21 January 2009

Take your workflow online!


I do most my work projects online, through the Internet and have for some time now. Sadly, it's a hard sell for many, even technically knowledgeable clients, who, oddly enough can be very reluctant to change. The resources and capabilities are fantastic right now. Below some tools we use.

E-mail: Hard to believe but it was once difficult to convince clients to use email. Now you can't get many to communicate any other way! Great for sending notes about changes, discussing the basics and sending small files and PDF mock-ups.
PDF: This format has changed a lot in recent years, now you can add notes, make changes and communicate in groups using the universal format, PDF. We use it for editing magazines and long form print documents as well as using it as proofs for smaller projects.
FTP: What used to be a daunting task is now super easy and for the most part even free. You can send HUGE files without having to resort to the very expensive mail services like FedEx etc which can take a couple days for international delivery. A multi gig file can take along time to up and download, but is still faster than even overnight delivery in most cases and virtually free. The Mobileme/dot mac account from Apple as well as many others allow you to send a link in an e-mail which lets the client download with a simple click.
Video/Audio chat: Another hard sell for some reason. The new ichat for example can handle large transfers, video conference with several people and allows some files to show up in the message window. It's perfect for making changes on the fly and finalizing work. You can even share screens now and actually do the work for the client on their own computer, eliminating confusion or long technical explanations.

Some misconceptions clients have:

Large files must be sent over and over again.
A photoshop file maybe, but a large print document (Indesign, Quark), video project (after effect, final cut pro, etc) will only be one large transfer. After that you simply send the changed After Effects, Final Cut file only. If the client puts the new file in the same folder and keeps the names the same, it will find the source files no problem and you are only sending a 1-5 meg file at most. Even normal e-mail can handle that! Video is especially good using this method.
It's slower that having meetings:
Are you kidding? Meetings are important at times, but often they simply bring all work to a halt. A video conference is just as efficient if not more so and can be done without needing to get everyone from where ever they are into one room at the same time. Even a sick member of the team can join in from home and stay in the loop.
Work will be delayed without direct supervision:
Sure there are lazy people out there. Creative work takes a degree of teamwork, but it requires a large degree of independence and « process time ». Ideas don't actually come out nowhere and some tasks, like animation, require a degree of solitude non animators simply find bizarre. My clients are always amazed at how fast I work and come up with things. The reason... I can work in my studio undisturbed for hours at time and focus completely on the task at hand.

Overall the pluses outweigh the minuses when taking your project work flow online. Suddenly distance is not problem and getting the work done better, cheaper and quicker is well worth any snags that might come up.
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