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Advice - Design

Once upon a time, designers could focus entirely on creating the look of a publication, handing over sketches with lists of fonts and dimensions. No more. Now that layout is entirely electronic the work that they do has expanded radically.

The work falls into two distinct categories: creating those original design templates; and page make-up that uses an existing template, which may leave more or less room for creativity. In both cases, designers will be working with editors and sub-editors, and often with printers, so they are expected to seamlessly pass compatible files back and forth, which usually means having exactly the same version of each piece of software that the client has. So designers working from home may need to maintain access to multiple versions of design software - few publications upgrade immediately - and they need to have computers powerful enough to run all this expensive and "heavy" software. They may need licences to use many fonts.

Designers therefore need to receive higher rates than, say, freelance editors - simply to survive.

Nowadays Adobe InDesign seems to have a virtual monopoly in design software. At least InDesign works moderately well on Windows computers, so it's less likely that designers will need to maintain a powerful Mac alongside one of these. Different versions of InDesign are not good at exchanging files - they might as well be different programs. And woe betide the designer who finds a client that still wants to exchange files in the once-dominant QuarkXpress format, which only really ever worked on a Mac...

Design from the ground up

Designers who are commissioned to produce a set of templates for a new design are often expected to implement computer scripts - small programs, sometimes quite intricate - for flowing copy into templates. These designers may be asked to implement "style sheets" in Microsoft Word™ and scripts to convert these into Quark or InDesign style tags. That in turn means being aware that Word for Windows and Word for Mac are, at this level, fundamentally different and of the quirks different versions of each.

This in turn means that designers working on re-designs increasingly have to acquire training skills, not least so that they can explain to the Obits editor why it's no longer good enough to mark headings in bold, and why they have to use a named style instead.

And if this training is to be as painless as possible for all, the designer needs the skills that computer analysts call "requirements analysis" - for example interviewing editors and sub-editors at the very start of the job to find out how they work and what those style tags should be called - using the user-focused Obit hed and Obit hed Lead rather than the design-focused Grot 32pt Bold and so on could save half a day of grief with that desk alone.

Explaining why these are better tag names raises, again, the disconcerting convergence of design practice with database theory.

Book designers may have fewer people to consult - unless they're setting up a series with multiple editors.

All this means that it is increasingly important that in negotiating rates for any design job both sides agree on a list of precisely what is expected and what the rate will be for unexpected work.

More advice and links...
* On negotiating for design
* Uploaded 14/08/2222: if you have a printout, check the current version at
* Rates for the Job good, bad and ugly
* Join the NUJ to get individual advice & representation

Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. The collection (database right) © National Union of Journalists. Comments to please. You may find the glossary helpful.

The National Union of Journalists must not, can not and would not wish to dictate rates or terms of engagement to members or to editors. The information presented here is for guidance and as an aid to equitable negotiation only.

Suggestions apply to contracts governed by UK law only. In any event, nothing here should be construed as legal advice.