This is a story about a piece of ill-considered graphic design that created low value work, added cost and produced waste. The waste caused by poor design is much greater than just piles of printed rubbish, it extends all the way through to demotivating high value staff with low value tasks.
Designing for a reduced impact on the environment is much more sophisticated than choosing the right paper – this story is an example. It is also a story is about using design thinking to do business better.
The design at the heart of this story is a die-cut sticker with a thick border on the edge. We inherited the design when we took over that project.
The stickers were printed and then die-cut, sent to us to check, then sent on to our client to pack and distribute. This is high value staff doing low value work*.
Sensibly, our client decided that by moving the sorting, bundling and mailing task to our printer he would free up his time to do something more in line with his skill set – something of high value to his business. But there was a step in the process where we checked the stickers and if the printer was going to print and ship the whole job then that checking task had to be eliminated.
What we were checking for was the ability of the printer to avoid falling into the trap of thick borders. Anything printed with a border needs to be trimmed to size very carefully to avoid having the border appear thicker on one side than the other.
The design of these stickers made the problem worse because it was die-cut to a roundish shape. Every time that die-cut moved ever so slightly, it would look obviously out of round and that batch would be thrown out.
The only way to remove the checking step was to redesign the sticker to eliminate the trap of thick borders. And this is the key to designing a robust process: design out the risks of error where possible. Less error = less waste = more profit. The benefits are both financial and environmental.
We modified the design of the sticker which improved the distribution process which, in turn, resulted in being able to do more profitable business. The workload shifted to the people in the process with the best experience at the task (the packing and distribution people at the printer's business).
The new process added a tracking record to deliveries that hadn't existed previously and that improved the quality of the service being provided. And it freed up people in both our office and our client's office to do work better suited to our/their skills – and that makes good business sense.
When design is used as a tool rather than being an end in itself, and it is combined with creative thinking on a broader scale than the design itself, then the results will be better business.
*I want to be clear about high value staff doing low value work. I consider that anything that anyone does that they are not skilled at doing is low value work. I think it is a poor use of someone's time to have them doing anything other than whatever their special skill set is that makes a difference within a business.