Continuing education is an excellent way to keep pace with the latest products and technology. Regardless of your career path, there are many ways to stay current with a vast array or courses and information available. Designing direct mail is no different, as new technology and automation continually impacts design considerations.
Traditionally, learning about the latest changes to direct mail formats and specifications has been a bit dry. Reading technical specification documents isn’t for everyone. It’s a lot like reviewing your terms and conditions statements—it can be very time consuming, confusing, and maybe even painful for some. For that reason, we’ve created a new product design guide for our clients and staff that utilizes a number of visuals to help clearly define requirements while using as few words as possible. How information is presented makes a big impact on how well it is understood, how useful it is, and how long it is retained. Improving on and expanding our product design guide is an ongoing effort to provide documentation that is more useful for all, experts and beginners alike.
When is a Requirement Really a Requirement?
Have you ever found it a little confusing when the terms “standards,” “requirements,” and “exceptions” are intermixed in conversations about design parameters? I know I’ve been confused and I’m the subject matter expert. This confusion can make designing new creative and product formats pretty challenging.
All of these terms have some overlap and dependencies between them. Hopefully, the following definitions and descriptions will help clarify and reduce some of that confusion. Typically a standard is used to reference a preferred or common specification that is optimal or common for production. Simply put, it is usually the sweet spot that delivers the best quality product for the best price with the least amount of risk. In our new product design guide we have added the use of standard to highlight the requirements that have the fewest constraints for design and production schedules. While standard specifications may initially appear to limit your options, in most cases they actually give you more flexibility in the overall creative both with artwork and adding other features and options.
An exception or non-standard requirement usually refers to a specification or format that can be produced but is outside the normal operating or manufacturing ranges. This typically requires additional or special considerations along with cost and scheduling concessions. For example, using a non-standard form size instead of a common (or standard) form size may require special artwork and background considerations along with special bindery finishing requirements.
Requirements typically refer to things like USPS rules and privacy regulations that will incur penalties if violated. We hear from clients that one of the most valuable takeaways from attending an IWCO Direct Education Center is being able to see what really happens in production when equipment is running at thousands of feet per minute. That glimpse of reality shows what can happen if an envelope window is non-standard. It may not seem like a big deal when the envelope is designed and manufactured, but it turns into a major issue when it becomes clear that the address block does not pass the USPS tap test—a favorite subject in our Ed Center sessions.
These are just some of the common areas of confusion we see and are addressed in our product design guide. Have a question on a direct mail format standard or requirement you need answered? Contact your IWCO Direct account team and we’ll be happy to explain your options.
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