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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. 


There Errors Are Your Errors

Once upon a time, I worked at a studio where every file had to be checked by three people—the creator of the file, the proofreader and another designer or production person—before it went out to the printer. Every file, every proof, every time.

I'm a perfectionist, but that seemed like overkill even for me. But...we caught things. And we caught them early while there was still time to fix the image or typo without incurring major costs (or dare I say it, before having to reprint the piece).

A fresh pair of eyes saw things that I overlooked because I was too close to the project. But that was then, and this is now. Today, everyone is doing the jobs of three people, and budgets are tight. Who has the time and money to let three people check a project?

Then again, who has the time and money to reprint a job, or miss a deadline, or upset and potentially lose a client because of a less robust review process?

What does your conscience tell you?
Which brings up a very good question: What do you do when you spot an error?

I’m not talking emails here. They come and go and are easily forgotten. I’m talking ink on paper. You get a file from your client “ready to go” as they have assured you. But your well-trained printer eye spots a typo, a missing line, a blurry image—something that is at odds, or at least questionable.

So now you’re stuck between the infamous rock and a hard place. Do you print what the client gave you and make that super tight deadline? Or...?

I’m on the “or” side of this equation. It might not always make me the most popular person in the room, but I have my clients’ best interests at heart. So I’d rather pick up the phone and confirm that X was really intended instead of Y.

More often than not, the person on the other end appreciates the call. We’re all super busy these days. Few people can afford a proofreader or make the time to have another person check the files.

Fact is, once the piece is printed, it’s too late to fix it. So let me start you off with some simple “do-it-yourself” tips. Not just for you, but to share with your clients as well. The earlier any mistakes are caught, the better.

• Don’t rely on spell checkers. They can be very useful tools, but they are far from fool proof. Case in point: spell checkers would not have found anything wrong with this blog’s headline. (“There” should be “Their.”)

Spell checkers can’t catch misused words; those words that are spelled correctly, but used incorrectly. On the other hand, spell checkers might question your spelling and you might guess unsuccessfully if you don't know which word is appropriate.

• Don’t rely on grammar checkers.
These programs work with a limited number of rules causing them to skip over certain kinds of errors or to lure you into making mistakes.

• Read slowly and read every single word. I know you've heard this one before, but all too often, we’re in a hurry and rush over the copy. Our brain, in an effort to be helpful, substitutes words and makes unconscious corrections.

• Read backwards. This technique is very helpful in catching spelling errors because content, punctuation and grammar won’t make any sense when you’re reading backwards. Your focus will be entirely on the spelling of each word. (Obviously, this method will not catch any grammatical inconsistencies or errors.)

• Ask a friend, a colleague or an independent person to help. This should be someone who is not as closely involved in the project as you are and, ideally, who has an eye for details...and may even value the English language. ;-)

But back to my question. If this fresh set of eyes happens to be yours or someone from your team, what do you do when you catch an error or have a feeling that something just isn't right? Do you call your client, or...?

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