Even the tiniest business needs an identity, but many small-business owners are shocked at the price of original artwork created by a graphic designer.
Don't despair. Today's personal computer technology has created a growing desktop publishing industry eager to serve cost-conscious entrepreneurs. Whether your job requires creating a daily restaurant menu, updating price lists or submitting ads to a newspaper, desktop publishers can save you time and money.
"Computer-generated artwork used to look very tacky, but now with the technology, it's just as good as something done by a guy sitting there with an Exacto blade and sending copy out to a typesetter," said Hal Brice, president of Heil-Brice Retail Advertising in San Clemente, Calif.
Brice, who wanted a fresh look on all the printed materials sent out by his radio and television commercial production company, said he considered logos submitted by three graphic designers before turning to a company specializing in computer graphics.
"Within an hour, we went from a rough draft to the finished version," said Brice, who helped create his own logo by faxing versions back and forth.
Critics say computer-generated artwork still has a harsh, two-dimensional look to it. Graphic designers also contend that a computer program cannot match the creativity of a person. Still, many desktop publishers formerly worked for ad agencies as traditional designers. Designers who now work with computers say they fell in love with computer technology because it is fun to use, speeds up the artistic process and saves clients money.
"I don't think pricing in the (design) industry has kept up with technology," said Jeff Turner, president of Marit-Ward in Sherman Oaks, Calif. "Technology allows us to do things for a fraction of the cost."
Turner, who became interested in desktop publishing when he was working as a product manager for NCR Corp., said companies such as his fill the gap between taking an idea to a local print shop and hiring a traditional full-service advertising agency.
Most graphic design firms charge a minimum of $1,500 to create a logo from scratch. By comparison, graphic artists who design at the computer can create a logo for as little as $600.
"The technology is making it possible for small-business owners to get high-quality, economic work," said Roy Antoun, a partner in Eureka & Avalon in Van Nuys. Antoun, who produces marketing materials and ads for dozens of large and small businesses, said a full-service desktop publisher not only designs logos and graphic material but can create entire marketing and advertising campaigns.
Before going out to find a desktop publisher, figure out what kind of message you want to get across to customers.
"The business owner should think of who they want to talk to and what they have to sell," said Antoun. "We want to know if they have $2 million worth of suits to unload or a Valentine's Day special to promote."
If you are willing to learn how to use the computer hardware and software necessary to create graphics and documents, or train someone in your company to do it, cost is no longer a formidable barrier to you as a small-business owner.
Apple Computer, which created the basic tools for desktop publishing when it introduced the Macintosh personal computer seven years ago, recently cut Macintosh prices in half.
Apple spokeswoman Kate Paisely said demand for the new Macintoshes has been tremendous, and several models are back-ordered.
Business owners can choose from scores of desktop publishing software programs. The first program, Pagemaker, released by Aldus Corp. in 1985, is still selling strong. In fact, Paul Brainerd, founder and chief executive of Seattle-based Aldus, is credited with coining the phrase "desktop publishing."
"The prices have come down, and the machines are easier and easier to use," said Sandra Churchill, a senior marketing analyst for BIS Strategic Decisions, a division of BIS Group in Norwell, Mass. "The manufacturers' goal is to provide users with the tools to go from initial design to final production."
Once you have the computer and software, a high-quality laser printer is required to produce camera-ready artwork or documents. A savvy small-business owner can buy a bare-bones system for in-house use for about $3,500. A high-end system can cost up to $20,000 or more, depending on the quality you require. In addition to buying the equipment, consider the cost of hiring a graphic designer or training someone on staff to do the work.
While a desktop publishing system is great for layout, line art and typesetting, the human touch is still required for illustrations or detailed creative work. And remember, the computer is a simply tool it can't teach you good design technique. Many graphic artists say that using a desktop publishing system saves time by performing the tedious and repetitive tasks, which frees up their time for more creative design work.
If you are not interested in taking the time to learn how to do your own desktop publishing, there are small firms offering their services across the country. Many are listed in the Yellow Pages under advertising agencies or typesetters, although desktop publishers are pushing the phone companies to create a separate section for them.
David Gering, a marketing and public relations consultant, relies on three desktop publishers to help him produce sales material, brochures and newsletters for his clients.
Gering, founder of the Write Source in Canoga Park, Calif., said he saves time by transmitting information via computer modem to the desktop publishing company. Many desktop publishers can convert copy written on an IBM or IBM-compatible computer to a Macintosh format.
"When you shop around for a desktop publisher, look at their portfolio and ask yourself if you like what you see," advises Gering.