By John Giles November 17, 2003 -- It has happened to all of us. Someone displays photos of his children or grandchildren and you're left speechless. The children are in an embarrassing pose or just aren't very attractive. You have been schooled enough in the social graces to know to keep your mouth shut or make a noncommittal comment. Every parent or grandparent thinks their child is beautiful. So if we all know enough to be polite about kids' pictures, why do so many printers routinely shoot themselves in the foot by commenting on how ugly a customer-created document is? Many customers aren't designers but they have the computer power on their desk that lets them prepare any type of document. The result is that many of the documents that are printed don't look very good. Yet the creator thinks the design he or she created should be winning design awards. With the increase in customer-created files, printers are creating problems for themselves with the way they approach the customer. Sure the file is ugly, but will it print? Printers need to concentrate on training customers to prepare the files properly so they will print, rather than reject an order because the printer believes it will reflect poorly on the printer. A poor attitude about the design in a customer-created file could negatively impact business. Customers won't repeat orders if they feel they are being ridiculed because of their design. Printers will lose money if their designer spends extra time to “improve” a file without a customer's permission. How many unbillable hours are spent each month because a designer takes time to “fix” design elements in a file? Improving the design of a customer-created file can be an “upsell.” It can add value if the customer wants the help or knows he can receive it. Gentle suggestions for improvement can be offered about the design the same way as suggestions are offered on paper stock and inks. What you want to avoid is the designer who must “fix” any customer-created file. Hours are lost each week as designers fiddle with files. Customers aren't told their files are being changed--and they aren't being charged for the expertise. The changes made may or may not be noticed by the customer. Usually if the changes are noticed it is because the customer is angry because the design was altered. Unfortunately, this money-losing situation is occurring more and more. Many print shops point to Microsoft Publisher as the leading culprit. But Microsoft is working hard to make Publisher a printer-friendly program. The latest version, Publisher 2003 has been improved and printers are reporting the program creates a better file that avoids many prepress problems. Customers can now provide a file that will print, but the files are still full of amateur mistakes. With Publisher 2003, Microsoft has produced a program and support system that makes it much easier to output a customer-created Publisher file. In addition, printers can take advantage of free commercial printing support by signing up for the Publisher Service Provider Program at . Microsoft will give printers a free copy of the latest version of Publisher as well as free access to a support team who can answer commercial printing questions. While Publisher won't replace Quark or InDesign in printing companies, it has become a major player. In fact, the installed base of Publisher is larger than Quark, InDesign and Pagemaker combined. Because all these amateur designers using the program need someone to reproduce the files, printers need to see Publisher as an opportunity rather than a problem. But surprisingly, customers are having a lot of trouble finding commercial printers who will support Publisher. Customers are searching for someone who will answer their questions and help them overcome problems. They don't want to hear that they have the wrong program and their only solution is to buy a “real” publishing program. An attitude change is in order for many design and prepress departments about customer-created files and Publisher in particular. The old adage of giving the customer what they want holds true today. Designers need to be willing to help the customer prepare a file that will print properly. The sales staff needs to let the customer know that design help is available if the customer wants it. Don't let an attitude toward customer-created design in less than perfect software programs keep you from making money. Printers are in business to make money. If you don't embrace this opportunity, Publisher and some “ugly” files will make some printer in your market very profitable