While sharing information is cool and all, I am not a help desk for Word, Office, Excel or a really old demo version of Adobe Acrobat. Also, the key part of DIY design is in the phrase itself. Doing. It. Yourself.

At the risk of coming off like a snooty, unhelpful, elitist, out of touch, uncaring, unfeeling and downright uncooperative designer, I’m going to chime in here with a rant about people’s expectations about their friendly local pixel pusher.

But first, this..

Tools and knowledge.

Let’s say I went to my neighborhood Home Depot and bought myself a screwdriver. A nice shiny one. The guy at the hardware department section was helpful as all get out, showed me differences in screwdrivers that I didn’t know existed. Gave me a break on the price. Even tossed in some free stuff. After checking out, I took my newly acquired screwdriver home.

And proceeded to use it to tear my car transmission apart…

The art of doing it yourself.

A few days ago, I had decided I wanted to do some Do It Yourself mechanic stuff, starting with my 6 speed gear box, which would be weird for me because I know absolutely nothing about transmissions or cars (except where to stick the key in and where to put the gas.) I had however, watched some YouTube videos and clicked on some Twitter links that assured me I could be a Do It Yourself Mechanic with no training whatsoever.

Now, about a day and a half later, I have my transmission in bits all over my garage floor, I don’t know where any of those bits go, don’t know what these bits are called, or how they go back together again. Logic would dictate that I need to contact my mechanic post haste, throw him a few shekels and pray he can undo the righteous catastrophe I found myself sitting in the middle of, cross-legged on my garage floor. But nope, I’m going to call Home Depot, yell at whoever picks up the phone that they sold me a defective screwdriver that doesn’t work, and if they could spend a couple of hours walking me through the process of transmission assembly, that would be great.

Turns out that helpful guy in their hardware department wasn’t helpful at all, sold me a totally non-transmission fixing screwdriver, and while I might’ve been perfectly happy before dismantling my car, I certainly wasn’t happy after the dismantling was done. Especially since I had no idea how to remantle (I know there’s no such word, but there is now) and I was pretty well screwed, because I have to pick my wife up at the mall in about an hour, and if I don’t, she’ll be taking me to divorce court because she hates it when I’m late.

Aaaand, breathe.

Anyone can design stuff.

That’s a completely ludicrous scenario and we can replace the mechanic and car scenario with any profession – be it doctor, accountant, dentist, plumber – and it never gets any less ridiculous. Until we change it to graphic design, and then the scenario becomes not only less ridiculous, but if my experience (I haz a lot) is any indication, very common. It’s a result of software companies (ahem, Microsoft) and business web platforms (ahem, all of them) telling small business owners that they can design professional quality gear using their software without the foggiest notion about graphic design stuff. File formats, color palettes or anything else related to doing design stuff, something which is fundamentally untrue. This attitude often leads to gloriously bad marketing stuff, if our business guys are successful, or frustration and heartbreak if not. Which is apparently always the graphic designer’s fault, because as everyone knows, graphic designers are idiots.

Or something

The conversation.

This has happened to me so many times over the years, I’ve written tons of blog posts, booklets, downloads and whatnot, all in the aims of stopping it from happening at all. That’s the angry client who gets fed up with trying to jam square pegs into round holes (when the square one fits just fine.) or wondering why the pegs (or jpegs in this case) I sent him don’t come with their own holes. And yelling at me because it doesn’t their software doesn’t work the way they want, or the way Microsoft, that YouTube video or the guy on Twitter promised them it would. This blog is getting a little ranty and long in the tooth, so let’s work our way through a typical phone conversation, usually late on a Friday afternoon, the required documents need to be assembled and printed for a trade show on the weekend. The back story is I’ve delivered a full range of file formats – .JPGs, .EPS’s, .AIs, .PNGs and .BMPs – everything and anything that somebody would need to do anything with their logo.

Weeks ago.

Business guy: “Your files are broken.”
Me: “Sorry? What files are you referring to?”
B: “All of them. Except the ones that work.”
M: “How are you having trouble?”
B: “When I insert the .EPS file into Microsoft Word, the color changes and it looks raggedy.”
M: “Yeah, don’t do that. Use the .BMP, .JPG or .PNG and it won’t happen.”
B: “Why?”
M: “It’s a Microsoft thing and it has to do with RGB and CMYK color shifts, and this..”
B: “But when I send the .EPS to my web guy it looks fine on my website. He was able to fix your files.”
M: “He’s not fixing my files. He’s using them as they’re meant to be used. There are two color spaces. One is RGB – that’s websites and phone screens – and the other is..”
B: “I don’t understand any of this gobbledygook.”
M: “I wrote a blog post that explains this and it’s pretty..”
B: “Yeah, I saw that. Too long to read.”
M: “Just use the .BMP and you’ll be fine.”
B: “But it looks all jaggy.”
M: “That could be your monitor, or, are you increasing the size of your image?”
B: “I dunno. Here’s a screen capture of how it looks.”
M: “Okay, you’re increasing the size of the image dramatically. That file is supposed to be used at no more than 100 pixels wide. On your Word document it’s almost 10 times that. What you’re seeing is pixels. Use the bigger one. The one with 1000PX in the file name. That tells you how big it is.”
B: “I don’t know what pixels are.”
M: “They’re the little squares that make up an image on a screen. I wrote a blog..”
B: “Saw that. Too..”
M: “Long. Yeah, I know. Just use the bigger one.”
B: “What about if I want to print business cards?”
M: “Use the .EPS version in the folder labelled PRINT.”
B: “But I want to set up my business card in Word.”
M: “Don’t.”
B: “Why not.”
M: “Because you’ll need to send your printer a high resolution image and none of the files are any good, except maybe the .BMP but that’s still iffy.”
B: “Ah-ha, so your files are no good.”
M: “No. Some aren’t appropriate for printing. Those are the ones in the folder marked WEB AND ELECTRONIC SCREENS. They don’t have enough resolution to print.”
B: “I don’t know what resolution means.”
M: “I wrote a..”
B: “Too..
M: “Long. I know. It doesn’t matter. Microsoft Word is not a publishing program.”
B: “But Microsoft says it is.”
M: “I suggest you take that up with Microsoft.”
B: “No need to get snotty. I’m just asking for help.”
M: “And I’m trying to give it to you.”
B: “I read somewhere than vector files are needed for best possible printing outcomes.”
M: “They are. Just not in Microsoft Word.”
B: “So I can’t import them in?”
M: “You can, but the colors may shift, Word butchers vectors a bit. You can certainly try by inserting the .EPS as an object as opposed to a picture, which is actually supposed to be an image.”
B: “I don’t understand the difference.”
M: “A photograph is made up of pixels..”
B: “I don’t know what pixels are.”
M: “I know.”
B: “No need to be rude. I’m just asking for the one minute lesson on using what files for what.”
M: “That’s a graphic design course, and it takes a little bit longer than a minute.”
B: “You sold me files I can’t use.”
M: “No, I gave you perfect files.”
B: “But what if I want to get something printed at Kinkos.”
M: “Ask Kinkos what they need. Give it to them.”
B: “Why won’t you just tell me? What would you tell other clients who wanted to print stuff at Kinkos.”
M: “I’d tell them not to.”
B: “Why?”
M: “Because it’s not offset printing and the results aren’t great.”
B: “I don’t know what offset printing is.”
M: “I wrote a.. never mind. Just ask them.”
B: “You’re supposed to be an expert in this stuff. Not sounding very expert to me.”
M: “I know file formats. I don’t work for Kinkos.”
B: “So when I open my .EPS in a demo version of Adobe Acrobat it looks okay.”
M: “Acrobat is a professional .PDF publishing application, it handles files just fine.”
B: “So can I set up my presentation in Acrobat?”
M: “You can, but it’s complicated. I haven’t written anything about that.”
B: “Can you just give me the one minute version?”


The realities of do it yourself design.

Here’s the short and skinny on all of this. Even working withing the supposedly business friendly environment of apps like Microsoft Word, you still need to know some basic concepts about files and formats. Microsoft will try and ram things into your documents in ways, and places, that they shouldn’t be rammed. Downside is the results will be less than 100% because it’s using those images in ways that they weren’t supposed to be, mostly to help people who try to use them in the wrong way in the first place. If you don’t have the time or inclination to learn any of this stuff, pass it off to someone who already knows.

Expect to pay for such things as time equates to money.

Here’s the most important part of all this. If you’re trying your hand at Do It Yourself Design, it’s probably to avoid paying a designer to perform said work. It’s a little unreasonable to expect them to spend hours of their time to walk you through design stuff, so that you can avoid paying them to do said design stuff. You wouldn’t expect your mechanic to walk you through the elaborate transmission repair we talked about earlier, so you could avoid paying them for that elaborate transmission repair. Most designers are eager to help clients with the little tweaks and whatnot, and quite happy to share their knowledge with the world, but it’s important to remember what the phrase DIY actually means.

Doing. It. Yourself.