Ever try to explain image editing over the phone?

Communicating with clients

One of the clients I've worked with for years is an arcade game manufacturer. If you've ever played one of those claw games where you try to grab a stuffed animal or other toy, there's a good chance it was made here in Des Moines, Iowa. One of their other popular products is the Photo Booth. It's one of the best in the industry, and I worked with their programmers to develop an "Event Mode" to make it easier for people to rent these booths for special events like wedding receptions or corporate retreats. This part of the program basically allows the operator of the booth to create artwork based on our template which will print at the bottom of each photo, so when people have their photo taken in the booth, the print they receive reminds them of the event (or the rental company, or prints a coupon, whatever you want to use it for).

I was doing some work at this company's office when their tech support department got a call from a customer who was in panic mode. It was late afternoon on a Friday, and this customer had just received artwork which was to be used on the photo prints at an event later that night. He couldn't figure out why the artwork wasn't printing correctly, and neither could the tech support representative. So, I agreed to talk him through some steps. I immediately realized that tech support is not a job I could do for very long without losing my mind. I also found out how difficult it can be to communicate something visual over the phone.

How do you explain image editing over the phone? For this Event Mode to work properly, you have to place your artwork at the bottom of the template image, and I wasn't able to see if this customer's artwork was even close to being the same size or proportions as the area where he would need to paste it on our template. I use Photoshop practically every day, so I probably could have walked him through steps from memory if he was using this program. Of course, he wasn't - he was using Paint, the free program installed with Windows. I couldn't remember exactly how limited this program is, so I really couldn't be of much help with the actual steps involved in re-sizing one image and pasting it onto another in Paint (I wasn't actually sure if it could be done in this program). The customer said he had figured this part out, but I still had my doubts that he had done it correctly. The booth wasn't hooked up to an internet connection, so he couldn't send me the files for inspection.

We had already exhausted other troubleshooting options, so I told him there was really only one other thing we could check. If this didn't work, he would be out of luck and some other company would take over the event. I had him check the Properties of the template file and his new file with artwork added. Sure enough, the dimensions (in pixels) were different between the two files. The photo booth program was expecting the image to be the same size as the template, and when it wasn't, the program had to rethink the way it scales images to print. We eventually got his image corrected (still over the phone, so I'm not sure what it looked like by the time he was done).

I'm sure this type of communication problem happens all the time on creative or visual projects. At least when discussing website changes or logo design options with a client, though, the people on both ends of the phone can be looking at the same image or site at the same time. Sometimes it's easy to communicate via email and other times it's easier to discuss things by phone. When trying to explain anything involving a computer to someone, though, the best way is to be there in person to demonstrate (what you'll be tempted to do is move them to the side and just fix it for them).

This is why designers/programmers need to be able to communicate with clients. I actually like it when a client asks questions about the design process - it means they want to learn why an idea may or may not work. You can't teach clients or team members everything they need to know about designing a brochure or building a website (and many times they don't really want to know all the technical details), but being able to explain a little bit about how design or programming works is a great skill to have. Don't feel as if you're giving away secrets about what you do, to the point where they won't need you anymore. I've found it to be the opposite - The more people know about your process, the more they can appreciate your work.

Matt O'Gara
Owner, OGara Graphics

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