An insight into Production Management

3 10 2011

Whether it’s for a wine label, an annual report, a way-finding signage system or a packaging item – the more a designer knows about the production process, the more the boundaries can be pushed and surprises and disappointment eliminated.

– On press check. Quality control for a new wine label.

Production management is an extremely important part of the design process, though an area that is often overlooked.

Regardless if the outcome is to be a printed piece (such as simple brochure or complex custom publication) or a three-dimensional physically constructed item (such as a trail of interpretive signage or single point of sale display) the difference between good production management or not can make or break a project.

The more a designer knows about the production process their project is about to go through the better. Having a basic knowledge of the various printing and construction processes available allows the designer to shape their concept to suit the medium, ensuring they are not being set up for disappointment when the final design is presented to the production company to be produced. Too often it is only at the final production stage that it is discovered that the design is not possible to be reproduced or it needs to be changed in such a way that significantly compromises the original design concept. This unfortunate realisation can cause time, financial and emotional issues for both the designer and their client.

Far from creating barriers to creativity, knowing the capabilities and restrictions of the various printing and construction processes provides realistic parameters for the designer to work within and allows them to select a process and design solution that best fits the clients budget and requirements.

It is important to work closely with production houses from very early in the design process in order to discuss the general intended direction of the project and ensure this meets expectations for budget, time-frames and deliverables. Establishing this dialogue with the printer/manufacturer allows them to get on board with the vision for the project, enabling them to workshop an approach that can be incorporated into the design development phase. Tapping into the decades of specialised production experience operators of production houses possess is a valuable resource for creating trouble-free and outstanding end results for any design project.

Of course, designers by nature will push the boundaries of what can be done by any given production process. Having a good relationship with production suppliers is vital in these situations, as often they will be open to working with the designer to try something new and experiment with the process, discovering new results and new possibilities.

– A hidden rainbow found in the mixing room of a flexo printers.

Some things to consider for printed pieces:

  • Paper stock – Does the stock support the desired visual aesthetic and reinforce the printed design elements? Will it be rigid enough? Has paper grain direction been taken advantage of for structural strength? Will the paper perform well for the intended end use? Will it last as intended? Is it a single use item or will it be required to be reused repeatedly?
  • Colour process – Would spot colour (Pantone) or process (CMYK) best suit visual outcome and budget constraints?
  • Printing process – What press? Would digital, lithographic, flexographic, letterpress or screen-printing best suit the outcome, quantities and budget?
  • Size – Will the physical size restrict the printing processes available?
  • Embellishments – Would embellishments assist functionality or aesthetics? Consider embossing, custom die-cuts, folds and varnishes.
  • Sustainability – Has environmental impact been considered? Is the paper stock recycled/recyclable? Can the item be printed with less colours and vegetable based inks? Can the item be made using less material (eg. by removing a packaging layer or reducing page size etc)? Does the item need to be printed or would it better suit electronic distribution?
  • Quality control – Have blank dummies been ordered? Have proofs been sighted? Have press checks been factored in?

By considering all these questions early on when developing a design concept, and discussing these with the printer, many production issues can be avoided or identified early enough in the process to work out a solution that doesn’t impact on the outcome in a negative way. Sometimes new options will even be uncovered that hadn’t yet been explored.

Similarly, for constructed items such as signage consider the following:

  • Location – Where will the finished item be installed? How does this impact size, position, colour, viewing position? Does the finished item complement and blend in with the surrounding location or does the item need to jump out from the surrounds?
  • Longevity – Is the item to be long lasting? Will the item be out in the weather or positioned indoors? Will the item be subjected to harsh environmental factors such as wind, salt water, full-sun?
  • Materials – Is it a premium product or can cheaper materials be used? Does the material selection match the end use requirements?
  • Sustainability – Can salvaged materials be used? Can materials be recycled after the item is no longer required? Can less material be used?
  • Legibility – Will the item be legible in its intended end state? Consider height, text size, colour contrast and distance from viewer.
  • Safety – Consider non-slip surfaces, removing protruding elements, eliminating sharp corners and ensuring solid foundations.
  • Updating – Can individual elements be updated if they are damaged or require information to be updated? Can the item be easily cleaned if subject to graffiti?
  • Compliance – Does the final installed item comply with council or other building regulations?
  • Transportation – How is the item to be transported from the production house to the site? What impact will this have on budgets? Will the item need to be disassembled and reassembled for transport? Who will take care of this?
  • Quality control – Have test prints been produced? Have material samples and fixtures been sighted and approved? Have technical plan drawings been produced or supplied? Have production checks been scheduled?

The importance of good production management cannot be overlooked as part of the professional designer’s repertoire. Knowledge is built from experience over many years of trial and error and many discussions with production companies. In my personal experience of over 16 years of production managements, things have gone wrong, successes have been had, boundaries have been pushed and much has been learned. I was fortunate to have had the guidance of some very particular design directors early in my career, which set me up to be enquiring, to pay attention to detail, to insist on high quality outcomes from production houses and to be involved in the process. Working with production companies to find solutions when things aren’t working out as expected, rather than battling against them, makes all the difference. In the final stages, attending press and production checks is vital to making last minute adjustments that can make all the difference to the end result.

A great design concept can only be truly realised if expertly carried through the production process to result in an exceptional end product. Do this, and designer, supplier and client all benefit from the results.

Boydsta!

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