Design and project management for communications projects

Jack of all trades...

Comments about Design, project management and other stuff that I work on.

Stuff about work

Work... what does it all mean?

This is the bloggy bit commenting on work.

Smart publishing

What is Smart publishing? It's a smug term to point out that most publishing is NOT very smart.

Smart publishing is:

Making sure that stuff that actually gets printed is interesting, useful and up to date. Does that mean that it does not matter if stuff online is not useful, out of date and of no use at all? - Well no – it is a recognition that less energy is needed to publish electronically, and that it is easy and energy-efficient to update digitally presented information.

Being responsible about resources used in the publishing process.

Being aware of the carbon footprint of what you are doing. (That includes the digital domain as well as paper and other tangible productes)

Understanding what happens to the paper and stuff used once the product has been consumed, and how it might be messing up the planet

Using your influence and knowledge to make others aware that doing dumb publishing (the usual sort) really is not a good idea, and how they can get smarter.

Smart publishing is not rocket science – anyone serious about the publishing process is going to be passionate about ensuring that content is relevant and engaging for their audience. Apart from making the effort to get up to speed and spending a bit extra on recyled paper, the difficult bit is measuring the carbon footprint – but there are lots of people to provide help with that. Paper is not difficult if you stick to using FSC or make sure that it is recycled. Controlling the quantity printed and keeping the content interesting and useful is far more challenging.

I went to a conference about Smart publishing. A shocking confession came from the head of Penguin Books. She was talking about the steps that Penguin is making towards trying to smarten up. Trying to ensure that warehousing is more energy efficient, stuff like that. Trouble is that the single biggest responsible step that Penguin could take, that of using recycled paper for their book production, she rejects as an irrelevant waste of time, erroneously believing that the energy consumed in recycling paper is more than it takes to create a virgin sheet. I just hope that those people from Greenpeace manage to catch her and explain how very wrong she is about that.

So, all in all, smart publishing is really common sense and taking our responsibilities seriously. Just a pity that we don't always manage to do it.

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I’ve worked at charities a lot. For staff in some charities, the word ‘brand’ is like swearing.

I’ve also had experience with multinational telecoms firms. That’s the other end of the scale. Telecoms people could almost be Moonies when it comes to exhibiting brand behaviours. What charities and telecoms all have in common is that they are staffed by human beings. Because humans are involved in the process of negotiating how a brand is expressed, it gets messy. There are egos. There are emotions. There are always conflicts between people about what should be done. Fascinating.

Finally I’m starting to get it. I think. What is needed most of the time to navigate through the difficult maze of securing approval and sign-off is some face-to-face interaction. Time to ditch the domination by email dictat approach. Replace it with the far more effective charm offensive. It may take more time in the short term, but it is much better for long-term haul.

Internal clients in fundraising are always asking for stuff that does NOT comply with Corporate Identity guidelines. In my role of brand policeman I often end up being the baddy who has to tell them that they can’t have what they want. Keeping the design of communications clean and consistent means constantly rejecting their requests. I've now finally and belatedly started understanding the human mechanics of the rejection process. Simply taking time to consult, allowing the offender to explain their needs and desires, with only the gentlest of hint of a suggestion of what the rationale for the rejection is in return, results in complete happiness and compliance. All these people need is to be given the chance to voice their needs and get their rejection personally.

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Project management software

My first attempts at using software to try and organise work properly were back in the 1990's, using MS Project.

Like most Microsoft products Project is so horrifically clunky to use that it made me feel like my human rights were being violated.

Working at Shelter I used RoboHead (from Aquent). Although certainly not the most expensive solution, it was not cheap. A lot of time was spent developing a workflow system and getting RoboHead configured. I’m not convinced it was the perfect system, but it did help to make things much more efficient. Naturally it also made the lives of the designers a misery, forcing them to record just about all transactions except their visits to the toilet through multiple menus. Still, that's the price of progress. I daresay it won't be long before even toilet visits are logged automatically.

Covert agenda

I now understand that the real value of Project management software is political. Using an automated bureaucratic system makes it harder for people to meddle in the publishing process. This is where a lot of the increase in efficiency comes from. It's like building a big wall and topping it off with razor wire. It has been a slow realisation for me that obfuscation is always the procedure used by elites to protect themselves from the hassle of intervention from the outside... stuff like making an insurance claim is successfully controlled through the use of rigid procedures that only the most determined can deal with. Commiting your procedures to increased mechanisation can help to strengthen boundaries around process. It improves the ability to defend your project against loose cannon stakeholders who threaten work with unscheduled changes.

The holy grail

In terms of PM software, since Robohead I've used Synergist and been exposed of a few other products. I've tried to look at what else is out there (Baas de Baar is a useful starting point). It's hard work trying to evaluate which is really the best, the only real way of finding out if it works well is using the thing long enough to get past the learning curve. In the real world, but the time that has happened it you are too committed to change to another system. The holy grail of course, is PM software that has high levels of Usability, naturally it needs to be cross platform, browser enabled and affordable. Most importantly something which actually works when projects are rescheduled due to scope creep. Software that is intuitive to use, genuinely helps to keep the work process convivial and collaborative, and leads to good products efficiently created needs to be easy to use, needs to have sensible default settings. I am hoping that we are gradually getting there... in a few short years we will all have better tools to work with, and wonder how we could have survived without well constructed software to support and track the work process.

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Graphic design

I've been fascinated with graphic design from before I could read, I used to stare at the cornflakes packet on the table. One day I understood that someone had gone to the trouble of putting all those pictures and bits of writing stuff on the outside. I was mesmerised. It wasn't long after that I started forging banknotes... Check out this link, as an eloquent comment, covering most of the concerns of a graphic designer... there is rather a lot of swearing, but anyone who has been involved in graphic design will recognise each of the situations mentioned.

Links to Smart publishing sites A worldwide organisation dedicated to promoting the sensible use of paper. It is shocking how much energy and pollution is involved in paper production – estimated at 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. A sobering thought if you travel on the tube in London – awash with discarded free newspapers.

Advice on green publishing.

Environmental paper network

Digital vs Print –1:8

‘Even the most generously pragmatic over-estimate of the carbon footprint of computer manufacture and consumption of electricity adds up to a small fraction of the emissions caused by the paper and print industry – somewhere in the region of a ratio of one to eight, in favour of the digital domain.’

Jim Ford, Environmental paper network.
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