How Do We Fix the “Lack of Designer Training” Issue?

By | June 27, 2014

I’ve been blogging a lot lately about misperceptions by designers and marketers about the capabilities of digital presses or how to optimize a file for output on a digital (as opposed to offset) press.

Some may have no understanding of the differences between digital and offset because they’ve never had production training. For others, their first experience may be with a specific presses years ago, and so they are using that experience as the yardstick for all of their decisions after that. They may not understand the different classes of presses, and in their minds, make no distinction between a small-footprint production press and an Oce ColorStream 10000 except in volume and speed.

Last month, I asked whether printers were missing an opportunity to educate designers on these issues and got some very interesting responses.  Here is a condensed selection of the comments to that post:

My research indicates that the creative world has an incorrect understanding of print, printing and related verticals. Not only from the application side but from the impact printing, print, etc., have on the results of the creative and design effort. Just about half of those surveyed want to learn more, beyond techniques. What was more surprising is that just more than half of the creative or print managers did not want their design teams to be fluent in print since they felt it opens the door to creativity that is not affordable, complicates their jobs, and in the end transfers too much control to the creative. — Thad Kubis

When I was doing a full time print technology and management course in the late 1970s, our college department also ran Design for Print courses for creatives. Those are long gone, and the old print colleges in the UK are mostly now “media departments,” for which read “web and video courses.” It’s a pity because new print technologies are broadening the creative and marketing scope of printing tremendously. Sadly printers are notoriously bad at self-marketing, while the creative [and] design magazines seem to consider print as passé or at best a novelty item. Real-world examples of the exciting potential of today’s latest print processes just aren’t being transmitted to today’s new designers. — Simon Eccles

Most involved with print projects from inexperienced designers experience firsthand the lack of actual print production education in design schools. The question is then, what should the print industry’s role be in helping to resolve this issue? If the design schools do not provide this form of education, then who? There are very few resources available (and I will give kudos to book projects like “Real World Print Production for Adobe Creative Cloud”) for the young graduate designer to learn about bleeds and resolution and such print-specific instruction. There are even fewer resources of this type online, where a young designer really spends the bulk of their time. In the end, these young designers will work with what they enjoy and understand. It only behooves the print industry to ensure that the resources designers need for print-specific design are made available to them. — vkellie

I’m fortunate enough to have transitioned from the pressroom (five years as lead pressman) to prepress and then a designer, so I’m speaking from that background. As a pressman, I was furious, the way pressmen can be sometimes, at prep for giving me jobs arranged on the sheet in such a way that I would then fight ghosting or hickies all day. So I started to work in prep, because I wanted to help fix the problem. That’s when I found out how difficult the job can be when designers send their junked up files. Then I became a designer (which is what I really wanted anyway) and determined that I would never commit the sins designers don’t seem to realize they commit. The answer to the problem is that designers need to care enough about their work that they seek out places like Digital Nirvana. PrintWiki,, etc. If they want their designs to reproduce properly, they should know about these resources. After all, if they design for screens, they’re all over the blogs and podcasts that cover that medium, right? — Joel Powers

Advanced Color Graphics does a company tour and Q&A for the visual communications design class at Penn State every year. The students are in general genuinely interested in the production – paper, press and bindery – more so than the prepress file aspect. I think that given the opportunity and seeing real-world work, most young designers would at least seek out a printer as a resource before taking on a print project. Maybe we should create virtual tours on our print websites. — Patti Worden

Having taught in a technical college setting for 11 years, there is no mistaking that design students who also learn printing techniques and theory are better designers and more successful long term. I have seen it over the years, and knowledge of print is not only needed for great design, it’s needed for great print as well. Sadly, many students just don’t understand the need to learn about print regardless of their focus. I’m a creative professional with 25+ years of print experience, and that knowledge pays off EVERY day in my work. I do my best to teach the new design students coming up the importance of print and to their career. I’m just one person, but hopefully we can turn this concept around and bring print back as a skill that designers have. — Craig Bower

Click here to read full comments.

What do you think of Patti’s comment? Should more printers be creating virtual tours on their websites? How about YouTube videos of specific on-press issues? (“If you do this, then this shows up on press . . . “) Free instruction for new clients?

What do YOU think would work?


Share this post


6 thoughts on “How Do We Fix the “Lack of Designer Training” Issue?

  1. vkellie

    Patti is certainly on the right track, videos are a great resource for young designers…what’s equally important is that instructive information is easily available, placed where young designers may look, or even happen upon that instruction…, or even a dedicated site as well, great ideas.

  2. Roger Albert

    Really appreciate Joel Powers comments, having “backtracked” all the way from pressman to designer. Well stated.
    As a digital printer with two Indigos, I’ve reached out to the local colleges and offered tours & Q&A sessions – and I’ve teamed up with a designer who has a good understanding of both Adobe CS software and Indigo press requirements.
    I think this will remain an ongoing opportunity for academics, print professionals and informed design/art director professionals to collaborate in the education of future generations.

  3. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Do you think basic printed / PDF educational pieces (such as white papers) can cover some of the basics and would be useful? Or are the issues too project-dependent to do any kind of useful generalization in a single piece? I’m just surprised that I don’t see more “designing for digital” white papers around.

  4. Chris Lynn

    Many years ago, I did a consulting project for a major NY ad agency that had its own pre-press shop. The project was to identify pre-press workflow improvements, but my main recommendation was to hold a series of ‘lunch & learn’ sessions for the creative teams, to reduce the amount of re-work that had to be done on the “print-ready” jobs sent for production. The VP responsible declined this advice, telling me: “Ya gotta understand, creatives don’t give a s*** about production”. I suggested that this was like architects not giving a s*** about construction, but he was unmoved, and the pre-press group was shut down shortly afterwards.
    So the lack of print education by design schools is not a new phenomenon, and unfortunately the emphasis on video and internet design means it’s unlikely to improve. White papers and industry out-reach are palliatives, but the root of the issue is in the content of the design courses required to be qualified as a designer.

  5. Dan Bender

    Seems we all share common frustrations. I DO think it’s incumbent on us in the trade to bring ‘creatives’ along, especially since the institutions of higher learning are infused with more theoretical types than hands-on, marketplace designers. It’s an exercise in hand-holding to be sure, and of course egos on both sides of the equation will be in play. Still, continuing education is the only way to solve the problem. The situation is also critical with customers who are not designers (but think they are) and informing their naive level of understanding. Both these providers of supplied files need education and both need different approaches to inform them of expectations. It’s pretty much equal parts PR and technical instruction. Let’s continue to share “best practice” solutions.

Comments are closed.