Where do we go from here ? A new horizon
It used to be said that week was a long time in politics, reflecting the temporary nature of policy and personality. Well in the last twelve months we have come to expect that not a week, but even 24 hours is a lifetime.
Hopefully in the next few months we will begin to see the gradual ending of this ongoing nightmare, but much like some castaway drifting slowly towards an unknown shore, what can we expect when we finally stretch our legs again ? It won’t be the same familiar environment that’s for sure. Whatever the old normal was, it has been swept away and left with a vacuum, not only for printers but anyone who used to deal with customers directly over the counter. We have all had to adapt in the last year, and will have to adapt further in the next.
The simple prediction that more people will work from home ignores the tenuous nature of internet connections, particularly on mobile devices, and the reality that it is by no means a perfect means of communication. The fact that during the closure of schools and colleges, a large proportion of students were attempting to do their course work on their phones highlights a flaw that we have become all too aware of in dealings with customers since the devices became almost universal. The assumption of instant communication, and more importantly, understanding is a fatal mistake. A small screen ideal for simple tweets and snaps is hardly suitable for reviewing large documents and complex artwork. Inevitably errors are overlooked, and the responsibility is put back on the receiver to second guess whether information is actually correct.
Way back in the last century when I did my first on the job training as a journalist there were no user aids to back up spelling, grammar and common sense. I was drilled to read what I had written as if being read by someone else. It is all too easy to suppose the reader understands because you know what you meant. In the days of manual typewriters and tippex there was time for a second look. Now the temptation of quickly pressing the send button is all too great. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. Does anyone ever scroll through the daisy chain of messages to see if they all make joined up thinking ? Not many customers in my experience, in fact it’s often a surprise when they do make sense. Don’t you love it when you reply to a print enquiry whether they want it in colour or black and white and you get the retort “yes please” !
Of course with regular customers, like any shop, you would tend to know what they wanted, or usually had. When working at a distance that relationship is more difficult, and while being a mind reader is a useful talent in the service industry, it’s not infallible or always rightly rewarded.
On a purely human level the personal contact is an essential part of two-way communication, we are just wired up that way. But it is also so much more efficient because preferences and problems are so much more easily sorted one to one than batting back and forth over the airways.
While it’s all too easy to spot the decline of outlets in the high street which had begun some time before corvid, there is also an alternative promotion to shop local, and further to reduce waste by cutting down on extended deliveries of non-essential goods. On line shopping has encouraged over production of items at the lowest possible cost, a real cost hidden under the illusion of “free” delivery, and a massive pile of wastage and unwanted goods. A reaction against this tide could be the growing trend to produce just what you want, when you want it and as close to home as possible. And a key to that is getting it the right colour, not finding out it doesn’t match it’s on-line appearance when it comes out of the packaging.
The range within which a digital device displays it’s colour range is called its colour space, and is determined at creation, or in post processing output. In early digital days, some two decades ago, it was realised there needed to be some industry standard for colour space to have any hope of consistency in reproduction, device to device. So Adobe introduced its 1998 RGB which is still the profile most widely used for professional editing for print.
But although we talk about monitor screens being RGB, many monitors and certainly mobile phones and internet browsers cannot display even the colour range Adobe RGB has, so they have a lesser standard, sRGB. It’s actually the same three colours but they work within a narrower range. They miss out on the subtle tones so the gradient between the hue of one pixel and another is steeper. The colour transition in Adobe RGB is more gradual which makes both editing and more accurate printing easier. It’s not an issue if items are only viewed on line because only the experienced eye will be able to spot much colour difference between one browser and another.
When it comes to the print stage however the printer has to decide when one colour becomes another, but will struggle if there is no information in the file itself, even if it looks like there is on the screen. The artificially enhanced modern mobile viewers are designed to show life-like movies and games more than the deeper, saturated tones needed for printing.
Most phones now do some form of colour adjustment of display admittedly, but this is more to do with viewing rather than accurate colour management. In any case does anyone use anything other than the default settings, including those on the camera. And as camera phones have got better, users inevitably wield them at the extremes of their capabilities, in low light or at night for example. However good the capture, the image will have been translated into sRGB for output, as will anything uploaded to social media and transferred on. Customers tend to assume files are all the same, but they are not.
Most proper digital cameras are able to shoot in Adobe RGB, and on better ones there is an even wider gamut Pro Photo RGB available. But again, how many owners would know how to select the correct settings, let alone edit and upload without corrupting the colour space ? Not that many even amongst those who call themselves photographers in my experience. A lot of the time the customer will be happy as long as the sky is blue and the grass is sort of green. But then there are the times the customer is not happy, and though they may be fewer, tend to take more time in the workplace.
The customer default setting is that they are right and you are wrong, but sometimes you need to do a bit of a reboot of the options without making out they are a complete idiot.
I’ve often had to reject a print file on the basis of size, in that there are just not enough pixels to stretch to a print. This is the only criteria available to online printers for quality control, and where the intervention of an experienced human eye can make the difference if it is carefully promoted.
In the great scheme of things the personal touch is going to be a unique selling point when people have had enough of keeping their distance from each other.
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