Tips, Tricks, Plugins, Apps - Starting a Design Firm

Discussion in 'Mac Apps and Mac App Store' started by Greencardman, Apr 16, 2005.

  1. Greencardman macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2003
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    #1
    Ok, thinking about starting a firm in a few months, thought I'd put this out there. One person's coming from a PC, the other from OS 9.2. Switching to OS 10.3. In the context of being a designer, running a business, using photoshop, illustrator, indesign and quark, and just generally being productive, what tips, tricks, plugins and apps do ya'll use? Any great widgits or apps that allow you to do things better, faster, earier? Any design program plugins that just speed things up, make your work better, or automate stuff? Any business apps allow you to run a business better, interact with clients, etc etc.... If you've got it, I wanna know about it :) (and how it works, where I can get it, and how it made your life better.. :)
    Thanks
     
  2. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2004
    #2
    • Get MS Office for each Mac

    • Get CDFinder with a licence for each Mac (it's cheap and I've found nothing better especially for a network) http://www.cdfinder.de/
    (If it's good enough for these people, http://www.cdfinder.de/praise.html , then I guess it's OK for me)

    • Get a Mac to use purely as a server (our 733mhz QS works fine for 3 designers). Do what it takes to get a large (300gb+) reliable ATA hard-drive in there (e.g. Sonnet Tempo PCI card). Run the OS system from another separate smaller (10-20gb drive).

    Store all your resources on it (Work in Progress folders, Work to Archive folders, logos, fonts, photo-libraries, Excel sheets, contacts, CDfinder database, etc)

    Purchase Dantz Retrospect, a number of additional desktop licences (comes with 2 anyway), an external Lacie HD and run a backup script that backs up all the Users folders on each creatives Mac to the servers internal drive then another script that duplicates that big drive to the external hard-drive. This ensures that you have at least one back-up of all centrally stored data and two back-ups of all work on each creative's Mac. Duplicate that external HD to another once every week or two and take it home. Insurance will cover you for most things but your data integrity is in your own hands.

    • Recommended software: Obviously Adobe CS & Xpress, Suitcase X1 (server maybe), Markzware FlightCheck, MS Office, Stuffit Pro, CDFinder... possibly Filemaker Pro for job tracking etc. 3D software (Carrara, Poser etc), and lastly but not leastly, a decent, sizable and versatile rights-released photo-library (invaluable IMHO)

    Don't worry too much about specialised widgets unless you do a lot of specialised design... packaging, publications etc. (If you are doing lots of publications then some custom import xtensions/plug-ins for Word are very handy)

    • Give some thought to proofing. A decent inkjet & RIP (on a dedicated machine) may be needed plus a fast gutsy A3 B&W laser. A colour calibrator and attention to your colour management is also important.

    • Establish a simple fool-proof for estimating, billing, booking in & tracking jobs and the time spent on them, whether it's in a couple of ledgers or (recommended) a database which is backed up (see Filemaker Pro).

    • Distilling PDFs. Put some time & effort into establishing a consistent reliable work-flow for these. We plan to move all of our distilling with hot folders and flight-checking onto a separate machine so people don't have to worry about the local settings on their own machines.

    • FTP/ISDN. Not much to say here, depends on your clients... could run this from a PC if necessary.

    • Monitors. If space is not an issue, get decent CRTs with hoods. LCDs are still too expensive when you have to buy 4-6 of them and to my mind, still represent poor value when taking all other costs into account. Save your pennies for extra RAM for the Macs etc.

    • Training. Don't ignore this. Money spent here will save money down the line especially for people coming from PCs/OS9 etc.

    • Important! Treat your staff/colleagues well! Have an organised but light-hearted weekly team-meeting just to keep people informed of what's going on and to keep them feeling involved. Have an away-day once a year to discuss future plans, expansion, problems etc. Take 'jollies' once in a while to go to galleries, shows, etc. Keep them inspired, motivated, creative, productive and loyal.
     
  3. _bnkr612 macrumors 6502a

    _bnkr612

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2004
    #3
    Blue Velvet- That was very well written.

    When it comes to budget as well, 2000-2003 dual G4 PM's are a good buy without breaking the bank on new G5. (jam all the ram you can in them too)

    But if you have the flow, get some dual G5's!

    I prefer laCie and mitsubishi CRTs (flat screen anti-glare), they have a higher refresh rate for those eyes.

    Greencardman- I am envious of you starting your own firm, any names or identity yet? Let me know!

    With those PC/Oh-niners, make sure the basics are established for OS X, hands on learning is the best learning.

    The best place to work is a place that encourages humour too!

    Cheers.
     
  4. Greencardman thread starter macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2003
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    #4
    Thanks Blue Velvet

    Got a few questions. Since we won't have much money, and we want to simplify as much as possible, can an agncy function without Office, or Quark. The designer has only used quark, but I really want to switch, one because its cheaper, and two it makes less things to learn in the end, plus then you're on all adobe apps. Not that I want this thread to turn into a adobe-quark discussion. How about office too, if you start to expand an agency, it gets expensive fast. Can pages and Keynote do the trick? Any Excel-like apps out there, or do you just think its not worth the hassle?

    What good apps have you heard about for billing, time sheets, etc. Does filemaker do all this, I thought it was just a database app?

    Plus, we definitely need some education. The designer is coming from a agency running OS 9.2 and Quark 4.1 that refuses to upgrade. I'm coming out of school for something else. Do you think a printer would send someone our way to get us up to speed, spend a few hours with us, if only to make less hassle for them.

    Also, when I wrote the post, I was thinking along the lines of Quark extensions, etc. Now that we won't be stuck in os 9.2 anymore, where has the world come since then. Are there any plug-ins that just do amazing stuff that we're not aware of? Any tiny shareware apps that just make designing easier, quicker, less of a hassle?
     
  5. AppleMatt macrumors 68000

    AppleMatt

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2003
    Location:
    UK
    #5
    Greencard,

    Definitely use 10.4 on your machines, not 10.3 because then you'll be future proofed when application upgrades come along (especially if they utilise CoreImage)

    It really depends on your needs with regards to Office. If you're just producing stationary, cover letters etc virtually anything will do (even a free package).

    Quark has a reputation for being a poor performer on OS X. I have no idea whether this is justified.

    Personally I find doing expenses on a computer frustrating, as you're copying from bits of paper anyway. In my opinion, invest in a very good accounting book(s) and a fireproof safe.

    Finally, this is especially true as one is coming from Windows, get them onto OS X now. Just cheap machines from eBay so they can learn the OS. You don't want the first few weeks of business bogged down with migration problems. Even though OS X is easy to use, I've watched many Windows (and OS 9) users get frustrated with it. When I first switched over with 10.1 I swore blind that I was going back to OS 9.

    AppleMatt
     
  6. Greencardman thread starter macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2003
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    #6
    Well, there i no flow, and likely won't be until we land a client. Thats the hardest part, letting go and free falling, and hope you find something to keep you alive before you run out of rent money.

    So yes, very little money. We'll probably use the computers we have. I have an Dell Insipron 9100 P4 Notebook 512MB Ram (yes, its a huge comp) and the designer has one of the first G4's (umm, it has AGP though). But its got panther, and 700-ish MB of Ram.

    And as much as I hate to admit it, we're probably going to be using illegal software for the first few months of our existence if we decide to go ahead with the plan. We just don't see how its possible not to. But I feel really bad about it, and its definitely going to be one of the things we work on first, even if it is one copy of each program at a time as the bills come in. We're very committed to being legit. Partly because of the environment the designer comes from. As you may suspect, when you're at an agency that's still on OS 9.2 and quark 4.1, there's a lot of other shady stuff going on. Like when they buy new computers, they buy them off E-bay, making sure to look for comps with quark and photoshop already installed. But of course, this causes nothing but headaches, cause when you have a comp go down, you don't have reinstall disks, you can never do a clean install, etc. Somedays the designer spends more time doing tech support than designing.

    I don't want that, and we're gonna work hard to get enough money to be completely safe. Its also just good business, cause you have less hassles with legit software, as opposed to a lot of crashes with illegit versions.

    The thing i was wondering about though, is that in the long run, you're better offf with less programs, cause its cheaper to upgrade, and get trained for, etc. So if you can do without Office, or without Quark, why not go for it, its a $300 difference per computer practically, just between inDesign and Quark. That really adds up in the long run.
     
  7. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2004
    #7
    I would strongly disagree with this. Existing core industry-standard apps work fine on 10.3.4... Tiger is still an unknown quantity and may cause some upsets with existing apps. Although I will buy Tiger soon, I will not risk it at work till I have done a lot of messing with it at home and it's on at least 10.4.3

    Tru-ish. This is my bread and butter app and using it is a frustrating experience, however if you receive Quark files from external sources you're gonna need it.
     
  8. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2004
    #8
    No, you need at least one copy of each IMHO. Third-party people will send you work in these formats. Whether it's graphs, spreadsheets, general copy whatever... say you pick up work from a new client and they've got existing templates to work with... the deadline is tight, what do you do? Do you use the existing work or draw up new master pages & templates? Hmmm...

    Printers will send someone your way but only as a rep to bother you for work... they're not the best people to ask about using apps or switching, but good to consult on repro standards, stock etc.

    A good relationship with a good printer is essential. They can pull your last-minute jobs out of the fire, and can give you preferential treatment at times.
     
  9. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2004
    #9
    Best & essential buy

    Gigabit switch and cables. No waiting for 10mins for a large Photoshop file to come from your colleagues Mac.
     
  10. Greencardman thread starter macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2003
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    #10
    But doesn't pages open word documents, and keynote open powerpoint, and indesign open quark?

    How do Gigabit switches work? You buy a PCI card? How would they work with a PC notebook and a Mac?
     
  11. maya macrumors 68040

    maya

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2004
    Location:
    somewhere between here and there.
    #11
    This is great advice, I would stick with Panther (10.3) for a business till 10.4 is proven and any major bug and kinks are worked out by Apple and 3rd party developers. Since Panther has been here awhile and most of the design application already work with it fine its best to go down this path.

    Tiger at present is great for home users, until the 3rd party app developers and the software you use will take advantage of what Tiger has to offer. Some developers are slower then other and visa versa. :)

    MS Office, Adobe CS, Macromedia Studio MX, Quark is by the most part needed. Some other nifty apps are always welcomed to make the workflow efficient. :)
     
  12. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2004
    #12
    Indesign opens Quark 4 files and lower... not 5, 6 and the upcoming 7 ever since Quark added an encryption to them. :rolleyes:

    A gigabit switch is just like any other ethernet switch, 'cept you need T1000 ports on the computers to use it.

    Much of my previous advice now seems overplayed considering the scale of your startup... :)
     
  13. Greencardman thread starter macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2003
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    #13
    Haha, maybe, but still great advice, thanks :) If I had the money to buy some of this stuff, I'd definitely go for it, but you're right, its going to be a small affair..... at first :)

    What I was kind of getting at, is after being out of the industry for two years, (and a designer being on OS 9.2 is probably considered being out of the industry too), what has changed? Are there any things you really couldn't live without as a designer. I don't mean just upgraded apps, but what are some things you remember spending a lot of time on before, and now they can be done amazingly quickly because of some small app or plugin someone has developed. Whether its for design, running a business, research, etc?
     
  14. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2004
    #14
    • CDFinder
    • ArtDirectors Toolkit
    • Acrobat (now can preview separations and so much more)
    • A vectorising plug-in for Illustrator like Silhouette
    • Don't forget some Pantone specifiers :)
     
  15. Greencardman thread starter macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2003
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    #15
    Ok, got more questions for ya, thansk for all your answers so far.

    Was art directors toolkit supposed to come with panther? I don't think it did. Its one of those apps that appeared in OS X, and I've never even seen it yet, does it do a lot of cool stuff? How do I get it?

    By pantone specifyers do you just meant a swatchbook?

    And what does a vectorizing plug in do for you?

    Thanks for the CDFinder suggestion too. I used Disctracker at my old place of work, but I heard CDFinder was better anyways.
     
  16. zelmo macrumors 603

    zelmo

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2004
    Location:
    Mac since 7.5
    #16
    From the perspective of a commercial printer (and assuming your design work will at least in part be targeted to the printing medium):

    • get a copy of FlightCheck, and use it (there is a light version)
    • always output lasers of the final file, either color or color-separated
    • talk to your print provider about document specifications early in the design process, as they can offer advice on ways to make your design less expensive to produce, and also prepare you for disappointments that result from, for example, an expectation that your client's corporate PMS 287 willl look just great as a process build or that a metallic ink will look great as a halftone on Gilclear stock.
     
  17. Greencardman thread starter macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2003
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    #17
    Yeah, we'll mostly be doing print. What does flightcheck do? We've always just sent a quark file to a printer, with images and fonts, and they do all the rest. You saying we should be doing more? :) haha, we're probaby lazy, but thats the usual way I've seen things done in my town. By the way, as a printer, would you send someone off teach the designers at an agency how to prepare files for printing with you? Or do you just expect people to know stuff.

    Thanks for the advice though. The designer is on top of all the paper/pantone stuff. We're just wondering how to enhance our productivity coming from OS 9.2 to OS 10.3.
     
  18. iPC macrumors 6502

    iPC

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2003
    Location:
    East Windsor, CT
    #18
  19. zelmo macrumors 603

    zelmo

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2004
    Location:
    Mac since 7.5
    #19
    FlightCheck examines the files to make sure everything required to complete the production is provided. Most printers run all incoming files through it to make sure we get all of the fonts, images are proper resolution, check the color spec's, page size, etc. There is a light version for designer's, which I think is around US$150. I'd wager that 30% of the files we receive are incomplete first time through.
    We are always ready to send a technician down to help out a client, or to have a client in to sit with us and provide training or technical assistance. That type of communication really helps cement the relationship.
     
  20. Greencardman thread starter macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2003
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    #20
    So does it save you money? I mean, as a printer, will you give a lower estimate to someone who uses flightcheck as opposed to someone who doesn't. From my experience, its usually just, hey, we need X amount of brochures, and prnter says, we can do that for XXXX amount of dollars, and thats about it. Will it lower the estimate? Or does its real value come in making sure there's no mixup on colors, etc, and the client gets exactly what they ordered. Is this something that will cut out the need for a press check (although I'm not sure I would ever cut out a press check for any reason)? Sorry to be so inquisitive here, I don't mean to come off sounding mean or anything. I'm just wondering what its value is. I've never been at an agency that's used it, actually. Is it something for less experienced designers? If you have your basic quark file collected for output, which collects your fonts and pictures for you, and if they're all high res CMYK's, what does it do for you?
     
  21. zelmo macrumors 603

    zelmo

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2004
    Location:
    Mac since 7.5
    #21
    First, it sounds like you are ahead of many clients in your knowledge. After all, here you are asking questions to make sure you are doing things the most efficient way. Sadly, from my own experience, this is all too rare. Many think that there's no good reason to buy Quark or InDesign when they already have Word.
    There are a few printers I am aware of that will actually give a discount on the prep work when files are submitted cleanly, but most assume the files will be little trouble, and then just charge you more if they turn up problems. Typical issues we charge extra for include adjusting color, retouching images, fixing bad silo's, correcting wrong color spec, and the like. You'd be surprised how many files we get where the job is supposed to be, for example, Black and PMS 215, but the client has some elements spec'd as CMYK or a completely different PMS color, or they have an eps with an embedded RGB image in a job printing as CMYK, or such. Happens all day long. Running an app like FlightCheck, with it's customizable ground controls, willl help you catch these things before your printer charges you extra to deal with them.
    Quark's collect for output script is a great tool. I'd still suggest you load up the fonts and view the job on a 2nd machine, making sure everything is tidy.
     
  22. Greencardman thread starter macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2003
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    #22
    Hey thanks. Yeah, we'll definitely be opening a high end shop. Well, high end as in everything will be done in either quark or indesign (if we learn it, neither of us uses it). We've both experienced that groaning feeling when a person send us their old design or work in pagemaker or word, and says "update this for us" You just groan and say, what century are these people living in." Then again, I guess you can literally say that about us, since the designer is still on 9.2 (wasn't that released last century?). Anyways, we'll be looking to open an agency, not just be two freelances *crosses fingers*. Thanks for all your help guys and girls, I really appreciate it.
     

Share This Page