The art problem: speed versus quality
I was freelancing at an agency recently and I asked about the construction of a particular file I was working with, since I hadn’t created the original. This was eventually going to be a digital image used for web but was created in a program normally used for print. The answer I got was quite interesting: “Jeff, think of this studio as a M.A.S.H. unit. Do whatever it takes to save one life (or file) and move on to the next. It doesn’t matter if you lose a limb as long as the file is alive. Timing is of the essence.” Obviously the job was not set up properly for digital, but I knew technically, it still can be used. This made me question: how does one measure speed versus quality?
You know the old saying, “You can have fast, good or cheap. Which two do you want?” We are lucky in some ways. Most times costs can be left to management. As production designers we only have to deal with quality and quickness of a project. Yet even then it is hard to choose between the two. So how do we choose? It would be nice to work on projects on which quality was the most important, all the time. However, the truth is, some work doesn’t need to be Picasso’d and time is definitely an important factor most of the time. I have been caught many times, spending a lot of time fixing a file or finessing a photograph only to be told it was not required and we needed the job out yesterday. Of course you want your files to be squeaky clean, well organized and look good under the hood so much so that it would make any mother, or a “Steve Jobs”, proud. Yet when you have limited time just how much of this quality can you cut?
How do you determine how much quality you want to put into the job? One way is to judge by the specs and/or quality of the job itself. A newspaper ad will not require as much attention as a boutique magazine ad. Digital banners can be banged out faster than web sites. Usually the more involved the job is, the more attention is required before output. Also observe the studio environment and the type of products an agency is producing. See what the majority of the work is like. See how the other artists are handling those jobs. Use them as barometers to the level of work you need to produce. Will the file be used over again? Is this an ongoing campaign that will be used on multiple avenues of promotion over and over? If so, then you may have to convince your superiors that you need to spend more time on the first file as it will be used as a template for other files to follow. Last, yet possibly the most important, is to ask questions. Ask your supplier, ask your account person and ask your client. They should have a better perspective on the job you are working on and what is required and/or necessary. Sometimes suppliers don’t need certain details you typically include in a job. Sometimes the account person would rather you concentrate more on certain parts of the marketing campaign and less details on others. This is definitely important to freelancers who work at multiple agencies. Its like switching gears on a car every time you go to a different establishment.
I want to make it clear to not get quality confused with effort and hard work. Low quality does not mean you are slacking or the job is of less value. Every job, no matter how quick the turn-around deserves your best efforts. Yet knowing how far you can take the quality of a job will allow you to be more effective and make you look more and more like a rock star in the eyes of any agency.