Graphic Design: What Ails the New Workflow

Quick remedies to the problems plaguing graphic artist’s digital workflow in the age of new media

By Gretchen A. Peck

Never before has the world of graphic arts been so dynamic, so ripe with change and new opportunity. The creations made in our favorite desktop publishing application are no longer bound to the traditional restraints of print.

These days, the work of the graphic artist may appear in virtually any medium—print, broadcast media, Web distribution, CD-ROMs, DVDs, podcasts and more. This expanding world of new media enables the graphic designer greater opportunity for exposure and reach. It prompts the designer to adapt and learn new skills sets. It has also presented new challenges for the creative community, too.

The advent of digital workflow promised “better, faster and cheaper” methods for distributing content, but has it lived up to the expectations? The abolishment of film from the print workflow, in concert with the evolution of e-media, does place some new responsibilities on the graphic artist’s shoulders, according to David Creamer, owner of I.D.E.A.S. Training, the Bonsall, CA-based software training organization.

“It puts a greater burden on the designer to get it right the first time. Certainly, turnaround is quicker and costs are down, but the quick turnaround can create more opportunity for error,” Creamer says.

In fact, Creamer suggests that the number-one challenge for graphic designers these days is staying on top of emerging technologies and learning how to properly prepare digital files for their intended output. Fortunately, PDF—a universally embraced and adaptable file format—simplified output somewhat. Depending on how they’re created, PDFs may be used for everything from print workflow to electronic distribution.

However, Creamer cautions designers against becoming too reliant on new technology. ”PDF is just a format. It can eliminate the problem of missing graphics or fonts, but there is still the issue of garbage in, garbage out.”

Creamer says this is why a designer’s continuing education is so critical these days. “I’m not talking about how to design, but how to create files properly: when to use a spot-color guide, when to use a process-color guide, how much resolution is necessary, how to eliminate transparency issues, how to make PDFs, and so forth.”

Content be nimble, content be quick
In the age of new media, files are expected to fly quickly, but there remains a lot of redundancy in the workflow.

Ideally, Creamer suggests, content would be created once and automatically—through the magic of an XML-enabled database—be reformatted and repurposed to any media.
“However,” he stipulates, “this is very complex to set up.”

Increasingly, graphic designers are finding they’re in a precarious position, poised between Quark, Inc. and Adobe Systems, Inc. There’s no question that Adobe has cut into Quark’s creative market share with the introduction of its Adobe Creative Suite and its cornerstone, Adobe InDesign CS. But even those who have switched over to InDesign find that they still have to deal with plenty of legacy content housed in QuarkXPress documents.

And those who remained loyal to Quark are finding an increasing demand for InDesign files—such as printers who prefer to receive this native application format.

While it may be plausible for some to maintain licenses for both applications, not everyone can afford the added expense. And naturally, the graphic artist will gravitate to one solution over the other until it no longer makes sense to support both applications.

Fortunately, this dilemma may be easily solved with some inexpensive software. “There is a real need for tools that allow you to switch from QuarkXPress to InDesign, and the reverse,” Creamer acknowledges. “Luckily, they happen to be available.”

Markzware, Inc., Santa Ana, CA, for example, professes to have just the fix with its ID2Q (InDesign to QuarkXPress) and Q2ID (QuarkXPress to InDesign) solutions. These inexpensive tools allow designers to bridge the gap between the two applications and provide content in either format on the fly.

The workflow continuum
Once the digital files are created, the graphic artist’s job is far from over. It’s the responsibility of the graphic artist to check the file one final time to make certain it meets all the criteria for a correct output.

“That’s why preflighting solutions like FlightCheck Professional are still needed,” Creamer stresses. A preflight solution will adjudicate the file and verify that the output specifications have been met. In the case of FlightCheck Professional, it’s a tool that will check virtually any type of digital file—native application files produced in QuarkXPress or InDesign, as well as more standardized forms of PDF.

While there may be similar preflight functionality built into the graphic artist’s favorite creative software, Creamer suggests using an independent, third-party tool for an extra line of defense. It will ensure that the creator catches file flaws early in the creative process, rather than in later stages when a mistake could be catastrophic. There could be additional costs to fix the problem, or worse, a blown press schedule or a missed mail date.