Hi I am working as the main graphic designer / printer in a sign shop. We have a constant flow of work which is non stop. The pressure fluctuates but is pretty constant.

I would like to hear if anyone has any advice or systems I could implement to help manage and feel under control within the design management and process.

I currently date work the day I receive it and order the pile from the shortest to longest time frame. My director requests that I aim to get the work out within 2 days, but I'm just not keeping up.

A huge part is not only am I juggling the printing duties of projects but also allowing time for urgent jobs that keep pushing ahead of the pile.

Any advice or ways that others have handled there work load? This is my first design job which I have been at for 3 1/2 years and I just feel there could be some smarter ways out there to make my days less stressful!

Easy answer would be getting another designer in but it's not really up to me :)

  • 1
    It sounds like you're doing more production art than design. Nothing wrong with that, but as you've probably figured out, you're not really getting the time to do true design thinking, but rather just pumping out visuals as fast as you can. That's the nature of a sign shop, of course.
    – DA01
    Sep 10, 2015 at 6:15
  • Yes you are exactly right which is good and bad. It's great to have a quick turn around as it feels like you are achieving a great deal of work in the day which is satisfying. But I must admit I do get excited when a job comes in for a complete logo design or visual identity :) the only issue with this is this involves more like 1hr to 2hours of my time which seems like a long time when you are used to pumping work out mostly within 30min :) Is so great to be involved with a project from start (logo design) to final production of signs and seeing and being involved with the finished result Sep 11, 2015 at 23:07
  • I have a major in graphic design so definitely have the skills for proper design and love to use them when I can, but it is hard when the boss gives you an hour (because this is all the client wants to pay for) time to design a final logo, I want to go for it and create something stunning! but in an under an hour this is pretty tricky so the pressure is on to create something I'm proud to send off :) Sep 11, 2015 at 23:12
  • For what it's worth, when a design firm is hired to do a logo, it can range from anywhere from 8 hours (for a solo freelancer doing a gig for a local business) to 800 hours (large firms doing large rebrandings). So being asked to do a logo in 1-2 hours is rather crazy--but again, the point of a sign shop is to sell signs, and they can't sell the sign until the logo is done. :)
    – DA01
    Sep 11, 2015 at 23:23
  • 1
    @DA01 yes I fully get where you are coming from as yes defiantly think I will need to work for an design agency whose business is creating logos one day to see what I prefer, and I'm sure the money would be much better! It's interesting how much time it takes and is acceptable to create a big corporate brand and what goes on in the background :) Sep 12, 2015 at 4:22

4 Answers 4


Many, many, many moons ago I had a job in a production environment that required fast turnaround of "designs". I use quotes because in reality it was far more typesetting and layout or production than it was actual design.

This was really an invaluable position for my career as a whole. It gave me a strong footing in production which has only served me well over the years. So, even though it may be more production than design, there's a great deal to be said for spending a few years in that type of environment.

When I was working in this position I customarily spit out 70-100 projects daily. (no exaggeration, I kept track) Granted many of these were simple "put a name on a business card template" or things of that nature. But there was a mountain of work and only myself to go through it all. This was before the days of the internet, back with 8MB of RAM was HUGE (yes MEGAbytes). With Photoshop 3/4, Illustrator 7/8 and QuarkXPress 2/4 (YUCK!)... So... it was quite a while ago. Systems were slower and everything took way more time so getting coworkers accustomed to allowing me breathing room did take some effort.

What I learned to assist in organization....

  1. EVERY job must have a job ticket describing what is required. These tickets are to be filled out by the coworker requesting the work. Incomplete or unclear tickets would merely delay production and delays were understood to be due to the coworker, not me. This served to get accurate, clear job tickets most of the time.
  2. Job tickets were stacked as first received, first completed, no exceptions. New tickets were placed at the bottom of the stack.
  3. I, personally, never jumped the stack. Whatever was on top... is what I worked on next no matter what it was or what I "felt" like working on. The top job ticket was the next to get done in all cases.
  4. In my position I had 6 people filing job tickets. I provided each of those people with only 2 "rush" opportunities per week. Yes, you'll repeatedly get requests to "jump the line" but all that does is cause pile ups. So by providing 2 chances to request a rush, they used them sparingly rather than for EVERY ticket.
  5. Errors/corrections due to my mistakes were always treated as rush projects and completed "next". So, there was never more than a day's delay with correction. These types of errors were most commonly things like typos or misalignments - quick easy fixes.
  6. Errors/corrections due to a faulty job ticket were always completed by 10am the next day. So there was never that much of a delay with those either. But these errors probably entail more than a quick typo fix.

Beyond managing the inflow of work, keeping a well organized file structure on the computer is also imperative. How you organize things is not nearly as important as how intuitive the organization is to you. You need to ensure you use file and directory naming conventions that quickly allow you to find things. Don't title all business card files "BusCard1.indd" that's not helpful. Use unique identifiers in all file names - company name + file type (i.e. McDonalds_BusinessCard.indd) or whatever, just so long as it's not generic. This allows you to search more accurately and to identify file contents merely by the file title.

In today's world.. I'd imagine most of the job tickets I had would now be emails. So, I'd set up a specific email address for only job tickets and configure a few inbox folders... New, Completed, Delayed, Rush. All new ticket emails would file in the New folder, then be moved to others accordingly. Sort the New director in Descending order and whatever email is on top of the list is the next project to complete.

I don't know that any of this will help you specifically. It's just how I handled things. One important thing I learned is to speak up if you feel you are being pushed too much. No one will just decide to give you an extra day for something. Most likely everything you touch is wanted YESTERDAY!!!!!!!!. So it's up to you to set expectations. Get people used to 2 day turnaround on new tickets due to your work load, and 1 day on edits, corrections, or updates ... then eventually you may be able to get them to adjust to 3 day turnaround for new tickets. This will provide you with a little breathing room. Truth of the matter is I still handle things this way today.. new projects are always set with several days or weeks to initial delivery -- while edits, corrections, or updates to existing projects are always completed as soon as possible.

That does not mean I drop everything as soon as a correction/update comes in. But rather, when I'm working on a new project and I get to a point where I need to take a break from it or I need to give some room so I can look at it with "fresh" eyes, I pick up the corrections/updates and spit those out. I just don't start a "new" project until the last "new' project is ready and there are no correction/updates left to do.

I also have a habit of spending the first hour or two of the day doing the grunt labor stuff like corrections/changes/updates. Since the aesthetics are probably already sorted, there's less creative power needed for those. So, it's traditionally been a good way for me to get geared up for things more creative later in the day.

  • Fantastic! Great advice about teaching your coworkers to fill out job tickets and obey the system. The system is there for their benefit as well; it doesn't help anyone if everyone's jobs are "rush." Sep 10, 2015 at 10:03
  • Wow you totally get it thankyou so much for such great advice! It is invaluable and so great to hear from someone who has worked in a similar job. Limiting the urgent job tickets sounds great I will have to try this. Sep 11, 2015 at 10:53
  • If you have any more thoughts on a brief over view of our work system :) I couldn't figure out how to tag you in my comment to Vicki below. Sep 11, 2015 at 22:35
  • Another process which is got me a bit stumped, is my boss who is dealing with a lot of the sales quite often gets me to work on proofs that are not Official jobs yet. They are still in the quoting process and he wants to show/sell the customer the sign/vehicle signage. This is great to try and up sell and show the customer what they are getting but a lot of the time we just don't hear back at all. Resulting in 30min at least design time which goes unpaid for and my time wasted. Is this just part of the industry as people don't want to commit to anything until they see what they get? Sep 11, 2015 at 22:51
  • @HollyHarré uhm.... no. Spec work is definitely NOT standard in the industry (no-spec.com) However, if your boss is telling you to.. then.. well.. it's your boss. Not sure what you mean that you "don't get paid" If you have a "boss" aren't you paid either hourly or on a salary?
    – Scott
    Sep 11, 2015 at 23:07

Have you ever tried anything like Trello?

Trello is a nice tool for organizing tasks within projects and is incredibly user-friendly. And it's free for basic use. It was designed for companies who practice Agile Development, but it's great for anyone who wants to keep track of what's happening at any point in a project's development (I use it at my day job and for my own personal projects).

An example of how you could set things up:

  1. Create a new Board for each client.
  2. On that Board, create Columns to track progress steps.
  3. In the Columns live Cards for each project/assignment.

An example of how you could track progress on a given project (bold items are column names):

  • Projects Received: This is where a project begins. When a new assignment is received, someone makes a card for it, and adds the designer(s) to it who will be working on it. You can also add special labels or even due dates to the cards that change color as the date approaches.
  • Brainstorming: When someone is ready to work on the assignment, move the card to this column, then do some brainstorming and add any photos from your white boarding seshes or sketches you might have.
  • Mock-ups: Move the card here, and once you have some low-fidelity comps you can attach them.
  • Revisions: Move the card to this column to show that the designer is in the process of incorporating feedback from the client or peers. You might add comments about what was discussed in meetings or over the phone. Comments are time-stamped, very handy if you need to go back to them later.
  • Pre-Press: If your project is being printed, move the card here to show that changes are no longer being made, and files are being made ready for press.
  • Finished: The best column! When the card moves here, there is a comprehensive history of everything that has happened through the life of the project. And if you've created a board for each client, you have an organized one-stop shop to go back and see everything you've done for them.

That's just an example. You could also just have one massive board and use a new card for each client+project. Whatever fits your needs best. I'd suggest playing around with it (since it's free) to see if it's a good fit for your workflow and style.

  • This sounds like its worth looking into :) we use a similar system but with a hard copy on a clipboard. We have 'New Work' which is where ALL jobs go. Then they are divided out into PRINTING & PROOFS (what I manage) & PRODUCTION/ INSTALLS which work the boys do for the day. The proofs have a job ticket with a rough idea of what the customer wants, I do the layout and put it on the front desk, it then gets emailed off tothe client. I then get the proof back from the 'NEW WORK' Clipboard another day. The lady at front desk notes changes on proof so I don't deal directly withcustomer 95% of time Sep 11, 2015 at 22:27
  • Totally similar concept. It's essentially just a digital version of index cards taped to a board on the wall.
    – Vicki
    Sep 11, 2015 at 22:42
  • Yes great :) even though I don't have control over how the whole work production system works from start to finish Im sure I can implement something into my own print/proof area set up :) Sep 11, 2015 at 22:56

No distractions

The most important thing is: You need to not be bothered all day by salesmen requests, phone and other distractions. If you work with a team, one of the team has to be the manager and take care of all these things.

Not only distractions cause waste of time but they also cause mistakes because they take your and your team's attention away. From my experience, this is a huge factor that affects productivity. If you need to answer phone a lot, that needs to be changed; people will need to get used to write to you instead, talk to the manager or use the folder system I mention in the next point. That's really important.


Each project should have a folder with a number. All files should be named accordingly for fast retrieving when archived or when you need to work on a it.

Each folder should be filled by the salesman with clear instructions; there should be a place for size, colors, date received, date of delivery and notes about the files that are already provided. If there is a rush, this should be approved by the estimation department or whoever is fixing the prices for the projects. Otherwise you'll end up doing rush that aren't really rush.

When you receive a folder, if these instructions are not clear or are incomplete, the manager (or you) should send it back to the salesperson with a note about what's missing. This folder goes back at the end of the line! Over time, sales people end up being more careful as they suffer from their lack of care and attention; but you will save a great amount of time this way and your workflow will not stop or slow down because of this.

What's also convenient about instructions is that you can verify your own work more easily. The instructions should be written in the way of bullet points, like Once you've done one line of instruction, you can put a check mark next to it. This way you don't forget anything. The instructions need to not be written in big paragraph or it will be confusing.

The way you can create these "folders" is by using normal brown envelop or create oversize ones that you can re-use; and in each of them use a 17x11" printed sheets folded in 2, and print fields and lines on them as a brochure that will be filled by your sales people. Each set of proof should have its own folder to avoid confusion. And all these sheets should be easily found in the envelop; this way you always have references if you need to verify something from the previous proofs/requests.

Filling papers might seem annoying sometimes but when you have stuff written, you have proofs and you also have references you can trust if your memory fails you. Especially with a lot of stress, it really helps to use a system with a paper trail like this. It also forces the other departments to do their jobs properly so you don't have to waste time doing "puzzles" or spending time on stuff you shouldn't. You don't need to stand up to change a board, you simply fill your folders and put them with the proof.


There's no way you can stop it and some companies make big money simply because they can deliver rush that others can't. It's possible you work for one of them! So the only thing you can do is make sure you have an efficient workflow and that no project slows it down.

But there's some limits to what can be done. What needs to be done first is to evaluate how many projects can be done in a day and how many rush in average need to be done too.

Usually, your estimation department or the people who have set the prices for the jobs should KNOW how many hours are supposed to be spent on each project and you should also be told about it. Logically, if you work 8hr a day, they have to plan for about 5-6hr max of normal projects and leave you 2-3hr for the rush. Even less if you count your lunch time and pauses. This way you'll have time for a certain number of projects that need to be done that day and will still have extra time for unpredictable emergencies. And if you have no rush one day, you'll simply start the projects of the next day! That's how you will always get everything done on time.

Your managers cannot give you 14hr of work in a day and add rush, and expect you to be on time; at some point, the quality will decrease and/or you'll burn out! And anyway, it doesn't make sense; you can't create time, you can only use it better! If they want this, they'll need to hire more designers or a manager so you can work in peace and full time on the projects.

If your boss asks you special requests, you do them but they should fit in that kind of system mentioned above anyway. It's totally normal he does this and should simply be considered as a rush; but if you can freely talk to him and ask him if it can be done as a normal project, he will be happy to let you more time for these requests. It's his business and he's there for the money after all.


As explained above, each project should have a precise period of time calculated for each of them. You can use a Gantt chart if it can help you visualize the workflow better but frankly, that's something the departments who prepare the work for you should use. With a fast workflow of 2 days, it's almost useless to waste time fixing the chart.

One thing: Don't promise too much to please others. Be realistic. I don't know how is the environment where you work but usually all departments end up begging the designers for extra requests or more attention to their own project. You need to be careful about this and keep following your own folders' schedules and respect the dates of delivery for the projects that were planned to be done and the real rush. Otherwise you will end up penalizing yourself and the other co-workers who are well organized.

File naming

This is a system that works very well:

What is your file naming convention you use for version control?

  • wow thanks heaps! This is my first time asking a question on this forum and I am blown away how helpful land caring people are:) it's so great to chat to people that fully understand and get it! Sep 12, 2015 at 4:30
  • Distractions, this is very true I can be answering phone sales inquiries, answering the counter & printing & boy does it slow my design process down. Don't get me wrong though, I have to admit I actually really enjoy getting off the computer and interacting with people & helping with sales questions it's really rewarding. I can get so absorbed into the computer trying to pump out my proofs for hours - a lot of it quick mind numbing layouts which is fine, but the mixture of jobs help break this up. From a business point of view though this is def not efficient in the design proof management. Sep 12, 2015 at 4:40
  • You are right about the sales team not putting enough details on the jobs and I have to chase them up and get them to explain further which is an area I need to get a better grip of. You fully understand the 'urgent rush job' senario it's my bosses, (as I work in a family business) and they have the say in the end. A lot of the rush jobs are the clients that have a lot of money and it's important to stay in there good books & win brownie points for getting what they want in short notice. We don't really have an estimation department the boss just quotes a job with design time to be confirmed Sep 12, 2015 at 4:50

When I used to work under a constant flow of old and new tasks, my best tools were Gmail, Finder in OS X, notebook notes and InDesign.

In Gmail, my clients (or maybe your director) would send me emails with the tasks. Emails have a date and sometimes even a deadline, so that's convenient. You can also create folders, that's convenient too. If you keep organising your emails into folders, or maybe leave the ones for the tasks in progress on top of your inbox, the moment you turn on your computer in the morning you are looking at the emails of the ongoing jobs and maybe the deadlines as well.

In OS X's Finder, I usually dated every folder I created, and created a folder for each new task. For example "2015-08-05-Client-name-project-name". Naming like this is very important because that's how you can search your computer for everything made in "2015-08" for example, and easily sort results by either name or date modified. Moreover, you can leave the folders with ongoing work open in your Finder, since Finder reopens folders that were left open on startup.

In InDesign, which is where most of the work happens for a lot of designers, many projects can be open at the same time. And, quite like Finder, it reopens the ongoing projects whenever you close and reopen the application. Therefore, you can have 15 projects in tabs side by side in InDesign and go from one to the other until they're finished. If they're open in a tab, it means they're unfinished, right there, under your eyes. When you're done exporting them and sending them to the printer's, you can close the tab.

Eventually, keeping notes in a notebook is also a good way to get organised. List all the ongoing tasks, write the deadline for each one of them, and erase or black them out with a large marker when they're done. This way you're only going to see what's left out to do. Sometime write back on a new sheet the current tzsks or after a meeting with your boss.

  • This is great and I'm sure Most of what we do will all be on the computer but currently emails and customer correspondence is managed by another staff member and they just not all the changes on the hard copy of the proof which is what I receive. Yes lists are what I do not do enough of to just keep track of what I have done for the day and have got to do! I will work on this :) Sep 11, 2015 at 23:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.