Re: Who's Job is it to Layout a Book?

Subject: Re: Who's Job is it to Layout a Book?
From: ":--)" <elblase -at- ZAMIR -dot- NET>
Date: Fri, 16 Jul 1999 03:17:19 +0200

Dave Hickey wrote 15 July 1999 19:51 PM

"CONTEXT: I've just had my wings clipped at my new client to reformat their
books in a layout that, in my professional opinion, would be better. One of
the arguments I was given was 'You are a writer, so focus on the writing.
Layout, fonts, font styles, and the like are a questions of graphics and are
to be handled by the Graphics department. You are not a Graphic Artist.'"

Before taking on a project, I explain to the prospective client that my
responsibilities will include layout. I go on to explain that the
"sequencing" of the content and its layout and design are integrated. My job
is to make it as easy for the end-user to use the documentation as possible.
I identify several criteria, one of which is: if the end-user cannot find
and read the information in so many seconds or minutes (depending on the
scope, potential size, and any cross referencing of the deliverable) then
the document is "useless." I also explain to the prospective client that I'm
really working for the end-users in the company or corporation. Usually the
prospective client agrees. If the prospective client doesn't, I don't accept
the project. My rationale, in part, is that they called in a professional to
do the work.

I'll share a little story that illustrates what happens when my approach is
agreed to...and when someone later disagrees. There was a software company
in a very competitive vertical market. It had spent nearly $50, 000 on a
three hundred plus page manual. In spite of this hefty tome, the company's
help desk was inundated with support calls for answers which were or should
have been in it. I met with the company president and vice president and
outlined the conditions I would take on the project of rewriting their
software manual.

I rewrote the manual using a continuous three column table (no, it was
nothing like Infomapping), cut the manual down to eighty plus pages, and
designed it with a running index in the outside column of every page.
Admittedly, they looked at the finished product and thought they had been
cheated. I explained I always "test" my work, and asked for a list of their
clients who called support most frequently and who were identified as their
most dissatisfied. I sent my manual out to these clinics and asked them to
review it for two weeks. Faxes and telephone calls came into the company
praising the manual's ease of use and how fast their personnel could find

The software company immediately sent this manual to all its clients at no
charge with a resulting 60+% drop in software support calls within one
month. And, incidentally, it took only one or two days of that 30 day
period's drop in customer support toll free access to offset the mailing
costs, if I recall correctly.

Months later I received a call from a staff member. Their were changes in
management. A new whatever said the manual's layout was unconventional, and
formed a team to rewrite it. I was told it was a catastrophe, with customers

We are professionals. We are hired because we are masters of our craft. If
clients know better, then.......


From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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