. Internet relationships, when working on publishing projects, need to have face-to-face support. The irony is that to excel online means a foundation in brick-and-mortar relationships.
ACTION TIP: Choose resources through traditional methods to build rapport, make the best matches, and maximize efficiencies.
ALSO SEE: “Conquer Competition”

tools of the trade  8. Communications stand out less. With a proliferation of media choices, authors are heard less. The demand for clarity and consistency in messages grows because of cross-platform applications. Ironically, it is harder than ever to reach people. Spam negates using e-mail for blanket marketing. Traditional direct mail has become more prohibitive with high mailing costs and recipients who ignore stacks of paper in their boxes. Although there is actually less print (more groups publish online and avoid traditional high costs), there are more publications.
ACTION TIP: Prioritize graphics from the top down as a way to build an efficient foundation—begin with a recognizable logo and grow a visual language based on symbolism and consistency.
ALSO SEE: “Creativity with No Time and No Money”

tools of the trade  9. There is less print. The good news is that organizations can save a lot of money and conserve resources by publishing online. The bad news is that the readers have to print, can easily get scroll-fatigue (because most online pubs are not designed to read onscreen), and can easily miss important information. The best of the best understand the difference between media and use the benefits of each in an interlinking strategy. See my blog on campaign strategy.
ACTION TIP: Design online publications for reading onscreen—light ink coverage for printing out, reduce page size to limit scrolling, and use links to extend.
ALSO SEE: “Experiment in Publishing”

tools of the trade  10. Budgets shrink. Nonprofits are particularly hit with the economic crunch. On the one hand, contributions and donations are down by 50%. On the other hand, members need organizations more than ever for education, networking, and job seeking. How associations make the best use of greater demand with less funding creates a shake-out that can help to clean house and determine relevance. Yet in the desperation of survival-mode, many necessary groups won’t withstand the pressure of reduced resources. How budgets are used is a direct line to how an organization grows.
ACTION TIP: Create a three-year plan of graphic rotation so that themes can build, images can be used between projects, and consistency becomes a good investment.
ALSO SEE: “Creativity with No Time and No Money”

At first the Internet seemed to be a world of new horizons and promises. Now that the Honeymoon is over, communication professionals find their desks more littered than ever, their things to do list longer than ever, and their panic of feeling overwhelmed just around the corner. It takes more effort and discipline to resist distractions and time-wasters. So following clear priorities and Action Tips, hopefully, will help clarity and focus.
ALSO SEE: “Maintenance Mastery”

I write a lot about focus. It feels too easy to lose. Each morning, I prioritize my endless Things to Do list, hoping that I will apply my best energies in the right direction. If you have tips for how better to maximize resources, please share them as it can only help all of us simplify and every growing complexity.

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

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