Designers have more to do than hunt for images and product information. But when their printed and online designs involve complex data, they need tools to stay productive.

Graphic designers have powerful, unprecedented digital asset management solutions at their disposal. Tasks that once took days or weeks now take only minutes. Instead of waiting for specialists to deliver retouched images and typeset copy, a designer can do it all within sophisticated design software.

The more complex a project is, the more likely it is that something will be missed.

It’s a mixed blessing—especially in high-volume, product-intensive design projects. Think about catalogs or retail flyers with versions customized for multi-location retailers. Just because you can create infinite versions of a complicated piece doesn’t mean you have the resources to do so. The more complex a project is, and the more product and price variations each version requires, the more likely it is something will be missed creating more versioning reviews for marketing departments.

The High Cost of Data Handling

For B2B and B2C graphic designers, print and digital promotions very often involve products. Each piece features not only high-quality picture(s) but also descriptions, reviews, sizes, colors, pricing, and/or promotion details.

With so much information to juggle, there’s a real risk of turning talented designers into data-entry operators.

Now, multiply that by the number of products per page, the number of pages, the frequency of each promotion, and the number of local variations. With so much information to juggle, there’s a real risk of turning talented designers into data-entry operators. Hiring more designers is seldom cost-effective, especially if they don’t have enough time to design! It’s an endless cycle.

Just developing and finding images also consumes a percentage of a designer’s time. One study found that designers can spend 20 to 30 percent of their day looking for the right images—or the right versions—to use in a layout.

Cost of labor is only one factor. Data selection errors—the wrong image or price for one of many versions of a catalog, for example—can result in reprints, refunds, and even legal liability. Not only do designers have less time to design, they are increasingly prone to costly mistakes.

Real Automation to the Rescue

In the early days of desktop design, product and marketing information was available from many sources—often random and disorganized. The rise of Digital Asset Management (DAM) and Product Information Management (PIM) systems began to slowly change that. Designers still had to frequently search online databases and hope that they have the most up-to-date data.

Additionally, product information is very often a collection of related data from multiple sources. Making sure that every detail was correct—and current—was time-consuming, prone to errors, and left production racing to meet go-to-market deadlines.

Fortunately, real process automation between multiple data sources and the designers toolkit is now possible, also outlined in our Modern Day Hunting and Gathering blog covering the power of the LAGO plugin for Adobe InDesign. Using a collaborative workflow, marketing managers can pre-populate an InDesign template with all the required PIM and DAM data, leaving the designer free to design and produce multiple versions of a piece.

Creativity Within Constraints

A templated design workflow may seem like a contradiction in terms, but it’s not. With fewer hours chasing and entering data—and hoping it is accurate data—designers can focus on making the piece attractive and compelling.

There are also important design decisions that cannot be automated. In fact, they are made easier because of automation. In the LAGO example, a template may contain a “block” of related data for a particular product, including more than one image for that product. In that case, the selection of just the right image, including color, orientation, and composition, requires a designer’s eye. Since the designer is not overburdened with chasing data details, they are freed up to focus on decisions affecting quality and messaging.

Because data selection is not a laborious guessing process, designers are free to produce multiple versions of the original, high-quality piece.

While automation can make the designer’s life easier and more productive, it can never replace their innate and valuable talent.

It’s All About Communication

Whether the final medium is in print or on screen, the message always requires the skills of a visual communicator.

Since the first cave paintings, designers have sought ways to communicate important ideas visually. Technology has enabled them to do so to a mass audience and, more recently, in a way that relates to each individual. Today, complex data are more relevant than ever. But whether the final medium is in print or on screen, the message always requires the skills of a visual communicator.

Using advanced systems like LAGO’s production capabilities to wrangle the data simply lets the designer focus on the skills that make their communication effective.