Contents | < Browse | Browse >
/// Zen and the Art of Desk Top Publishing
By Brian Gawor
Disclaimer: This article contains little on zen philosophy, except
that which is applied through common sense reasoning (zen philosohy).
How can the average person reach thousands of people effectively with a
few hours of work and some good text? What concept has changed the
entire publishing business in the past few years? What would spur a
high school student to read an entire manual dedicated to "dumb" people
by David Pogue in a week? Desktop Publishing, both a scourge and a
savior to thousands of people. In fact, the author of this column
predicts that every person in the United States that has enough gumption
to sit in front of a computer will do some form of desktop publishing
before they die. There were 14,588 postings on the America Online
Desktop Publishing message board last time I checked, and more converts
are entering the field every day.
Since everyone will do it anyway, I'm going to share some of my
mistakes. I am the editor of a news publication which I produce entirely
on a few Macintosh computers. Before anyone decides that this column
is worthless because it was written by a user-friendly-computer-using
person with little experience, let me make a confession. This
user-friendliness is the worst curse I have. It allows me to embellish
my work with complex images and layouts that do nothing but confuse my
readers. This is the biggest mistake any beginning desktop publisher
can make. The fact that I am not a professional means nothing -- I have
hundreds of dollars of shareware software written by 12-year-olds. I
am constantly criticized because I am still learning. This may be the
biggest asset any one can have in this field.
The term 'layout' comes from the process that used to be needed to
create a publication; actually physically manipulating bodies of text,
etc. Keyline, paste-up, typesetting, and other terms used a few years
ago are fading away. This is due to the advent of easy to use,
easy-to-purchase, and easy-to-learn computer systems that take entire
job markets and throw them out the window in a few years. Progress has
allowed an underexperienced punk like myself to make brochures,
pamphlets, ads, business cards, etc. after just a few months (weeks) of
learning. The only problem is that very few of us have any idea what
we're doing, outside of what we learn through application.
A layout has two major purposes. To inform the reader, and to catch
their attention. These two goals must always be kept in mind when
laying-out a publication. They bear an inverse relation to each other.
When a publication gets too informative, the reader puts it down.
Sorry to break it to everyone, but America could never pride itself on
attention span. In fact, every newspaper story in the country is
written so that all the really important information is in the first
paragraph, or the first sentence if the writer is any good. Then, facts
are listed in descending order of importance, because the author by no
means expects the reader to finish the story.
If a layout gets too eye-catching and creative, too disarming, often
ease of information is lost. If a publication becomes too gray (filled
with text, devoid of graphics and pictures), no one will pick it up. So
an intricate balance must be set. This is the hardest job a desktop
publisher has: How to use all this intricate, creative technology to
display, and possibly enhance the meaning of an authors words.
This can be accomplished with well-placed pictures or graphics; things
not too completely overbearing to detract attention from the story (no
cover shots, etc.). The best graphics to use in desktop publishing are
original (nix on clip-art) works with good contrast. Editorial
cartoons and such should fit these criteria. Everyone looks at the
cartoon first, and if it is interesting enough, they may continue on to
read the story that accompanies it. Pictures should take up full column
lengths of horizontal space. Any text rap on a news article is bad
text wrap. Many a lay-out competition I have bombed by forgetting this.
Keep the words straight if they are meant to be taken straight. Go
ahead and embellish on a spread, or other less structured environment.
Hand the rough lay-out to a friend. If they struggle even a bit to read
where a story move along, there is something wrong.
Where do you learn layout? From readomg existing, successful
publications. They are read for a reason -- they're easy to read! This
is the invisible hand of DTP. Search for the personality of your
publication. This will be apparent in the words, in the themes, and
sometimes in the magazines lying on the tables of the writers who
contribute. A layout can do amazing things for the mood of a piece.
Don't tell me everyone buys Spin and Wired, and Ray Gun just for the
These magazines are part of the Deconstructionist movement, which I
would like to say I follow in my work. Beautiful is not always
beautiful. Sometimes ugly is beautiful in the 90's. The editors of some
of theses magazines do very enterprising things to get the effect these
"on the edge of sanity" effects. I have been told that sans seriff
fonts (Helvetica, anything Roman) can be greatly accentuated by printing
them out on a bad printer and tracing around them rough up the edges
of you work. But remember the golden rule: Keep it readable, keep it
These are just a few of the questions all DTP's are faced with: "What
am I going to do with this text", and "how do I get people to read
this?" Take a look at what you read, keep the work simple but
eye-catching, and don't make it to the printer at 11:45 when the job
needs to be done at noon. It makes them really nervous.