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Potholes in Paradise

(May 2003) posted on Fri May 23, 2003

The perils of automating communications about workflows

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By Jake Widman

Susan e-mailed me that "if you have 12 pages with corrections that are needed to be changed either you can send us those 12 pages only or you can send us the whole file...Please send only the PDF file which contains all the corrections...A hardcopy is needed of each page that is being changed."

I had asked if they could send me PDF files instead of printouts for proofing, and the answer seemed to be no; but it also sounded like they needed a PDF file of just the corrected pages for some other reason.

I set about creating such a file; unfortunately, when I was done, I noticed that some of the page breaks didn't match the sample copy. As I took a deep breath and prepared to do it again, it occurred to me that maybe I misunderstood or Susan misspoke--maybe she could use a PageMaker file. But did she need a PageMaker file of just the 12 changed pages? Or could she use the whole revised file? After a couple of e-mails and at least one phone call, I found out that yes, I could send her the whole PageMaker file.

But Susan's message also said I was supposed to send back the "digital proof." Hello? That was the first I'd heard that term--was that what Howie had called the "sample copy"? Yes, as it turned out. It's a good thing we'd kept it intact and hadn't written on it. I mailed off the proofs of the corrected pages along with the sample copy/digital proof, and uploaded the revised files. Last I heard, everything got there in good order.

Maybe you're reading this and thinking I'm a doofus for not understanding what I was supposed to do. Well, you might be right--but I'm a pretty well informed doofus who's been covering digital prepress for many years now. If I didn't get it, I wonder how many others of their customers wind up confused.

But what does it say about automating the printing workflow? If a company sometimes refers to a product as a "sample copy" and other times as a "digital proof," what good is automating that communication going to do? It's just going to lead to quicker, more efficient confusion. Workflow automation is based on humans interacting with computers, and there's at least one old saying that still holds true: garbage in, garbage out.