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Why the best designers love good project management

On every custom project we work on, our design partners own the decisions and take the overall lead. After all, it’s their name on the final project and their client’s satisfaction that’s on the line.

While designers may choose a print vendor based on the technology or materials they offer, the truth is that these are just inanimate machines and supplies that are only as good as the humans using them. That’s why designers should pay particular attention to project management when considering who to use for printing, fabrication and installation.

Yep,“the devil is in the details.” Think of the projects that have come unraveled – not because your idea wasn’t great, but because the execution fell short. Whether due to time management issues, lack of communication, blurred lines of responsibility, budget control issues, colors that just look "off" in the actual space or unexpected installation issues, the result is the same: uncomfortable conversations, frustration and sometimes, an idea that just didn’t translate as you had hoped.

Control the process for better results

It’s not the glamorous part of the job, but good project management matters...starting from the get-go. At Franklin Imaging, our own steps follow this general route:

  • Concept development support – Your design team probably has the technical details covered, but if you need help translating project elements into a format that’s suitable for client presentation or eventual printing, you should be able to rely on your vendor. They should also be willing to provide mock-ups of any unique items you’ve imagined but aren’t sure how to execute. As examples, we've created everything from displays using movable grocery cart seats to a wall that looks like a shipping crate.

  • Fabrication suggestions – During concept development is also when your project partner should be suggesting simple changes in materials, printing methods, fabrication or installation that could elevate the outcome or save money without sacrificing the end result.

  • Site surveys – While we have the people needed to complete site surveys ourselves, the majority of our customers complete site surveys on their own. Either way, every detail of the space where the project will be installed should be captured. That means an elevation sheet with confirmed measurements, location of outlets or other features, barriers, unusual angles, uneven surfaces and anything else that might be unexpected or cause issues with the install.

  • Accurate estimating – A ballpark estimate should be provided for initial client presentations, but once a concept is approved, it’s time for final estimates. If needed, your partner should be able to value-engineer a quote based on your original concept, which gives you “good/better/best” options to help you make final decisions.

  • Pre-production – Now’s the time your print vendor should become a bit obsessive. This part of the project is when you have the most opportunity to preempt issues. Among other discussion points, you should be talking about and finalizing:

    • Patterns, custom graphics and proprietary colors

    • Material selections

    • Fabrication steps

    • Timelines

    • Lines of responsibility and production approvals

To help with decisions, we provide samples of brand colors, color neighborhoods and any prototypes a designer wants to see in the exact materials they’ve spec’d.

  • Proofs – Your print partner should provide digital proofs, along with a list final material selections. Every element of the project should be cataloged. That may result in a 50-page document, but having every detail is exactly the point.

  • Production – Responsibility shifts entirely to your printing partner at this point. During this period, every machine in their shop might be running at once, and quality checks should be ongoing throughout.

  • Press checks – At our shop, we involve designers (and some clients) in press checks, with an entire, well-lit room dedicated to these meetings so we can review every project element and lay large format prints side-by-side These checks are the ideal time to make any last minute adjustments to prevent surprises the day of installation when your client might be present.

  • Installation – You should expect installation guides that are organized layer by layer, either by materials or by wall. These guides should also detail step-by-step instructions. As an example, which print panel should be installed first? If this seems like over-think, keep in mind that every room has unique features that dictate the best way to start an installation so the elements align correctly.

You should also expect your print partner to attend every installation, whether they’re handling the install themselves or it’s being done by another contractor. Having your print partner onsite is the best way to get unexpected problems solved by someone who has overseen the project from the very beginning.


While we have our own proprietary project management process that we follow, our hope is that this general overview will give you a list of points to consider with your next project. Do you have some additional steps you follow that might be especially helpful for others? We’d love to have you share them in the comments! 




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