Time for an Upgrade?

Originally published in the 2011 July issue of the MSAAsupplement digital magazine.

As a child and even a teenager I hated change. I was very comfortable in routine and would often shy away from something new when the dependable embrace of the familiar was available. However, when I left for college I found myself taking chances. So much had changed from living at home that I had to take chances and see change for what it really was...opportunity.

Too often the idea of change scares us, we live be the old mantra, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, I caution everyone that this line of thinking can lead down a dangerous road. One where business owners find their product or service obsolete and their clients lost to a more progressive competitor.

There are many examples of this error in business planning, but it is most evident in the technology sector. Thirteen years ago I sat down in front of my first design program in college. I was young and had much to learn, but at the time Quark XPress was the industry standard. For years they had been on the forefront of digital layout for print publishing. It was the start of a 10 year relationship with a program that would span college, 8 jobs, and countless freelance projects. As time went on I learned how to work quickly and efficiently within this great product. It became comfortable and familiar, which is a good thing when working quickly can benefit a designer financially.

However, in the 10 years I worked in the program only 2 or 3 new versions were released. The real frustration was in that time span very few features were improved or added to make their product better. Who could blame them? They had the industry standard. Designers and print shops all over the world preferred their product. Why change something everyone loved? The question however is, “did everyone love it?” Perhaps it was popular because it was familiar. It was the first quality digital layout program that could be learned by people who did not grow up with computers. There was a strength in it’s simplicity. While there were limitations, the users often accepted them because they thought, “its still better than what we were doing before.”

However, over the past 10-15 years young professionals have been entering the workplace who are not only familiar with technology, they can also tell the difference between good technology and bad. Products that do not evolve with the constant changes in the business world do not have the shelf life they once had. It was this mind set that prepared me for a major change in my workflow 3 years ago.

For a couple years I had heard about a great new digital layout program by Adobe called InDesign. I had tired InDesign a few years earlier and was not happy with it and longed for my comfortable familiar Quark XPress blanket. However, I was doing some job searching 3 and 4 years ago and I soon realized many employers required InDesign knowledge of their applicants. I purchased a copy and started digging in. Adobe also publishes Photoshop and Illustrator. These 2 applications were as much a part of my workflow as Quark so I was happy to see how InDesign worked so well with the other Adobe products. I soon found myself immersed in my new application. InDesign had found a way to fix many of the problems I just excepted in Quark XPress. They also started to explore new areas of design including digital publishing.

What was the result? I’m fond of saying, “I used Quark XPress for 10 years, after 10 months with Adobe InDesign...I never want to go back.” To go into the improvements over Quark would be its own article...one that would only be interesting to a few design geeks. On top of that, the integration of interactive technology has allowed for me to increase my publishing knowledge beyond print and into PDFs and even Flash content.

With those lessons in hand take some time to look at your own operations and begin to ask questions. Breakdown your business and its many facets like: website, online bidding, clerking software, mailing lists and much more. Consider the last 10 years and ask yourself, “has the auction industry changed?” It shouldn’t take long for you to respond with a strong YES! Online auctions have become a daily consideration when speaking with clients. Also, the bidders who used to come and enjoy a day at an auction are starting to enjoy sitting at home and bidding. From an advertising standpoint, newspaper subscriptions are down, how do we get the word out instead? What about Social Media? These are the questions we should be asking for the sake of our clients and our customer’s experience.

In a world where your computer or phone are obsolete the moment you step out of the store we need to take time to analyze our businesses and see where improvements can be made. Clients are knowledgeable and very often a good deal or great service can set you apart. However, if we shy away from change we might find our clients going down the road to a competitor who has found a new way to do the same job we do...but better.

To close I will quote a more recent version of the old adage I shared earlier. This adaptation is by the Canadian comedian Red Green: “If it ain’t broke, you ain’t tryin.” There is unintended wisdom in his statement. Take a look at your business, try to poke some holes in your system. Don’t be afraid to upgrade.