Fools and Their Foolproof Workflows --McIlroyApril 2003
Looking for More Speed
The PDF print production respondents to the GATF survey responded to the question, "What do you consider the top benefit of working with PDF files in your organization?" "Faster system throughput" was the number one answer at 32 percent. Second was "reduced cross-platform issues" (about 23 percent). Third was "smaller files, easier to work with" (about 22 percent).
Again, very similar results in each survey. It sounds like PDF workflows are faster and somewhat less error-prone but, as we also learn, far from error-free.
Seybold reports the file receivers rate the biggest problem in working with PDF as "more difficult to edit than native files" (61 percent). I guess you only need to edit files if there's a problem. Tied for first place is "file not made properly" (61 percent). The next five responses each gain about 25 percent ratings: "PDF different from native file," "RIP and output problems," "hard to troubleshoot," "display doesn't match output" and "final color doesn't match original."
Over at GATF the print production folk were asked "What do you consider the top two problems of working with PDF files?"
Hold onto your seats as you read this! Eighty-eight percent report that "clients do not create them properly," while 64 percent lament that "they're more difficult to edit than native files." I think you can guess what some of the other responses were, and their relative percentages. Again, very similar feedback.
I can also report that from a second question looking at problems of greatest concern, it's agreed by both reports: Fonts not embedded or missing, followed closely by wrong color space and insufficient image resolution (or image missing altogether).
Until I sat down to write this, I had not realized just how closely the responses track in both reports. Given that these are two different studies conducted by two different organizations, at roughly the same time, but with different sets of respondents, the results can be considered as near-conclusive.
"It's impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious." —Murphy's Second Corollary
As I reported in my last column, the Seybold survey revealed a key disparity underlying the problems being faced in working with these "foolproof" PDF workflows. While most PDF file receivers (printers and prepress shops) report that they offer training to their customers, less than half of PDF generators think they receive any training at all.
The GATF survey looks at this discrepancy at a more profound depth. "Nearly half of all participants in the survey said they provide formal training on PDF creation, and 78 percent provide settings to help clients prepare PDF files to their specifications, yet 88 percent say that the biggest problem in working with PDF files is that clients don't make them correctly," Shaffer writes.
"One has to wonder what accounts for this disparity. Are we not providing the right training to content creators? Are we talking to the wrong people when we do provide training? Are they simply not listening or bothering to follow the instructions provided?" she continues. "Is the process more difficult than we think? Are there so many caveats and exceptions to the rules in composite PDF workflows that it's impossible to anticipate problems and provide training to cover it all?"
Shaffer then goes on to note another equally mysterious response discrepancy: "While 64 percent of respondents contend that PDF files are more difficult to edit than native files and note that this poses a problem in working with them," she writes, "most don't get and/or don't ask for the native files!"
While Adobe's PDF has clearly improved the efficiency of prepress workflows, it's still a long way from delivering on its promise. Why is PDF falling so short? Are the clients really so dumb? This is what the printers could no doubt assure us. Or are the printers, who grew up thriving on their ability to address every chaotic calamity a client could catapult in their direction, unwilling to face the fact that the tools are now available to make peace, not war, to finally have the kind of dependable, repeatable workflows they've claimed have always been their goal?
Instead of making peace with their customers are they taking the necessary steps (by failing to take steps) to make sure that chaos will always be with us? Isn't it a fact: now that quality, price and delivery schedules are a given, the only way to stand out to a client is to show how well you can bail them out of a jam. And if they aren't in a jam, hadn't you better make one!
"More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren't so busy denying them." —Harold J. Smith
About the Author
Thad McIlroy is an electronic publishing consultant and analyst, based at Arcadia House in San Francisco. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.