I've been in the book industry since 1990 - when you still had a typewriter (and Tippex!) on your desk. Fax machines were still the most amazing invention (I never got sick of sending or receiving something on it - the idea of a fax machine blew my mind!) and eventually "The Work PC" entered the marketing department. Of course, we didn't have a PC EACH. No, no, we had to share. We had to allocate the number of hours each person could spend on "The Work PC" and beg with colleagues if you needed longer. The marketing staff all learnt how to design "flyers" in MS Word or Wordperfect and how to create a price list in tables in Excel. There was no formal training but luckily we worked for a publishing company that published books on computers - software and hardware - so we picked up one of the books and taught ourselves.
Over the years, as the software matured and became easier to use, we learnt how to "pretty something up" for an author or a customer. We concentrated on where to position images, how to ensure that all the features - and key selling points - of the book were highlighted, that all the essential information about the book were easy to find (price, ISBN, format, page count, pubdate, imprint - they are all drummed into me) and that we always had the right amount of information "about the author" (affiliations, career, other books etc). When the real designers (who did the cover art, posters, catalogues, direct marketing flyers and other corporate pieces) were busy you had to be able to pull something up quickly to meet a deadline. It had to be professional. And it had to be a good promotional piece - something that would encourage sales or publicity for the book/s you were promoting. You created templates. You worked out what worked and what didn't. And it became something so second nature you didn't think it was a skill at all. It was all on the job training.
Wherever I have worked, I have always been the "go to" person for making something look good. Whether it was a professional business document or a comms piece one of the more senior managers had attempted (that had to be quickly rescued), I was their person. So I had to always extend my training to cover what they required. I learnt Pagemaker while doing my communications degree but did not have access to a Mac for a very long time. So I had to work in Word (urgh, the things you do....) or Publisher. It took over TWO DECADES before I started my own business and the first thing I made sure I had was a Mac and Adobe products like Indesign. And training. But I had the design elements already part of my publishing DNA. The rest was just navigating the software.
Since April 2014 I've designed hundreds of brochures, dozens of posters and banners, social media assets, media releases, for all my clients. Digital assets (headers and other images) were required for enewsletters. Sometimes third parties wanted to have a range of banners to put on their website so you kept the core dimensions required by each customer and put something out that was professional, clean and sales-focussed. I created co-op materials with retail branding. Special order forms. Badges. Postcards. Fridge magnets. It's been an interesting few years....
I'm not a fancy designer but I know how to use Indesign. I use it every day. I dabble in Illustrator and have trained in Photoshop but I'm not one to manipulate photos and do "fancy fancy" things to graphics. In fact, for my own photos, I use other programs like Picasa and even just Apple photos to enhance photos. But yes, Photoshop can do amazing things and I can work my way around them if I need to. But Indesign is my software of choice.
Someone recently asked me to put together a portfolio of my work. While I design promotional materials for clients, I don't consider myself a Designer. It's not a career move. I don't have the formal qualifications or the years and years of experience a graphic designer does. But what I do bring to the table is THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of hours preparing sales promotional materials. I actually enjoy writing and creating a promotional piece for a client. I think it's the creative outlet I need to counter-act the business head that is required at other times. But am I actually a Designer or just the "Chief Pretty-Upp-er-re". Whatever I am, I can produce some professional and lovely works for a client so contact me today on email@example.com if you need some help with your promotional materials. Am I a designer? Take a look at some of the images below and tell me what you think in the comments.
Rachael McDiarmid has been in the Australasian book trade since 1990. Working in trade, academic and professional publishing as well as library supply and book distribution, she's worked with thousands of publishers, distributors, library vendors, and authors around the globe. She loves a belly laugh, strong coffee, wine, and good food. She is known for her no bullshit approach. This is her blog.