The look on her face told it all. What she saw in the box was not what she expected. “What’s wrong?,” I asked. “Is there a problem?”
“These aren’t the size I expected,” she replied.
I went to get the job jacket for her project. Unfortunately, mistakes are made at printshops. When we mess up, we fix it; but we always want to see what has happened. I pulled the proof she had signed and measured between the crop marks. The dimensions were exactly the same as the finished product.
“I don’t understand,” I told her as I showed her the measurements.
“So that’s what those are for!” she replied, and everything became clear. We had sent a proof with crop marks indicating size, but the customer didn’t know what a crop mark was!
“I still don’t understand how you could have designed it that way,” she continued, “I told the person I spoke with that this piece had to fit in an envelope.”
I pulled out a #10 envelope and showed her that the piece would indeed fit comfortably inside.
“Oh, is that a standard envelope?” she responded. “My envelopes aren’t that size!”
Mistakes are very expensive at printshops. The products we make are useful only to the customer that commissions them. If the customer doesn’t accept the finished product, it becomes trash and a total loss to the printer. There’s really nothing else we can do with it and margins are not nearly so good that we can take a whole lot of total loss.
Because of this, we’re really fanatical about proofs. Everything is spelled out — quantities, colors, paper, and size. But in this case, the customer didn’t understand the way we communicated. In fact, she later admitted that she thought the proof “looked a little funny.” But she didn’t ask a question about it. She just signed it.
There are many methods to virtually assure that something will go wrong with your print job. Here are the first two:
Method 1: Don’t take the time to review the proof
Any good printer has 20 to 30 jobs in process at one time. We have to be pretty good at details, but we cannot track all of the details of all of the jobs at one time. When we proof internally, it’s generally for format. If information is given to us digitally (for example, in a Microsoft Word file) to flow into a document for print, we’re going to assume that you’ve already read through it. We won’t be looking at it very carefully.
We’re also very cautious about changing grammar or punctuation. Punctuation and grammar today are like ethical relativism. Just because it’s wrong to me (or your grammar school English teacher) doesn’t mean that it’s wrong in the customer’s eyes. If you type it that way, we assume that you want it that way; even if Miss Birch (my grammar school English teacher) would say that it’s wrong.
Read the proof carefully. Check things like names, addresses, and phone numbers on business cards. Poor Richard’s law says that the phone number will always be wrong on an unproofed business card. Read backwards for spelling. You’ll be surprised at how the misspelled words will jump out at you.
Method 2: Do lots of proofs and make lots of changes
Editing should really be done long before the printer gets the job, especially if the project is a team effort. Poor Richard’s law says that the more revisions you make, the greater the likelihood that something will be missed.
Proofing is a one person project. Poor Richard’s law says that if two or more are proofing, one will revise the other’s correction. Your printer will not know which version to choose and your project will go into printer’s limbo until we can figure it out. This means sending more proofs and time delays. If it gets too bad, we kind of freeze up like your computer does when you overload it. We may even make you wait until the next morning when the shop is rebooted before we send you another proof.
We really don’t advise calling on the phone. The person you talk to on the phone will rarely be the one who makes the changes to your job and they won’t have your project in front of them. Printshops are busy places. You’ll be throwing another bowling pin at the juggler who is already handling about 12 of them and keeping the plates spinning on the end of the stick, too.
Printers love documentation. Write out your changes and send them by email or fax. Put them all together in one email or fax, not a string of several of them. When the revision comes, make the final small corrections. If we miss or misunderstand something on the revision, then give us a phone call.
Please ask questions. If you don’t understand something, ask. We want to deliver exactly what you want, but this won’t happen if we’re not communicating clearly with one another. Remember that when you sign the proof, you are accepting responsibility for the accuracy of your project. If it “looks funny,” ask about it.
As it turns out, our customer’s cards did fit in the envelopes she intended to use. There was no additional expense or pain for either of us. The wires were still tangled, though, and that’s a losing situation for us. Maybe she’ll read my blog and understand.