Global Supply Chains and Design Considerations

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All the shortages and supply chain issues being faced by other industries are beginning to impact designers in a number of ways as well.

From paper shortages to out-of-stock graphics cards, to unstockable e-commerce, almost every designer is having to think about ways to design around (and through) global supply chain problems.

Whether or not these are affecting you yet, it makes sense to understand the situation and plan to get ahead.

Here’s a look at some of the issues popping up and ways to help mitigate the problems as best you can.

Paper Shortages

If you do any type of print work, you’ve probably already run into issues getting things on your favorite stock.

Paper shortages are becoming an issue and it can impact your design choices. Think of how you might do something different based on texture or paper weight.

The key factor here is to ask about paper supply from printers before you get started on projects.

You might make choices about the design or use a creative effect that would not have been a consideration based on printing availability.

The key factor here is to ask about paper supply from printers before you get started on projects. If you have a very specific need, you may even want to put in a pre-order to ensure that you can get the amount of and correct stock of paper in time for your print job.

If you can’t get what you want, it’s time to come up with a Plan B. Can the design be published digitally? (Rather than a magazine or booklet, consider an online flipbook.)

Send a postcard or use scannable QR codes to show people how to access that design digitally. Explain why printing isn’t happening at this time and use the opportunity to survey users: Do they prefer digital or printed materials?

Out of Stock E-Commerce

“Out of stock” may be one of the most common phrases of the year. Global supply chain issues from manufacturing to cargo shipping have delayed and canceled items for many online shoppers.

As a designer, it is likely that if you aren’t dealing with item shortages for yourself, you will have a client that needs help designing this error message for shoppers.

How do you design a better e-commerce experience when there aren’t as many items available?

Consider a couple of things:

  • It’s ok to post a message noting that an online shop is sorry for not having stock with a short explanation of why. (People are getting pretty used to supply chain issues at this point.)
  • Highlight current availability with visual and language that denotes in-stock items that are ready to ship.
  • Use counters to show an inventory of items to help shoppers make choices. If the inventory is low, it could prompt a more immediate sale.
  • Remove items from online stores that aren’t expected to be back for a while. Having these items on the website without availability can be frustrating for users and shoppers.
  • Always offer an alternative. If something is out of stock, what’s the next best thing? What have other shoppers purchased instead?

Computer Hardware Issues

If it’s time for a computer or hardware upgrade, plan early. Everything from full machines to graphics cards are delayed – or not arriving. This can make graphic design work rather complicated if your machine is in need of an upgrade or repairs.

The semiconductor shortage that has impacted cars also extends to computer and gaming components. Some companies such as Intel and TSMC are expecting these issues to last into 2023.

So, the lesson for all of us is to take care of equipment and if you expect you might need something, order it very, very early.

Packaging Supply Shortages

Packaging issues for a large part are somewhat related to paper shortages. From labels to cardboard to packing materials, you may have to make adjustments in how you put items together and/or ship them out.

Get creative when you have to change quality or packaging with messaging or graphics that explain or even poke fun at the issue.

From a design standpoint, much of the mitigation process here is understanding what is available and how to adjust the design accordingly. That might mean switching to a design with less color or ink-lay because labels are of lower quality.

It could mean less elaborate packaging for items as you move to more economical or available options.

Get creative when you have to change quality or packaging with messaging or graphics that explain or even poke fun at the issue. People are generally forgiving when you help them understand there’s a problem.

Shipping Delays

As a designer, you can’t do anything about shipping issues or delays. (We’re all facing them everywhere!) But you can design microcopy and notifications for website designs that explain and set new expectations.

Consider some effects that you might not get to use a lot to help explain shipping times, prices, or general expectations.

  • Pop-ups in the cart
  • Large text with every item in the store
  • Scrolling banners on every page
  • Bold, red text with shipping information in item descriptions
  • More frequent email notifications with updates

Labor Shortages

This might be the most difficult design issue facing teams of all sizes: Labor shortages.

If you’ve tried to hire anyone lately – from full-time employees to contractors – there seems to be more demand for work and workers than supply. Everyone seems to be at max capacity.

While everyone understands there are labor and supply shortages everywhere, no paying client wants to hear that as an excuse.

This can result in adjustments to timelines and project completion. If you sub out parts of jobs, it might mean you have to find a way to do that work in-house or find another contractor.

The real lesson is that you will have to be more agile than ever. You may also find that you are having to change expected timelines and milestones for client work. Give yourself the extra time upfront if you can so that you won’t have an unhappy client later.

While everyone understands there are labor and supply shortages everywhere, no paying client wants to hear that as an excuse. It’s up to you to find an answer before it becomes a problem.

Conclusion

Global supply chain issues aren’t likely to evaporate any time soon. Your goal is to understand how it can impact your design work or business and try to get ahead as much as possible.

Make adjustments, ask questions, consider creative alternatives. Think of it as an opportunity to try something in a way that you may not have done otherwise.



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