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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. 


Tear Down Ancient Barriers and Talk to Your Creatives


The student work in front of me was stunning. The typography, the layout, the choice of images—even the papers they picked were, shall I say, refreshing. No all white, all gloss coated all the way for these young designers (no offense to white gloss papers).

“You must talk to your students about paper a lot,” I remarked to the dean. “Not really,” he replied. “I just tell them: do not spec shiny paper.”

Letting this sink in for a minute, I was speechless...and that does not happen easily. While my inner paper geek wanted to yell and scream and jump up and down, I also realized that this, like it or not, explains a lot.

The barriers have been built over time
We expect young designers to have a well-rounded education, meaning being marvelously creative, as well as knowing how to get this creativity on paper. But those days are gone.

“It’s all about education and it starts with basic stuff at [university],” agreed Ian when the discussion came up in one of my online groups. “It is somehow seen by the colleges as the 'uncreative' aspect of graphics and therefore not worth teaching—but you wouldn't allow an architect or engineer to practice without a full understanding of the technical aspects of their profession.”

It has crept up on us over the years. Whether we like it or not, this is the way things are now; we have to find a way to educate young designers about their opportunities. About different paper options, different printing techniques. And with new technologies and paper choices becoming available constantly, this is a never-ending process.

What further complicates the issue is the well-known language barrier.

Different language and different perspectives
Designers trying to communicate with printers are like cats trying to talk to dogs. They both communicate in different languages and with different perspectives.
Designers are trying to convey their creative process and vision, which you, as a print provider, could not care less about.

On the flip side as a print provider, you are most concerned with the nuts and bolts of production, how to achieve the desired end product.

“The ability to translate the artistic vision into a production process is not easy for the designer since most have never gone home with reflex blue up to their elbows,” elaborates Dan Shannon (another LinkedIn buddy).

So speak to designers in their language:

  1. Assume they don’t know
    Communicate as though a designer does not have a clue as to what is going on (without being condescending, please). Nobody likes to admit that they don’t know something. And creatives are notorious for this. (I know, I am one of them, but have crossed this specific language barrier a long time ago.)
  2. Speak visual
    Show them live samples, explain the options and processes, and be as visual as possible. Just talking about felt finishes, foil stamping or Chicago screws will not get a novice designer’s heart beating faster...Unless they see a sample, that is. Now it clicks and the pieces come together.

Talk to us creative folks in our own language. Learn how to speak “design” and, in turn, we will be happy to learn a few terms of print, and put our creative trust into your capable hands.

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