Need your proposal for the best way to make collaborative proposals
July 18, 2013 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Hairs are being pulled out. I don't have many left. I propose you take a peek inside for details...

Background: I'm a creative director (designer/marketer/planner). Frequently I'm asked to help put together proposals for the company. They like them to look "high end" -- i.e. designed well.

Problem 1: To make the best looking designs, I prefer to use InDesign. Allows me full graphic control. But, I'm the only one who can edit these. And there's plenty of editing on these puppies. This results in tons of back and forth. I've tried to encourage the proposal writers to completely finish the verbiage before giving to me, but that just isn't possible. They like to see it in its finished format... and then edit the crap out of it all over again.

Problem 2: I don't use (or have) Word -- I much prefer Pages on my Mac. I can design them in Pages (less graphic power), and export them to Word, which almost everyone uses. The formatting never holds up. Then I have to shuttle back and forth fixing the design.

Problem 3: GoogleDocs would be nice... but just does not allow enough graphic features.

Problem 4: I've looked for online solutions to no avail. The ones I have found are all pretty limited in what they do.

What do you do? Do you have a suggestion for an optimal collaborative solution that can retain attractive design, and allow for editing by the group?
posted by ecorrocio to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Take advantage of Adobe Creative Cloud?
posted by xingcat at 12:16 PM on July 18, 2013

Sounds like you should use Word to me. The second choice is a Google Doc for content with you periodically putting the new words into InDesign.
posted by michaelh at 12:20 PM on July 18, 2013

Export from InDesign to PDF. Have the reviewers mark up the PDF using Acrobat Pro (or other pdf editor). That's what we do at my company.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:20 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: xing: Cloud would allow storage/access, but I'm the only one with InDesign (and the skill to use it). Unless there's some collaborative cloud thing I'm not aware of.

michaelh: Don't have Word. Could buy it (albeit reluctantly). I so much prefer something else tho. I find Word really inconsistent even from like machine to machine.

Admiral: That's pretty much the process now, but it devolves into tons of back and forth ("...on page 7, change $100.59 into $100.58").

I guess part of the problem here is that I get such incomplete proposals, which maximizes the amount of back and forth. I know part of the solution is getting a more finalized copy to insert into the design. But... just wondering if there's a good solution out there I've never heard of.

posted by ecorrocio at 12:32 PM on July 18, 2013

Buy another copy or two of Indesign. Set up an editing workstation, where the writers can go to make edits to the finished designs.

Do not give up using Indesign, unless you hate the program or some such. It's a more powerful tool, with the capability for easily making high end designs.

Do not use Publisher, it is terrible program for a professional. If do, we will know and we will find you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:36 PM on July 18, 2013

I've tried to encourage the proposal writers to completely finish the verbiage before giving to me, but that just isn't possible.

Yes, it is.

Well, kind of. If you're actually changing words and/or line editing, then give them one re-look and let them mark up paper copies, and that is all. Someone has to be in charge of version control, and part of version control is saying to people, "No, you're done."
posted by Etrigan at 12:43 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

it devolves into tons of back and forth ("...on page 7, change $100.59 into $100.58").

You need to limit the number of change volleys they're allowed. Inform those you're working with that the current process is not manageable, small one-off changes are too easily lost or conflicting, and therefore you will be establishing a process for tracking changes to make their way into the proposals.

"A total of three release candidates for this proposal will be published for your review, on X, Y, and Z dates. Please consolidate all text changes into a single document to be delivered to me n days before publication of each release candidate. Changes to the third and final release candidate will be limited to typo fixes and small corrections; no major rewrites will be incorporated at that stage."

When they inevitably ignore this process and start throwing little one-off changes at you in email, just keep responding to them that the next release candidate will be on such-and-such day, please consolidate all changes into a single change document and deliver it to me on [thus-and-such].

If there are multiple people throwing changes at you, it can be convenient to have that "single change document" be a googledocs file or the like, which you would initiate containing the text (only) of the proposal -- that way they can all be collaborating on the text changes without worrying about the layout, and adding annotations for layout change requests; and you can sweep in at the end and merge everything into your final document in bulk.

Be very strict about how many of these merge-into-the-design stages you will allow; two or three should be plenty.
posted by ook at 1:28 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

You need to limit the number of change volleys they're allowed.

Do you actually have the authority to do this? If not, who does? Have you talked to them about this? If so, what did they say?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:30 PM on July 18, 2013

Yeah, obviously there ought to be a project manager driving this. The ad hoc chaos ecoriccio describes is a typical result of nobody being in charge of the process, so I'm assuming there isn't a PM in the picture here. I've found in those situations that the authority to control the process pretty much belongs to whoever is putting together the actual product, if they choose to take it.

It's not necessary (or in fact helpful) to be all alpha-male territorial about it; just let everyone know up front that hey, what we're doing doesn't work very well, so next time around we're going to try to do it this different way that should make things easier for everyone. That's part of why having a separate collaborative document where everyone can make direct edits is useful -- when they start throwing one-offs at you you don't have to be confrontational and say "no", instead you can just respond "great, thanks, put that in the gdoc at this url and I'll incorporate it in the next RC on MM/DD."
posted by ook at 2:55 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think InCopy is exactly what you need - it's a less expensive program that links up with InDesign, and it's made for just this purpose - so that editors can work somewhat independently of the designer. I tried it out for proposals in my office (I'm the designer), and it worked pretty smoothly. We ended up not purchasing after the trial ran out because it felt like overkill for our very small team, but it might be perfect for yours.
posted by ella wren at 3:00 PM on July 18, 2013

The problem cannot be solved with software of any kind. The problem is a systemic failure in management. You are being told: "Design this proposal to a high standard", but you are doing it not alongside but separately from the editorial team. You need to be attending their meetings and working alongside them the entire time to work out their vision for the project and adding in verbiage wherever possible along the way instead of redoing your own work to fit their needs right up to the deadline.

I understand you probably are the manager of your own department which is why it is even more important that you heed the call to be more involved. The longer this becomes a deadline-reaching concern and begins to affect growth, the more tenuous your position will be.

Proposal writers are never going to be happy with what they write because their job is essentially to take marketing language and interlace it into a variety of graphs and surveys. Owning up to that reality is probably very difficult for you to comprehend as a designer. I don't blame you for continuing to be open about the difference between your own working nature and theirs.
posted by parmanparman at 3:23 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Every company that does proposals needs a process. Time is money, and without a process you will waste it.

Create one. Get buy in from your content providers and higher ups. Enforce it diplomatically. As a creative director, you should already have a process for what you create..this is no different.

Project is selected, kickoff occurs, etc. etc. All the way to delivery to client.

Specifically delineate responsibilities and sign offs. Preferably your writers should collaborate with each other and have a designated writer/editor send you one document. Then a predetermined cycle of revisions takes place, with deadlines set by you, and a final sign off in time to get it ready for delivery.

Letting more people into InDesign files will create havoc...what if they delete styles or start dicking with graphics? Software is not your problem, it's lack of organization and possibly that you need to hire someone with editing and graphics skills to be a proposal coordinator.

(Which has been my job for six years).

In terms of handling edits, I export to PDF and email it to my one designated reviewer. He or she is responsible for getting me all of his or her team's edits in one document, which can be either a marked up printout or comments on the PDF.

The dates for my draft and their edits are all agreed to at the initial kickoff meeting.

Of course dates slide, but if expectations have been set, the process is much smoother.
posted by emjaybee at 10:46 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

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