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Developing a Graphic Design Workflow

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In graphic design, a workflow comprises all the necessary steps that have to happen for a particular job to be completed. This chapter provides tips for creating the most efficient graphic design workflow possible.
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If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing.
W. Edwards Deming

What Is a Workflow?

A workflow is a process of how something gets done. It's a map that gets you from point A to point B. In other words, it's the roadmap for a project. In most cases, there are several ways to get to where you're going. Some ways might have more traffic, others nice scenery—but they all basically get you to your destination. In the business world, though, you want to get to your destination in the shortest amount of time, using the least amount of gas, and having a bit of fun at the same time—which makes your job rewarding, successful, and, most important, profitable.

In graphic design, a workflow comprises all the necessary steps that have to happen for a particular job to be completed. Obviously, whatever your final result is supposed to be is going to determine what the workflow is. If you're designing a piece that will be output to the Web, it's going to a have a different workflow, or process, than a project that will end up on a printing press.

Right off the bat, it's important to realize that every workflow is different—mostly, of course, because every project has different goals, but also because there is usually more than just one way to accomplish a task. Workflows are also affected by factors you might not necessarily think about. For example, if you're a designer who is putting together a newspaper, you might be incorporating some photographs into your layout that came from prints from your local photographer. Another paper might have overseas photographers who need to submit their images digitally.

More so, there are organizations or design firms that handle nearly all the aspects of a project, and there are designers who may work on only one portion of a project. Some firms offer services from concept all the way through design. Some people are just photographers. Even so, photographers who understand the entire workflow not only can provide better services to their clients, but also can be more efficient and avoid having to redo work later in the process.

Traditionally, one was required to possess and learn several software tools, each one working differently. A tremendous amount of work was required to make sure that all of these tools worked together in some useful way. And maintaining them was challenging (to say the least), because each of the tools had different upgrade cycles, causing constant workflow changes.

What is unique about the Adobe Creative Suite is that it provides all the tools necessary for a design workflow. Because of the integration between the applications in the Suite, it's easy to move your project along each step of the process. And because these applications all work in the same way, you don't have to tear your hair out learning about all kinds of programs to get your work done. Most important, Adobe has aligned each of the products in the Suite to release at the same time, making it easier to develop a workflow and maintain it.

NOTE

The workflows you'll find here are guidelines to give you a better idea of how the applications work together, and what the process might be for different kinds of projects. They will work in a majority of cases; however, specialized tasks or functions might require a modified workflow. By all means, feel free to customize and expand on the workflows mentioned here to achieve just the workflow required for your particular needs.

As you read through the rest of this chapter, you may feel the urge to skip particular areas because they don't pertain to the kinds of things you are doing today. For example, you may skip anything related to the Web because you work primarily in print-related materials. My advice (if you're willing to take it) is to at least get a basic understanding of other workflows because you never know what might come your way. This way, if you end up getting an opportunity to do such work—even if you're going to outsource it—you'll have a complete understanding of the process and what needs to happen. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard someone say, "I lost so much money because I told them I could do it, but I had no idea how much work was involved...," I'd have enough money for one of those speedy G5 computers (and an iPod, of course).

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