In this episode of the GAMUT Podcast from Idealliance, our guest John Parsons explains the enormous potential of technology that combines the printed page’s educational value with digital media to solve education challenges in a COVID environment. John is the Principal of the Seattle-based consulting firm Intuideas. He is an independent writer, editor, and business analyst in the printing and publishing sectors. John, along with Dr. Harvey Levenson, co-authored the book, “Introduction to Graphic Communication,” Second Edition.

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Podcast Transcript

Jeff Collins (00:03):

Here’s the question, “How can we serve innovative voices, smart ideas, and the latest technology to improve brand identity, product consistency, and profitability, and the print and packaging supply chain?” Welcome to the Idealliance GAMUT podcast. I am your host, Jeff Collins.

Idealliance is a nonprofit association and we serve the global supply chain for brands, print and packaging with 12 offices located around the world. If you are interested in becoming a member, you can join us by visiting our website www.idealliance.org.

On today’s podcast, our guest is John Parsons and John is the principal of a Seattle based consulting firm. John’s also an independent writer, editor and business analyst in the printing and publishing sectors. And up until 2009, John was the editorial director for the sea boat report. John, welcome to the GAMUT podcast. It’s great to have you on today.

John Parsons (01:11):

Thanks Jeff. It’s really good to be on the podcast. It couldn’t be better timing because we’re about to release at the end of this month, the Idealliance Guide to Print Production Volume 21. And for our listeners that aren’t familiar with the guide, it is chock full of information regarding standards, best practices, specifications, and many other topics that are critical to the print and packaging supply chain, as far as quality things like lighting conditions spot color handling, extended color gamut, et cetera.

Jeff Collins (01:49):

John, you played a critical role in this current publication as copywriter, as well as all throwing the forward. And we appreciate that your skills as an author, as a writer within our industry, graphic communications and printing is very well known. We collaborate on a few projects in the past and today you get to share with us some of the innovations that you used and incorporated, and the book that you published and co-authored with Harvey Levenson, it’s called the Introduction to Graphic Communication, a new kind of book, combining print and multimedia engagement.

Jeff Collins (02:26):

John, we get to hear from you about some of the innovative technologies that you incorporated into that book to really create a drastically different engagement for the reader, for the student, for the person that’s using that reference in production, as a job aid, and you had a front seat ride to the digital transformation of the print and publishing industry. And I would love for you to share before we get started and dive deep into this topic. I just mentioned, I would love for you to share with our listeners your background. I know that you started out in industry as an apprentice and that’s something that I can relate to because that’s how I started. I started as an apprentice in a GCU union, local two 85.

John Parsons (03:11):

That was my union too. I’m going to date myself. I started my first apprenticeship in 1976 in a small job commercial job shop, but I even go further than that when I was a kid. I got one of those little metal rotary presses in the early sixties as a toy – one of my favorite toys! So I’ve had, you know, print from childhood, but the real switch for me after my apprenticeship was when I was introduced to digital prepress in 85. I got one of the early Macintosh’s and a copy of PageMaker. And so I’ve been say fooling with that. I started my own business in the eighties doing desktop publishing for hire. And in the late nineties, I was hired by the Sebald report as a staff editor early, early two thousands, and then another stint as editorial director and from 2006 to 2009. So I’ve been following with great interest the trends and the changes in the industry following along and, commenting. Since 2009, I’ve been a freelancer, and freelance writing and more recently I’ve switched almost exclusively to writing books. I got together with Harvey Levinson at Cal Poly and did his introduction to graphic communications. We revised that book completely in 2017 and it was published in 2018. And since then I’ve been writing books full time.

Jeff Collins (04:41):

John, you collaborated with us to produce the Guide to Print Production and we had a variety of different authors that contributed to that publication. People like Don Hutchinson and Bruce Bain and Ron Ellis, Steve Smiley among others and what I think is unique about you is that you have an expertise level grip of technology and color management and print workflows combined with your capabilities as an author.

John Parsons (05:12):

Well, I wouldn’t call myself the expert. There’s a lot of experts. The Guide to Print Production was a joint offering effort by many people like Bruce and Don just over the years contributing their fantastic knowledge of color into printed form. My challenge was to turn that collection of great articles into a single book. It sometimes was challenging because they have different styles and people spell color differently. I mean, all from smaller shoes to big ones. So my goal was to make it an enduring and yet still growing book about probably one of the most important standards concepts in our industry, which is color consistency. I can give you my take on that because our industry has had this issue since the 15th century, when Gutenberg invented the means of manufacturing moveable type.

John Parsons (06:09):

So we could have met hundreds of impressions off of a single chase as opposed to handwriting each one. And that was forced that for centuries. We developed a process for doing that was proprietary and then we came up with specifications for how high the T the block of type had to be the concept of type high, which is really kind of weird because there’s at least three or four different definitions of that height, different one in Europe. My favorite one was there’s a 19th century handbook that describes Taipei as 15, 16, seven English inch, less a small amount, whatever that is. We no longer have letterpress, but in the 19th century, we had standards of mechanization and automation with rotary presses. In the 20th century, the offset in flexo came into their own.

John Parsons (07:04):

And at the end of the century, they had a postscript and PDF. Each of those started as proprietary and then developed into specifications that people different people, more or less followed, and then sooner or later, as, as the industry became more global and we needed to have one way of doing a certain thing, it became a standard PDF started as Adobe prep proprietary. It rapidly became a spec that everybody used differently. Now it’s an ISO Standard Adobe released. So it’s really true in color and the reason this book, the Guide to Print Production is so important is because it defines these evolving standards many of which are ideal clients either authored or sponsored in the various working groups. So it’s a fascinating core knowledge for people who want to be a part of what printing is becoming. To make it change and be globally relevant, you have to have these specifications slash standards that that help us to do the things consistently.

John Parsons (08:12):

So if a package that’s printed in China is different from the sign that’s printed in North America, if it’s different, that’s a problem for a brand, then you have to find a way to make it not different. You have to wake up to consistently do it without having to have individual conversations over every single what percentage of CMYK is being used and all the manual things that slow it down. It’s a really critical book in my view, and I was really thrilled, honored to be able to corral it into a single volume, which as you and I know will not be the last volume. There’s going to be additions as new standards, mature and develop.

Jeff Collins (08:56):

And we’ll get into some of the multimedia technology that you incorporate in your book, the introduction to graphic communications. But I see these capabilities are these add ons to the printed page and how important the printed pages are to education. The combination of the multimedia engagement really provides a just in time strategy to keep things updated and relevant due to changing specifications, standards technology, as well as environmental challenges like COVID.

John Parsons (09:31):

It is just in time for the print version and I’m going to betray my bias, which is not really a bias. It has scientific backing that the printed page, if your audience are in printing, you’ll hear an amen, but the printed page actually has an impact on learning all the internet video, collateral information, PDFs, the things that you can get instantly – they’re valuable, but the deep learning that you need, when you have a new associate being trained, or a student in college being trained -that printed page has value. We featured in our book, a video by Dr. Eagleman, who has actually done scientific peer reviewed studies on the learning value of having a printed page in a book or in a printed publication – it’s deeper learning.

John Parsons (10:21):

It’s more long-lasting learning, right. In our book, we couldn’t go just with the printed version. Dr. Levinson had his original book published in 2007 and it was a fine book. It sold really well. A lot of colleges adopted it, but we needed to update it, not only in the content, but in the learning approach. So what we decided to do in 2017 is redo the book and add all the new things that were being done since 2007. And there were a lot in the printed version, but we also used a technology from Ricoh called clickable paper, so that a smartphone or a tablet user could scan the opening pages of a chapter and get related information and the information that would be potentially something that changed or was new something you wouldn’t want to wait for.

John Parsons (11:12):

The next version of the book, the on-demand version you would want to have, first of all, the textbook is it’s, it stands alone, but if you wanted more information, you want to be able to get that. You have the benefit of the physical page that you can touch and it’s scientifically proven that it has a deeper level of learning, but you also have immediate access to the volatile information, the demo videos. We took a whole slew of marketing videos and with permission and repurposed them to show different aspects of the printing industry and for training, Idealliance is well-known for its training. Those kinds of experiences are very valuable as well as the printed book. So I wanted to do both. I wanted to have a printed substantive thing that you have you put on your shelf and with the Guide to Print Production, there’s going to be a follow-up volume on demand, because things change.

John Parsons (12:12):

You also have a whole library of really good training material plus live certification. What we did with our book Introduction to Graphic Communication when COVID hit a number of schools decided to use us instead of their existing textbooks, because of this connection to the online world. The University of Houston was holding lectures and labs. I don’t know how they did labs, but they did labs and lectures using Microsoft teams. The book had already been printed and University of Houston had adopted it now for over a year. They also said they had these students that were home that couldn’t attend lectures. So we simply added a link to the existing book. They could scan it with their phone, scan the cover and then they would get a link to the login page for that session which we took down after the sessions were over.

John Parsons (13:10):

It was not the only way to get to there Microsoft teams (meeting rooms -virtual meeting rooms), but it was an extra step, extra convenience for the students. They could have the book with them, be studying and go up to the time for class. They would scan the book and be able on their phone to participate in the class. They log in, do their password and then participate in the class. So we’re seeing that increasingly we’re seeing more potential for the printed book that has this adjunct of clickable paper to access, not only videos on demand, which we provided but new videos, a lot of these schools are producing. Demos of folder folding and bindery techniques. Some kids can’t attend the class itself because of COVID but they can watch the instructor do a live demo or a live session is recorded of a demo of the PR process. And they can learn by seeing even when they can’t learn by doing.

Jeff Collins (14:14):

Other than that, there’s augmented reality, but still not the same experiences being live hands-on.

John Parsons (14:21):

You can do augmented reality. People have played with augmented reality where you’re putting on the goggles and “working with the press.” I’ve seen some of those demos. Those are expensive and right now schools don’t have a lot of spare cash lying around, neither does a printing company, but they do have phones. We can record and we can remote capture people doing make ready on a dye cutter for example and whether it’s for an program, you can watch that sooner or later, you have to go in and actually run the test. But you can be recorded if the person evaluating you and you are learning how to run and do make ready on a dye cutter is in Milwaukee and you’re in Seattle. You can actually capture that person running through the drill or any kind of process you could do.

John Parsons (15:15):

You could do print out targets on a proofing device and scanning them for your certificate. And you can record things and then have the remote person view those privately so it’s not a public video and score them and saying, yeah, you did this right or no, you need to work on that. So the idea of having a printed sort of blueprint for what you’re doing, the mental map, if you will, of what this new process is for like, for example we covered it slightly in the book, but not to the level of Guide to Print Production and if you have the basic roadmap in front of you in printed form where you know where it is, you can fold down the corner or bookmark it, do whatever you want, it’s your, it’s your things you can hold in your hand and that’s really valuable, but then you have access to people showing you how it’s done. You could even have videos of you doing it. So other people can say, yes, you did it right. The online world is not either or it’s not either digital or print it’s both.

Jeff Collins (16:20):

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John Parsons (18:15):

Yes, it’s being translated now. It is the print only version. We need to do subtitles in various languages for closed captioning on the videos when, when that moment comes because everything’s in English now.

Jeff Collins (18:37):

Subtitling is a pretty routine thing that we’re doing now.

John Parsons (18:40):

Subtitles are routine and if somebody is saying somebody is taking a test or somebody saying give an example of a machine operator, you could have a video that simply the control panel for the screen, and you hotspot the different parts of it. And in the instruction, you say, where’s the emergency off switch. And they pressed, they touch on the screen and the software will set, tell them yes, that’s correct. That can be scored in a learning environment. It’s not a substitute for hands-on, but it reinforces the process for they know where the off switches are.

John Parsons (19:32):

They know how to the sequence in which to press things. And the video is really simple. It’s just a steady camera on a tripod. You put the photo in the video and add the questions, add the routines that people have to do so they can, they can with a hotspot on that video and at a given moment they can, they see the question comes up, whereas the off switch here is the off switch. Yes, you got it. Right. And then eventually of course, you have to come in and actually run the machine and be evaluated on the machine. So there’s enormous training potential in this. I’m a staunch advocate though, of whether it’s book like the print properties guide or our book, or just a set of handouts printed handouts, a binder that, that the apprentice would have. You need to have that physical reference. It needs to have enough information that you can read without turning on your phone. The phone is great, but sometimes you just want to sit and actually read and know where it is on your shelf. There’s room for both!

Jeff Collins (20:42):

Great. I mean, job aides are invaluable in manufacturing. We see things that are printed from reference material or photocopied or whatever, and then paste it on the back of a console of a press. Things like standard ink, densities, or references for GRACoL. We see that the same thing in prepress. And so having something that’s flexible where I can use it in a variety of different capacities, as opposed to just one big book is important, and you work with a very innovative on demand printer. Can you talk to me about them?

John Parsons (21:18):

We have a wonderful printer in Pennsylvania. Your check printing does a fabulous job of printing on demand so that when we have. Ryerson is our biggest school and order over a hundred copies a year for their students in their introductory program. We originally started the old fashioned way. We had a stock of 2000 some books, and we would sell off of that stock. And then we realized with this new printer, we don’t have to. Print on demand is literally designed for this. So we print the individual the full textbook when we know that there’s going to be a slew of orders or within days of when we get an order. But it is also set up to do individual sections of the book. So we have fairly large franchise in the US a printing franchise that is planning to do chapters.

John Parsons (22:14):

I think it’s 4-7 chapters and to have it printed that the books, the book itself doesn’t change and the clickable paper access to the videos and other content doesn’t change, but they only needed those six chapters or seven chapters. There are introduction to prepress color printing, process bindery and I think they didn’t want the packaging one at the moment. They decided on a subset that were going to bind and have available for that particular printing franchise that’s for their internal training, because they have people who buy a franchise and know everything there is to know about printing, or they have new associates.

John Parsons (23:05):

So you don’t have to have the whole book. We can sell pizza by the slice, if you will, on demand. Printing is perfect for that, because we don’t have to change anything except the front matter and the cover. Schools are starting to get interested in that too, because not every school, a design school, for example, wouldn’t necessarily want to know about binderies bindery techniques, which is in one of the chapters. So they would specify only the chapters on prepress, maybe in color so that they do the right things when they’re sending files to print suppliers. So it has a really flexible print environment. And all of the, the increasingly collection of videos and other material goes along with it.

Jeff Collins (23:49):

You know, with online certification courses or online training courses this is an excellent solution for a reference to have that printed reference on demand to that if a student registers for your asynchronous or synchronous train that you have online, like our G7 Expert Certification or our CMP Fundamentals, color management fundamentals, they receive the book from the on demand printer that has that multimedia engagement that is really mirroring what they’re being taught online.

John Parsons (24:24):

The beauty of it is that we don’t have to redesign the book in order to accomplish that. The only thing we would have to do on the back end, if a school, for example, wanted to have a graded system. Harvey wrote up a brilliant series of test questions and a suggested curriculum, so that teachers don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And so several schools like Western Michigan because of COVID, had to do an emergency switch over to our book, and Harvey helped them with the curriculum and some of the test questions that he’s developed over the years, but we could also (we haven’t done this yet) but we could easily, if a school wanted to have a learning program, or if a printing company wanted to have an apprenticeship program or a learning system for new associates their favorite designers who were always sending weird files, you name it, what you name the market.

John Parsons (25:21):

The only thing we would have to do is develop a private version of that same content, because right now all the videos are public on a learning platform, but it’s not password protected. It’s basically you play the video and there are certain kinds of interactions they can do. They can search for individual parts of a long video is broken into chapters and so on. The thing that would be really great for a college or for a printing company is to have a private version that first of all, you’d have to log in to and experience the content right inside the video, you could have questions inserted and they would, the individual logged in user would be graded on the questions. It could be, it could be simple multiple choice.

John Parsons (26:09):

It could be even text questions or you could turn the tables, and the student could be asked to describe the process of flexography to me and they read about it. They’ve seen the videos, they understand it, but they need to relate back to the instructor what this or, you know, bindery is full of processes that they have to either sit down in front of their webcam and talk about, and then the professor would say, yes, that’s it asynchronously. They could do live, but asynchronously, they could relate what they’re doing, or even show what they’re doing. They can record them doing something at a facility where the professor’s not present, or the instructor is not present. They get filmed on their, on their smartphone or their tablet upload the video. And then it becomes the means for feedback by an instructor or an expert to look at and say, wow, you really, you really got this, or no, you need to read tech chapter, chapter 12 again, or whatever the, the instructions are, but that makes it live and keeps the, keeps the learning process going.

John Parsons (27:17):

The book has a reminder of that. They could go back if that video, if that demo video that they did is part of a library that they can go and see what they did with the instructor’s comments. So there’s all kinds of things. Once you, once you start implementing it as a dedicated learning system, or as an adjunct to an existing learning management system, it’s really powerful!

Jeff Collins (27:40):

This entire concept that we’re talking about right now, is there any examples of outside of our industry? Is there a defacto new standard for this, or is it pretty much right now?

John Parsons (27:55):

You know, it’s kinda the Wild West right now. There are lots of great innovations in the e-learning industry.com or .org has a lot of chatter about how people learn. Tim Slade is a great example a learning experience designer, somebody who knows how to design a program for optimized learning. I was working with a company that sold video interactive video systems for learning and we made a bet. We asked visitors in our booth “what learning management system”, “what LMS do you use?” …and there are dozens. I mean, maybe hundreds! There’s a ton of different systems.

John Parsons (28:46):

And almost every person that we talked to had a different learning management system. And almost everyone that we talked to was dissatisfied. They said, it doesn’t do this, or it can’t do that. Or we have to, we have to hire a team of programmers to do this. So it’s kind of the Wild West out there. It’s great stuff. I maintain that without the printed component, you have an incomplete learning experience, and a lot of colleges are starting to do that. They’re, but they’re bundling the textbooks with an LMS and you have to you have online sessions and they do a bunch of digital ways to track progress and learning. As COVID kind of showed us, not all of those are producing the results that we want and we still have a ways to go. One thing that COVID has really taught us is by, by its absence, is the value of having an interact and interpersonal relationship with the instructor or the teacher or with a fellow student.

John Parsons (29:43):

We’re kind of in that fish, the fish is not aware of water syndrome, all of a sudden we’re without that. And we’re seeing all the cracks and all the gaps in how we learn, we really learn by having social connection with individuals, with people, with humans, and as great as online video live or on demand is it doesn’t fill every need. You can’t when we were talking over, we’re talking over zoom right now which is great. We can finally do, we can do a podcast when you’re in one city and I’m in another but it’s not the same as sitting down over a beer over a meal.

Jeff Collins (30:20):

I mean, the human communication or should I say the benefits of direct interaction and communication are huge. I mean nobody’s gonna argue that you know, body language and eye contact is critical having that social connection. You just can’t get that over a podcast or over a video unfortunately.

John Parsons (30:48):

We’re getting better reading body language. I wrote a book for a guy who does exactly that. His business is about virtual meetings, virtual events, and you can read body language, but it’s not the same. And you have to, it’s like learning a new set of skills, and we’re not there yet, but for learning as long as we have a physical, tangible object, as part of that, that at least fills some of the needs, not all of it, not the human connection, but it fills the need for a physical thing that you can, you don’t have to, you don’t have to have a tech support person standing by to make sure it works. You can turn a page that the only text thing you have to do with a book is, is turn on a light and know how to read. All the energy costs are upfront. You’ve just, you’ve, you’ve paid in advance for the technology that produced that artifact. If it’s a good one, if it’s a really good book then you’ve got a leg up. I love eBooks. I’ve written about eBooks. I’ve written them for the book industry but it’s not the same.

Jeff Collins (31:55):

Got it. Now I do want to touch on something that’s related in that you mentioned it before. Ricoh’s clickable paper. Talk to me about that. Is that I mean, are we using like a QR code?

John Parsons (32:08):

Ricoh’s technology has an image recognition paradigm, so that if it’s a block of text, that’s considered an image, or if it’s a graphic photo anything that is visually recognizable by their system in the, on the backend is associated with a series of potential actions. So it can be, I forget what the upward limit is, but there’s a lot. So if you scan on an image of, in our book, it’s the front, if it’s the first spread of each chapter, if you scan the right or left page of our book with their app, their clickable paper app, it will call up effect similarly of that page. And then there’ll be a list along the right hand side of all the things you can do.

John Parsons (32:56):

You can watch this video or that video. You can go to a page of a glossary. You can go to a LinkedIn group that we created. You can do a whole series of things that that clickable paper enables you to do. Whereas a QR code has two dissident, well, at least two disadvantages besides the fact that they’re ugly. One is that it’s a one-to-one you can, you can connect a QR code result to one webpage or one email or one event that’s possible on your phone or your tablet, but that’s it. The other disadvantage is that you can’t change the printed surface. If you have two, if you have to have a new code, you can always change what the result, what the webpage says. So that’s good. But if you, if you have to change fundamentally what the, what the trigger is, then you have to reprint the book or the pamphlet or the brochure.

John Parsons (33:52):

The QR code is the QR code. And the same with, with all other two-dimensional barcodes. There’s like half a dozen major types besides QR but it’s a physical artifact that has to be literally printed. And if something changes also, you can’t use them with old books. If you have an old book or an old brochure, you can’t make it scannable in QR because there’s no QR code on it. Whereas with clickable paper, if you have a reliable image of that book, you could, if they let you, which they won’t, if you went to the Gutenberg museum and said, I want the, I want the Gutenberg Bible, the 42 line Bible to be scannable and if they let you, which they won’t you could have a high risk scan of each page, and you could hold your phone over your copy of the Gutenberg Bible. If it was the same one that, that was in the museum, and you could get an actual response, you could actually have clickable paper would be able to say, Oh, that’s image such and such. And here are the 22 choices of things you can do. You can watch a video, watch a documentary on Gutenberg, or you can see a demo of one of his, that his type of press or, or see see how a mold was.

Jeff Collins (35:03):

It’s built. Are there any other solutions similar to this? I would imagine. Yeah.

John Parsons (35:12):

I don’t remember the name of it, but HP has a great solution that you can scan the link, that’s printed on a page. So if you see a blue underlined piece of type you scan it with their app and it takes you to an online destination. It’s similar to QR. I believe in that it’s one-to-one, so one link takes you to one online event. What they do I believe is they take the yellow printer. So it’s a blue underline, and they take the yellow printer and re use and recognize that as the trigger for the online event. Got it. There’s other things like Digimarc, but those depend on actual, an actual change to the surf, to the substrate. I believe it’s a watermark pattern. Their software recognizes and then triggers an event, but let’s, let’s be totally, I mean, Ricoh’s technology is fantastic.

John Parsons (36:09):

It’s probably the best of this type that there is. And because it gives you because you can do existing existing images, as long as they’re unique and, and relate them to multiple online outcomes. So this, it’s like grand central station, whereas QR codes are like your local railway station with one-stop. It’s by far the best you, you have to obviously you have to license it so that you have the right to do that. And Ricoh maintains the database and it has to be unique. So if you have two images that are the same it actually, won’t let you create a scannable response for an image that’s already in the database.

Jeff Collins (36:57):

You mentioned marketing collateral, marketing brochures, things like that and of course, books. Does a marketing brochure have more potential than a book or, you know, maybe direct mail, something like that?

John Parsons (37:14):

A marketing brochure or direct mail piece has a half-life is, you know, the time it takes you to get from your mailbox to your recycle bin sometimes. So there’s not a lot of it and it doesn’t, it’s not around a long time as a rule. Some exceptions like books are around for a lot longer an album cover or a CD cover is around for a lot longer for people who still use CDs signs are going to be around for long, long time. Physical packaging, there’s potential and physical packaging for being able to scan. The other thing I wanted to mention is that we don’t rely exclusively on clickable paper on the bottom of each of the left-hand page of our book. There’s an actual shortened URL, because some people are going to want to do this from their desktop or laptop computer.

John Parsons (38:03):

Right. And we don’t want to limit that, but there is no comparable scanning device around for your PC or your Mac. So it’s, we did, we opened it. It’s the same content. It’s actually a little easier with clickable paper because you just hold it, it captures by the way, clickable paper also captures QR codes. So it’s that, that was pretty easy. Those are all unique, but anyway, you don’t have to use it, but we use it because people are doing more, doing more on their, on their mobile devices, their tablets and their smart phones.

Jeff Collins (39:09):

Fantastic, John. And again, thank you. And thank you for the work on the Idealliance, Guide to Print Production that will be released here at the end of this month.

John Parsons (39:22):

Thanks, Jeff. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on.

Jeff Collins (39:24):

Got it. Thanks for listening to the GAMUT podcast.

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