Having just asked all our staff members in the Auckland studio to please not let the bathroom door bang shut, as it sounds and feels like an earthquake, it seems like a good time to begin writing down my story.
Let’s wind backwards from today.
I’m currently working full time in Auckland, living on my own and seeing my family once every few weeks. WTF! Where did my business ground rule of family first go?
It was called an earthquake, but more than the ground shook five years ago. We had a fantastic team in Christchurch at the time. I want to say they rocked, but the double meaning probably isn’t appropriate. We had two fantastic senior designers, a very switched on junior and a bright and bubbly accounts manager (who was an awesome team builder), plus a brand new part-timer who had just become part of the team. Our workload and cashflow were reflecting the awesome in-house attitude, with Scholastic internals and covers racing out the door and a print contract for Te Kura in full swing. These were coming off the back of two large contracts for McGraw-Hill and Macmillan, both publishers from the US with New Zealand managers.
It had taken a while to build things to this level and a number of factors had come into alignment to achieve this almost level of contentment. My children were now old enough that family wasn’t always prioritising my time. I had been travelling regularly to Auckland and Wellington to build a presence with publishers and I regularly attended industry events out of town. We had also built a great school market in Christchurch, with school magazines being a huge part of our turnover in Nov/Dec before the Christmas lull.
The family first rule had already started to relax and I was getting into a very nice space of enjoying being a business owner. We were based in our purpose-built office in my home, but the fit was becoming tight. On the day of the February quake, I was just grabbing lunch and about to race out to the car to meet a real estate agent in town. I had already cancelled our first viewing to get an urgent quote out, but we were set to view another three properties that afternoon. I’ve never heard from that chap again, and I never made it from the kitchen to the car that day.
Upstairs was a group of five very scared ladies. By the time I got up there, they were all clinging to each other in the middle of the room. Don’t forget we had already had a taste of the aftermath of earthquakes with September the year before. While that one was during the night and at the weekend, we had no power for five days and everyone was very cautious to leave their homes and come back to work. I remember we started with a shared lunch on the Tuesday, so everyone could visit the office and see it was still in one piece, before getting their heads around coming back for a whole day. So the last thing we all needed was this bigger shake up just a few months later.
I could go on about the wine that was drunk that February afternoon, while everyone braved the courage to drive home and deal with the mess and the liquefaction they knew would be waiting. It was funny, as the power was out and the phones were down, it was all so very, very quiet. We just wanted to capture that stillness and to recover before having to deal with the next bit, cause we all knew what as coming. It’s still a moving moment thinking about it now. If you are interested in hearing our first hand experiences, I recorded the conversations we had when returning to work after these quakes. They need a bit of editing and the quality isn’t the best, but they are still something I struggle to listen to today. There is a lot of raw emotion.
Blog from the past – We are back
The good news is almost everyone did come back to work again. Our new part-timer was the only casualty at that stage. But there was a new ‘normal’. Something had been broken and you could see the stress racing in to fill the cracks. Things went along like this until winter began. One designer now had a 60 min drive to get to work because of road closures (it was previous 20 minutes), our accounts manager (a type 2 diabetic) now lived with a huge sinkhole in her driveway and her house split in two with a crack in the floor that was mirrored by a crack in the ceiling (and the house still deemed to be livable). Something just had to give and with two serious snowstorms and no power again for another five days, we found our clients (who had been wonderful until now), were starting to search for a more reliable service.
Then our senior designer who already had a trip planned overseas decided not to come back to NZ as planned and instead tried her luck in Perth. Our accounts manager succumbed to the stress with a big steam-valve like release and made a final decision to ‘take some time out’. It was three years before she entered the workforce again. This left two very lovely young girls in which Christchurch had nothing left for.
Blog from the past – Lots and lots of changes
When we first started to get an inkling that our clients were looking around for a more reliable service, we explored the option of not replacing the staff that had left and instead opening an Auckland branch. We still had the issue of not enough space in our home office and rental in Christchurch was now very difficult and expensive to come by. We found a great place in Birkenhead, signed the rental contracts and set about finding a studio manager to oversee things.
It’s funny, but if I had had to make this decision to move under normal circumstances I don’t think I would have had the courage too, but back then it just seemed like the right thing to do.
We advertised for a studio manager and the poor lady who we choose to take on the role came down to Christchurch for two weeks training. It was June/July 2011. The first quake hit as we were driving to the studio from the airport. The second just as she sat down as her desk for the first time. There was wine needed again in the recovery of this shake. The next big one was 10pm that night and was the most violent one we have ever had. The poor girl, went back to Auckland and decided she didn’t want the position.
This left an empty studio in Birkenhead that we were paying rent for and two young Christchurch designers with an escape route.
Blog from the past – We’re up and running
Looking back now I think having the girls offer to move to Auckland was one of our lucky breaks. They were both friends outside of work and while neither of them are with us today (or even in NZ anymore), they are both still good mates. The difficult bit still though was to find a studio manager. We had two more failed attempts until we found Dexter Fry and another very lucky break.
Dexter’s biggest asset was his patience and his ability to get on with almost everyone, including a stressed out me. He played a huge part in removing the anxiety that had built up over these years, while also building a great studio and team in Auckland. I owe him a huge debt.
So you can see that change is something our team is very much used to. Our digital journey had began before the earthquakes with ebooks just starting to take off and being talked about. PANZ held the ‘Future of the Book’ conference and Martin Taylor conceiving the idea of the NZ digital warehouse.
Blog from the past – Interactive PDFs animated Gifs and book Trailers?
Ereaders hadn’t hit the market yet and iPads were still a concept with everyone wondering what they would be like. Funny looking back now. When the iPad did finally arrive we all had to struggle with the lack of ‘flash’ and the narrowness of the market with products only being available through Apple. This really made us think about interactive content and how we could adapt what was on our desks for new purpose within a digital distribution channel.
Blog from the past – New Profiles
A lot of these early initiatives failed and as the market adjusted the up-take wasn’t as large as first projected. As a business we didn’t make any really bigmoves until Adobe released Digital Publishing Suite (DPS). This really was a game changer and the most exciting thing to happen in the field.
DPS gave us the ability to develop front end content using the tools we already know and love. It allowed us to repurpose any existing print files using the exact same assets and give this content a whole new life in a new world. Around the same time HTML5 was released which opened up all the delivery platforms. Content could now be bought and used on Apple, Android and your good old desktop. For the education BYOD market, this was huge. The world we had been watching for the past five years, was now our oyster. Because of the background we had come from in publishing we found that we looked at this opportunity in a different way to other graphic design agencies and saw a variety of new and exciting markets.
But now I’m racing ahead in my story to the present day, and missing out the good bits at the very beginning of why I do what I do today.
Way back then
I’m lucky my parents could see that I was bored with school in the sixth form and because I had good grades in typing they thought I should apply for a typesetters job advertised at the Christchurch Press. I was 17. My interview was with Bob Sutherland, the then production manager. Bob thought I would be ideal for an apprenticeship and he had two on offer. Both had very long words for their titles and one had something to do with type. Which is what I went home and told my parents about as it was the only word I could remember and pronounce. Thus I was accepted for the Typography apprenticeship. The other apprenticeship was a Lithography, which was wiped out as a trade years ago with technology taking over. Lucky again.
My time was 8000 hours and they were wonderful. I got to do block courses in Auckland, met my first boyfriend, attend Outward Bound and make lifelong friendships. Even in those days the industry was changing fast. We set type using code [c14p12l14.5] and then scalpel cut and waxed the bromide sheets to cut and paste the newspaper columns. My department was Cold Type. I set the Ballantynes ads. In Christchurch, that was an honour. Towards the end of my time everyone was waiting for their redundancy package as the Printers & Manufacturers Union were changing and our skills were being written out. I decided not to wait for my payout and instead headed to London.
CK Typesetters in Croydon was my next stop just as Desktop Publishing and “Pagemaker” was being introduced. You need to hear the glowing stars around that word, as Pagemaker was the revolution in those days, that DPS is for us today. Imagine what the world would be today without Pagemaker. The Professional Photographer was the title of the magazine I was responsible for. Me and my ‘Kiwi feathers’ learnt a lot there. We worked long hours to meet deadlines and overcome lost files and machinery breakdowns. It was an awesome team and truly showed the comradery of what can be achieved when you work together. Kevin was a great boss and one day I really do want to grow up to be just like him.
On returning to New Zealand around 1986 I found I was ahead of the game compared with what had been happening here with Desktop Publishing. All my former colleagues from The Press were looking for work, as well as quickly eating through their redundancy cheques. I got a job running a typesetting agency and then went to the Print Bureau with Dave Butcher and Chris Broderick. Designers would bring us their files and we would ‘output’ them onto bromide or film. Gee whizz the world is so much simpler these days!
The Print Bureau days instilled in me the importance of clean files and clean code. These principles are very relevant today. You are passing on your files to another source whether it be print or uploading for digital distribution, and following the rules and creating a hassle free experience for all involved is vitally important. Looking back on the variety of teams I worked with I can also see the importance of the relationships that were formed in the studio environment. Learning about clients was something that didn’t come along until I started my own business, but I certainly knew the importance of good communication.
Kim Dovey Desktop was my first incarnation which coincided with my first pregnancy. My lovely man (who is still around) thought that the perfect compromise was that if I wanted a baby, I still had to earn. I have never believed in the saying ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’ and set about making it all work. Now with two beautiful grown boys, three lovely step-children and a growing horde of grandchildren, a studio in Auckland, and us living our best life in the best of both worlds, I think I have made it all happen — just about.
All due your sheer tenacity, and belief in your abilities and vision.