I recently spoke to a senior graphic design class at The University of Dayton (at the request of Kathy Kargle, their instructor) about working & communicating with printers in the real world. What a great opportunity for me to talk to future clients, but I couldn’t help thinking of the bright future that these students have in front of them.

I might be showing my age, but the things that can be accomplished today (especially within the last 5 years) are things we could never imagine doing 10 to 15 years ago. Like what? Well…..color management, laying down heavy solids on a number of different substrates, the speed & quality with which jobs can be done (new presses), the relative ease that we can preform complex prepress operations. The list goes on, and we have not even touched on cross media opportunities that are just opening up…the ability to send different messages and communications to different channels & ways of making print interactive. Just use your imagination!

A quick word about these students….They were great. They listened, they asked questions (intelligent ones), and they really knew what was going on. I felt so excited for them (no, actually I wished I was in their seat), ready to go out into the world of marketing & communications with all these new tools at their fingertips, and the best thing, they know how to use them.

So after we talked about all the cool stuff that they’ll get to do and work on, we started talking about the way the communication process has changed between designer and printer over the years. Way, way back when, the designer would hand us an art-board, full of complex overlays, runyliths and notes. Lots of notes and instructions. If the handwriting was good, and all the notes about 50% this and overprint that, we’d spend some time in the darkroom, even more at the stripping table and then through some kind of magic (that I don’t want to remember) we’d burn a Dylux or Color Key and explain to the customer what it would actually look like (we hoped). Most of the time we did not even know what the printed piece would be used for, we were just so intent on assembling what the designer/client wanted.

Fast forward about a million years…..with today’s software and automated equipment, it seems like we can do anything. Our mindset is changing also. I spend more time with designers and the marketing department trying to understand what the printed piece or the whole campaign is trying to achieve. When your printer or service provider understands what you want to accomplish in the end, its a lot easier for us to make recommendations that could save money, time or even make to project look better. That’s a big change in the dialog from a few years back. As printers capabilities grow and we start having more tools & processes to help marketing departments get their jobs done I expect this dialog to keep growing. From helping to manage databases for mailing, variable data and Purls, to fulfillment, to multiple uses of content, the printing companies that weather the storm will end up with a lot of capabilities. And good dialog with our client will be the key to making projects and campaigns work.

I know this sounds pretty upbeat in the mist of news about the economy, mid term elections, and all the other crap we get thrown at us every day. But spend a little time on a college campus, UD, Sinclair WSU or OSU, and you’ll see a lot of really smart kids doing and studying really smart stuff!