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Sabine Lenz

Making the Grade

By Sabine Lenz

About Sabine

Sabine Lenz is the founder of, the first online paper database and community specifically designed for paper specifiers.

Growing up in Germany, Sabine started her design career in Frankfurt, before moving to Australia and then the United States. She has worked on design projects ranging from corporate identities to major road shows and product launches. From start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, her list of clients included Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Deutsche Bank, IBM and KPMG.

Seeing designers struggle worldwide to stay current with new papers and paper trends inspired Sabine to create PaperSpecs, an independent and comprehensive Web-based paper database and weekly e-newsletter. She is also a speaker on paper issues and the paper industry. Some refer to her lovingly as the "paper queen" who combines her passion for this wonderful substrate called paper with a hands-on approach to sharing her knowledge. 


Cheap Design Can Cost You

“We just released our new self-promotion,” the print service provider (who shall stay unnamed) breathed down the phone line. “It is just the most amazing piece. You have to see it.”

And see I did.

A few days later the piece arrived in the mail. Well, I assume this was it, as no personal note was attached, just the self-promotion and a preprinted “enjoy” sales note. If this was to entice me to call the company in question...I don’t think so.

Where do I start?

The rather sad piece was clearly designed in-house (no offense to professional, well-trained in-house designers). And as much as I would like to say this is the exception, unfortunately this printer is not alone.

The examples of specialty printing techniques were rather sad, not in their execution, but in the designs featured. The paper choices for said samples were uninspired (read: flimsy and did nothing to enhance the techniques). Each piece was hard to pry out of its dedicated slit. They were held in place with dots of fugitive glue, which in the end made all of the pieces stick together.

The business card (I finally found it after looking for a bit) used a nice metallic sheet, but the information was printed with dark ink on a dark paper and barely readable. And my favorite part: I counted 33 QR codes, which were for decorative purposes only I assume, as none of them worked.

Better, but...

Another print shop, not far from my office, has amazing print capabilities as well as some one-of-a-kind technical add-ons. They were smart enough to collaborate with a good design studio to create their new capabilities brochure. I was pleasantly surprised (Ok, I was impressed.) when I first saw it.

Leafing through the piece, it showed off the printer’s capabilities in stunning ways. Then I came to a screeching halt. Placed neatly in the glued pocket on the final page, were handouts that had obviously been “designed” by the printer. Let’s just say the sheets, well intentioned to provide additional information, clashed very badly.

Please Don’t!
So here is my word of warning to you dear “we-have-the-software-we-can-do-this-ourselves” print providers. DON’T. In the words of marketing guru Seth Godin: “... [design] professionals bring more than just good tools to their work as professionals.”

Ask yourself: For whom do you create your promotional materials? If your target group includes a number of creatives and marketing professionals...I rest my case. Think of your reaction to a badly printed piece. Yep, be honest now.

This is exactly how designers and marketing professionals feel when you provide them with cheaply, miserably designed marketing materials. Instead of wooing them, you make them shake their heads and run for the hills.

I’ve seen my fair share of ineffective, ill-conceived printer self-promotions. But I’ve also seen some incredible, breathtaking ones—all of which were created in collaboration with a great design team.

So stop whining about how you can’t rise above your competitors in the market or how you can’t get the serious attention of a prospect, and instead ask yourself if it isn’t your cheap design that’s costing you.

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