Soft-proofing is the ability to simulate a proof on your monitor, before outputting the image to a device such as a printer. This critical step in the printing process requires the right software to meet the soft-proofing needs of your internal and external users.
Due diligence during the evaluation process will help ensure you are choosing the right solution for your organization.
RRD is proud to have many industry experts in this area who have assembled five tips for choosing and implementing the best soft-proofing solution — useful information for novices and veterans alike.
1. Develop a clear decision-making process
Before you begin any project, set yourself up for success by defining your expectations and benchmarks for success. Draw up a plan that will allow you to track your decision-making process. Skipping steps or “winging it” is a surefire way to create headaches down the line.
Questions to consider:
- Will this solution meet all of our requirements? Meet with your creative teams and reviewers to define and prioritize your requirements Once you have created a list, tick off all of the requirements that the solution meets. Consider reviewing a demo of the software, looking at the provider's website, requesting a trial from a potential vendor, or even giving your list to the provider to mark it off for you.
- Is it best in breed? Compare the software to others that compete in the same space. Look at research reports, reviews, and online community chatter. Make sure your selection is the best for you and your users. Don't settle.
- Does it have industry recognition? Check the provider's website for any awards recently earned. Are they from a recognized, independent, industry association?
- Has the vendor established success over a long period of time? Going with a new solution that isn't being used by many other companies means you will likely be the one finding the issues and waiting for the important fixes. That’s why it's important that your selection has been used by a wide community, successfully, for a long time. Asking to speak with some of their existing users will also help you to learn about the good and bad before you proceed.
2. Understand your approval processes
Your newly upgraded system is an opportunity to revise, review, and refine your own internal processes: Where are the product hand-offs? Who handles the client interaction and to where do they pass on next? Which departments are involved at each step, and when do they step in?
If you don’t understand every step of your own internal system, your investment in technology is at risk.
- Take the time to refine and streamline your workflows before implementing them in your soft-proofing solution. No solution, no matter how advanced or impressive, will fix existing problems. Before you set up your workflows in any new soft-proofing solution, make sure they’re working properly first. You may find that everything is working fine and you are ready to move forward. However, you may find that there is room for improvement. By assuming that the new soft-proofing solution is the answer to your existing problems, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment.
- Define deadlines and which users or groups are part of each step. Clarify roles and responsibilities. For example, does someone need to review legal guidelines or nutritional information? Be clear about expectations. Don’t assume anything.
- Determine who has ownership and final approval for each process. In other words, don’t make these decisions independently. Communicate each decision, or delegate decisions publicly. As a result, all stakeholders will be aware and accountable.
- Translate predefined process maps into workflow templates to ensure consistency. Everyone is going to have a different perspective on how the new process should work, and will likely offer different goals and suggestions. Nip this problem in the bud by giving everyone identical process maps so there is no confusion once work begins.
3. Achieve user acceptance
End users will naturally be reluctant to accept any changes in their existing process. Be sure to explain the benefits of the decisions you are making, and show them how it will improve their experience. User buy-in is key for overall success.
- Research and fully understand your user’s needs. Questions to consider: How will this new software improve your user's current soft-proofing process? What needs are you actually fulfilling for your users? Understanding the precise benefits of soft-proofing will enable you to make clearer decisions about which solution to implement into your process.
- Follow a detailed project plan for implementation. Team members will naturally get excited about the opportunities and possibilities that new technology will bring. They will want to impress clients and competitors with new capabilities, but doing so could detract from the original rationalefor the new software. After implementation is completed, then you can begin to branch out into new areas.
- Define project milestones and acceptance criteria. As the saying goes, you don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. Just like every other area of your business, you need to measure performance during the implementation of a new soft-proofing solution to demonstrate that you are on track to meet the original goals.
- Gain buy-in from all levels at the user. Proper soft-proofing benefits both internal and external users. Gaining buy-in shows users and their managers that upper management is dictating this change — a legitimate incentive. Buy-in allows everyone to feel comfortable with the process and the product.
4. Supply training and support materials
While you may have a great team of experienced industry professionals, a new tool is always going to entail a learning curve. Don’t assume your team can learn on-the-job skills quickly. Give them the support and the time they need to learn in order to reduce frustration and improve job satisfaction.
- Distribute quickstart guides to all users for reference. Give your team the tools to be successful and allow them to do good work. A quickstart guide supplements a user manual. This step-by-step walkthrough uses screenshots to illustrate how to accomplish the initial, basic tasks (uploading a new file, annotating, approving, etc.). When a new project begins, don’t waste time reviewing what should already be done.
- Follow training toolkits to ensure all aspects of the solution are covered. You don’t want to invest in an expensive solution only to use 50% of its capacity. Reviewing its full array capabilities at the outset will pay dividends later. Even if you can’t use all aspects now, you can prepare for the future.
- Create training videos as another method to train or to refresh the end user’s knowledge. Videos are easier, quicker, and more effective than reading. Save money in the long term by investing in quality training videos.
- Establish a knowledge base/FAQ so commonly asked questions can easily be answered. Firsthand experience holds value. Over time, your team and users will learn useful tricks and tips. Designate a place to share this knowledge and collaborate on work.
4. Recognize communication is key
Many problems in the workplace, especially when introducing new systems or software, are avoidable with improved communication. If everyone is on the same page regarding goals, problems, solutions, decisions, and expertise, issues can be easily resolved with optimal communication protocols in place. Give your team the tools to be successful by over-communicating when necessary.
- Create email distribution lists to make sure nobody misses any communication. How do you convey information to teams and users? Cover your bases and include all relevant team members on any email list regarding the new solutions and software.
- Hold regular review meetings to discuss any upcoming changes to the system. If you follow the suggestions above, you may be overwhelmed with data to review. Invite key stakeholders to review it with you so you can make the right decisions together.
- Track issues that have been encountered and their resolution. If there is an issue, most likely you are not the only one dealing with it. If you track and record each issue and its solution, a recurrence will be less of a crisis.
- Assign subject matter experts to be points of contact. Sometimes a FAQ or a manual isn’t enough to get the answers we need. If you have in-house experts or professionals, assign them as formal points-of-contact for your users or external users. These designations will reduce frustration when they go to the wrong person for help, or suffer in silence.
As long-time experts in the proofing and printing process, we are confident that if you follow these major points, not only will you improve your proofing system, but you will reduce costs, and impress your users and partners.
Erin Esterberg is a solution consultant in collaboration and proofing for RRD’s Content and Creative Services division.