Designers: The Ultimate Archive Librarians

I used Microsoft Excel to create a searchable database in order to quickly locate client files in my 300 DVD archive.

I used Microsoft Excel to create a searchable database in order to quickly locate client files in my 300 DVD archive.

One of the first, and most important, things I learned when I entered my career as a designer was the need to keep all the materials I created for each client and project. I also needed to manage that material over time.  When I worked for other agencies, I marveled at how poorly they archived their work.  They were always digging through stuff, trying to find something.  So much time was wasted doing that. 

I vowed that I would do better when I started my own creative agency.

Thankfully, the age of digital began long before I opened my doors and initiated the search for clients, so I had it easy.  Early on, I decided the best archival tools for digital materials was something called the Iomega ZIP-drive--does anyone remember that?  It used removable discs that looked a lot like oversized 3.5 diskettes. I had one ZIP-drive in every workstation, and each drive had 250MB capacity which felt enormous at the time.  We used them for both data storage and for transporting files to vendors, particularly print vendors.

In the early 2000s, writable DVDs, with 4.7GB capacity, came on to the market and we moved away from ZIP-drives which never got beyond 750MB of storage. During that transition, we copied all our data off the ZIP-drives and on to DVDs. Writable DVDs really changed everything for us. Also, at nearly the same time, FTP (file transfer protocol) became available which allowed us to move anything larger than 10MB over the internet to vendors equipped with FTP servers.  This made a huge difference in how we handled our publications work along with those notorious last-minute changes--"quick, change the Pantone color from 468 to 469!"

Today, I still use writable DVDs (standard and Blue-Ray) which brings me to how I manage the massive amount of materials on those DVDs.  The total number of DVDs I have to keep track of is around 300 or so, each containing hundreds of files going back a number of years.  So how do I know where to find something in that proverbial haystack?

From the start, and without input from anyone, I decided to explore the idea of maintaining a searchable database; something similar to SQL, but easier to create, manage and use.  I went to a piece of software I already had: Microsoft Excel.  I simply created a single page spreadsheet containing the following columns, 1) name of client, 2). name of project, 3) metadata of project, 4). date of project, 5) any special attributes, and last 6) DVD number (each of the DVDs has a special tracking number).  I then saved the Excel file as a query database file format.

The searchable spreadsheet, acting as a database, has worked great over the years.  I open it, simply type in a search query and the information I want comes up along with the DVD number.  It is not unusual for an old client or even a vendor to contact me asking for materials several years old.  'Do you have it?' they timidly ask. 'Yes, I answer.' I find it within minutes and happily email it off to them. The really amazing thing is, the Excel database file I use today in Excel 2016 is nearly identical to the very first version of it I made using Office 97-98.

One very important thing I should mention is, each numbered DVD in my archive is duplicated (a backup) which means I actually have over 600 DVDs.  Duplicating or cloning materials has always been important to me.  Each computer workstation has two harddrives on it--the primary C:/ drive which is then cloned over to a second bootable D:/ drive.  Harddrive crashes or viruses never worry me.  Also, do not believe the stories about CDs and DVDs going "bad".  I have never had one go "bad" on me.  It is also a good idea to keep your DVDs in a dark, temperature-controlled space--I do.

In addition to my digital archive, I also maintain an archive of physical items such as printed incentives (cups, cigarette lighters, etc.), imprinted caps and apparel, print materials (brochures, magazines), packaging, wine bottles and just about anything else designed by my firm. I don't send those out to anyone. Clients HAVE asked (some demanded), but the answer is always NO.

Archiving is an art and I personally feel that every designer needs to be proficient at it.

IT Factor--Who Has It and Who Doesn't? My next book

If you have low "It Factor", feeling uncomfortable for little to no reason is common.  We call it "being shy", but I think It Factor is at play here and why "being shy" is impossible to overcome.

If you have low "It Factor", feeling uncomfortable for little to no reason is common.  We call it "being shy", but I think It Factor is at play here and why "being shy" is impossible to overcome.

Have you ever wondered why some people attract the attention of others without even trying, while others go virtually unnoticed through life?

I first noticed this phenomenon in a few virtual reality games I played in the 2002-2010 days.   I saw horribly obnoxious people starting their own groups and in-world clubs and having no trouble attracting members--lots of them.  I even saw those same club leaders verbally and mentally abusing the people who joined their clubs.  Those members would sometimes quit, but almost always came back for more abuse.  I saw that many, many times.

This magnetic draw some people have other others has, in history and literature, gone by many aliases--charisma, charm, magnetic personality, star quality, chemistry, glamour, appeal, attraction...none of those really get to the core of this.

In the real world, I made the same observations that seemed to parallel the virtual reality worlds, and that made me think that I might be on to something real.  I began to discover that this magnetic pull goes far deeper than mere personality or skin-deep charm.  It's even independent of good behavior and attractive appearance.  This ability to lure others into joining and doing anything is almost soul-level deep.

I came up with a name for it.  I call it "It Factor".  And, what exactly is "it"?  I don't know, which is why I call it "it".  The idea of this has galvanized with me so much, I plan on writing a book about it.  In fact, the outline for it is already done and a fair amount of research has also been done.

What's the point in writing a book about this?  I think exposing this phenomenon would help a lot of people who get caught up with certain people and don't know why.  I think writing about 'it factor' would make people more aware of their life choices and also knowing whether or not they, themselves, have 'it factor'.  Perhaps I can eventually come up with a test to determine your 'it factor' level.

If you have low 'it factor', no matter how much you kick and scream, you won't get noticed in life.  Sorry, but that seems to apply to everyone I've noticed with low 'it factor'.  If you have high 'it factor', well, lucky you.  You get things your way without even trying, right?

What are your thoughts?  Pop me a note if you find this interesting.  You may not.  Why?  Because I already know that I have low 'it factor'. I've been mistreated in those online virtual reality games without even trying. 

I've had people hate me who didn't even know me.  THAT'S the power of"It Factor".  One of the first clues of It Factor is if you take a like or a dislike to someone for no logical reason, and this applies even if you haven't even spoken with that person.  Isn’t life weird?

The Relationship is Over, and It Isn't Your Fault

Every designer and design firm has experienced it.  The moment when you know a client is no longer going to remain a client and there is a ‘parting of the ways’.  The reasons are many (maybe infinite), and often the separation is mutual, hopefully polite and without ill feelings on either side.  After all, many times, it’s for the best on both sides.

But not always.  Sometimes the cutoff is abrupt, without much notice and punctuated with some, not-so-pleasant, e-mails.  In the past, I tormented myself over the thankfully rare times this happened, and genuinely puzzled over the why, when and how. 

In one example case, a very long-time (over 20 years) client of mine decided to stop providing me with the necessary updated credit-card information needed to keep his website running.  After two months of begging for that information he finally sent me an email the day before the site was scheduled to go down saying he would not provide that information and he planned on contacting the host site and handling the updated information himself.  A week later the site went down.  My follow-up emails and one phone call to him went unanswered.  Nearly a year later, I received a letter from his lawyer claiming I was at fault for my client’s site going down.  Since I kept copious records, I was able to set the lawyer straight (in a four-page letter) and never heard anything more.  I also suggested he work on his tone—the lawyer’s letter was unnecessarily rude.

My point?  You are not always going to know the how, when and why.  This was five years ago, and I still have no idea why that client did what he did.  It made no sense then, and makes no sense now.  It cost that client plenty.

On the subject of cost, I have finally arrived at the central point of my article.  Sometimes when clients part ways with their designer, they do something REALLY dumb.  They throw out everything the designer did—logos, collateral, signage, etc.-- and start over.  It’s childish.  I had one long-term client (over 8 years) do this even though he had years of equity in his logo, collateral, website, etc.  If I had to guess the value of that equity, I would say it totaled into the tens of thousands of dollars—seriously.  Today, his new logo is one of those mindless “swoopy” blue and green things that we see so much of nowadays.  I have no idea what the new logo cost him, but my feeling is, he paid too much for it.

Sidebar note—I have no idea why that client parted ways either.  One day, he started sending me ultra right-wing politically-charged and highly insulting email messages (he knew my political leanings because we discussed politics from time to time—didn’t seem like a bad thing to do at the time—WRONG, it was).  I replied to his email messages, saying that the emails did not relate to business and he needed to please stop.  He stopped alright.  Late that evening, he sent me a text message on my cellphone that used a long string of colorful language that included something about his uncle and a long stick--yeah, I have no idea either.  I didn’t reply to that and we never talked again.  I put his files in archive and that was that.

I guess my point with this article is, we designers can commiserate together on stuff like this because we sure as heck are not going to stop clients (who we dearly love) from being weird, stupid and childish, especially in these tough economic times (which has a LOT to do with this).  I hated seeing that client take thousands of dollars and chuck that money out the window simply because he was mad at me for some unknown reason—oh, I’m sure he rationalized the heck out of his costly decision. 

This client, rather than seeing his identity as a reflection of him and his business (which it was), instead saw me and therefore had to get rid it.  A parallel I can draw here is, if fans suddenly hate an actor because he did something they disagreed with in his personal life, they will stop watching the movies even if they liked his films.  This is a huge reason I avoid learning anything about the personal lives of celebrities.  If I could go back in time and change my history with that second client, I would have avoided discussing anything not related to work.  Unfortunately, that probably would have only delayed the inevitable.  The cynic in me speaks.

Have a great day. 

What Software Do You Use?

It's early morning and the sun is streaming in brightly through the windows. You are in your office, on the phone, or perhaps trading emails with a potential client about an up-and-coming project that you are hoping they will select you to work on.  All is going well.  They like your online portfolio, they like your resume and they like how you handle yourself conversation-wise.  They're confident that you can do the job.  You take a sip of coffee, lean back in your chair and think "I've got this."

Then, at the last second, "it" happens.  The potential client insists that you must have a certain piece of software in order to do the project.  You don't have it, BUT, you DO have a competing software program that absolutely does the same task.  You have three options: 1). You can be honest and say you don't have that specific program but one that does the same thing, or 2). You can lie and do the job using your preferred program and when the job is done, you hand them a PDF file and an AI file, all neat and tidy. Who's to know?, or 3).  You can go out and spend a gob of money on software just for that project.

Here's my experience with this and let's be honest.  Most clients are are not all that knowledgeable about the software programs we designers use.  They rely completely on some past project and/or designer and how a project was done then.  They think this gives them insight into how something should be done. As a result, they are nearly always inflexible--it's the old axiom, "a little knowledge in the wrong hands can be a dangerous thing".  In their minds, if a designer does not have the EXACT software program expected, said designer WILL NOT get the job--period, regardless of that person's experience and expansive portfolio--that's ignoring a LOT.  It's a bit like saying to a car mechanic, "well I know you've repaired thousands of cars, but you don't use Craftsman tools, so...".

Here's what I've done to swing the occasionally "software insistent" client my way.  Instead of focusing on software programs, I ask them what file formats they, or some production vendor, wants to see from me.  What clients consistently seem unaware of is, graphics programs such as Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw can import and export multitudes of different file formats.  For instance, Corel can import and export AI (Adobe Illustrator) files.  It is not necessary to have Illustrator in order to do that.  Conversely, Illustrator can import CDR (Corel file format). No matter how many times I try to explain the world of import and export filters, clients don't seem to get it.  Those filters are an ENORMOUS feature of graphic design programs that few seem to take notice of. 

I own the latest of everything software-wise:   Microsoft Office 2016, CorelDraw X8, Adobe Creative Suite CS6 and CC, QuarkXPress and Sketchup2017 Pro with Twilight 2.5 rendering engine, CorelCAD (all run on quad-core, i7 Intel chip PCs)--no, I do not have the latest AutoCAD--it's too expensive and CorelCAD does the same thing for a lot less money (SEE TWO IMAGES BELOW).  So in the case of a client wanting CAD files, I ask them what format of DWG or DXF file they want.  I DO NOT ask which CAD program they want me to use.

Can you see any difference between the two?

Can you see any difference between the two?

To my fellow designers, I hope this helps.  If you have not already encountered this road-block, you will at some point in the future.  On a personal note, I think it is unfair of clients to do this to us, and quite frankly, I feel it is not any of their business what tools we use to get the job done.  After all, we are the experts.  If we know the scope of the job and what tools are needed to get the project to the finish line, then clients should let us do our jobs and stop poking around in our toolboxes and worrying about what software we use.

If you have comments or wish to share your experiences with this, let me know.