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Get into the desktop game.

Get into the Desktop Game

So, management has finally decided it's time for you to "go desktop."

If you have been waiting eagerly for this opportunity, congratulations! If you have been full of dread since you realized that a strange grey machine would soon take over your desk, my sympathies.

Whether or not you are looking forward to the big move to hi-tech, you will soon be required to make some tough decisions -- decisions that will have a profound influence on your role as a communicator in the months and years to come.

It's been four years since the Macintosh/laser printer/PageMaker combination prompted an almost evangelical movement among followers of the ever-changing computer age. Desktop publishing (DTP) has now gone far beyond its cultish beginnings, and even the most cynical professional communicators understand that the new technology is dramatically changing the way print publications are made.

But few realize that the humming, glowing metal and plastic cube can quickly change your job description from public relations specialist to computer technician. Because DTP blurs the traditional boundaries between editorial and production work, care must be taken at the start of your journey into the realm of the mouse and keyboard. The equipment you choose may influence the direction of your entire career.

Along the road to your decision, you will come upon many experts who will advise you on what hardware and software to choose. Beware.

Fast-talking computer salesmen have probably already made many promises to you. By now they know which buttons to push: Save money! Save time! Put more power in your hands! Rid yourself of expensive suppliers! Get trained in two days! Such promises helped convince your superiors of the general benefits of the new technology, but how much of it is really true? Will the proposed DTP system meet your needs or make you crazy?

Your own company's computer experts will also provide you with free advice. They often recommend IBM PCs over Apple Macintoshes, and for them standardization can be a more important issue than ease of use. Their proposed solution may make grand philosophical sense, but it may also make you lose a lot of sleep.

Although most communicators choose the Macintosh as the foundation of their DTP system, I know many people who are successfully using IBM PC-based machines to produce publications, and the available hardware and software is starting to catch up with the Macintosh in power, versatility and ease of use. If you do go with IBM or IBM compatible machines, but find computers intimidating, choose Aldus PageMaker as your core DTP software package over Xerox Ventura Publisher. Ventura is a powerful package, but PageMaker is easier to learn, and that counts for a lot.

This brings us to a major issue: ease of use. Although the now familiar mouse-and-menu interface has dramatically improved the user's ability to operate personal computers, we do not yet live in a completely 'user-friendly' world. The Macintosh has many advantages over the IBM in this area, especially in the consistency of commands from application to application and the absence of 'cryptic key commands' that can make doing even the simplest functions a nightmare for the uninitiated.

The Mac may currently have the upper hand in ease of use, but both sides have a long way to go before personal computers become as easy to operate as, say, an automobile or a food processor. More often than not, the people who design the machines do not anticipate the learning problems normal folks will have.

Because the technology is growing so quickly and because it is doing things that could not be done before, new words are created and old words are appropriated and given new meanings. Until computer jargon works its way into the common language of business, it will remain a real barrier to true user-friendliness.

Of course, it's not just computer jargon that acts as an obstacle to ease of use. The worlds of typography and offset printing have their own obscure languages, and you will be required to learn more than you probably want to know.

(Note: From here on, my limited experience with PC-based systems forces me to focus my discussion on the world of the Macintosh. However, the general ideas remain the same, so PC-users are invited to read on.)

In choosing your system: the free advice doesn't end with computer salespeople or your company's information systems experts. If you have an in-house design group, its staff may also have some strong opinions, especially when it comes to DTP software. If one reason you are going with the new technology is to reduce your dependency on in-house specialists, keep in mind that their advice to you might be motivated by self-preservation rather than your best interest.

Graphic artists usually prefer the DTP software application Quark Xpress. They will tell you Xpress is more powerful than PageMaker, and they are correct. But Xpress is harder to learn and takes a more technical mind to run, effectively maintaining the propietary wall behind which the print production industry has based its success. In other words, Xpress reinforces the "leave it to the experts" mentality that DTP was created to destroy, so if you want to be a do-it-your-selfer, PageMaker is the way to go.

On the other hand, if you intend to work closely with your company's print production experts, you may save yourself a lot of pain by keeping the heavy-duty design and production responsibilities in their capable hands. You can still benefit from having a computer on your desk without insisting on having control of the whole process.

You can indeed have all the power, but remember: with new powers come new responsibilities, and your first and most important role is that of communicator. Having more control over print production can save you money and time. But if your new computer inhibits your ability to do your job, you may end up in DTP hell, trapped by the machine that promised to set you free. And if your choice effectively kisses your in-house or outside suppliers goodbye, what happens when you have to deal with a crisis (or go on a holiday) and suddenly you can't do it all yourself?

It all comes down to this: before you decide what DTP system you want, first decide what you want your role to be.

A general rule: the more complex and powerful your system, the more production responsibilities you are likely to assume. It's up to you to decide just how independent and powerful you want to be, and how much time you are willing to devote to technical tasks.

Another general rule: make sure everything you purchase is compatible with everything else. A powerful graphics software package is of almost no use if artwork created in it can't be imported into your DTP application.

One last generality: read, or at least skim, your manuals. I have know many DTP users who never learn the extra features and shortcuts in their software because they never bothered to try solving their problems by looking them up in the guidebook. Written help comes in various levels of quality and thoroughness, but more often than not you will be able to find out what you nedd in a few minutes.

So, without further prologue, here are Shewchuk's recommendations for DTP innocents. Disclaimer: the following suggestions are subjective, and whether or not you take my advice, you are bound to have some headaches that you haven't anticipated. Good luck!

The Bare Bones, I-Hate-Fidding-with-Machines

Special

This is great for newsletter editors or publications managers who want to improve the efficiency and economy without sacrificing too much time to the computer.

Hardware: Macintosh SE 30 with 2 megabytes of RAM, internal 40 megabyte hard drive, laser printer and 2400 baud modem. (Also, if you can fit it in the budget: a black and white full-page display monitor.) There are cheaper hardware configurations, but this one has enough speed and memory to keep pace with new software developments and ever-increasing document sizes. The floppy drive on the SE will allow you to read both IBM and Mac diskettes, and the optional monitor will save you from the irritatingly small SE scree.

Software: Aldus PageMaker, Microsoft Word, Aldus FreeHand, an electronic clip art libray (see side-bar) Claris FileMaker II, Microsoft Power Point and Connect MacNET. This gives you enough power to produce your own one-to-four-page newsletter with a minimum amount of training. With this package you will spend most of your time writing, editing and shepherding publications through the approval process, and only a few days a month will be needed for doing layout. Your Word documents will be compatible with your in-house production group and the widest range of designers, layout artists and freelance writers. FreeHand is a powerful graphics application with more features than you need, but because it has an interface similar to PageMaker, it will help serve your basic needs. For media relations specialists, FileMaker II is a great application for creating special mailing lists and personalized form letters. PowerPoint is great for making overheads, slides and other presentation materials. With your modem and MacNET, a user-friendly telecommunication package, you can send and receive documents over a phone line -- very useful for dealing with suppliers, branch offices or even between departments in a large company.

To get started: Take the basic training offered by your computer dealer, and hire a computer design specialist to creat a custom PageMaker template and a set of simple graphic standards for your regular publications. Use that specialist when you need custom graphics or extra design support. (By the way, take your training after you have your hardware installed. If you don't put your new skills immediately to use, you may lose them.)

Disadvantages: This is not a fancy system, and it prohibits you from doing complex or sophisticated publications. But then again, you may not have much patience with that stuff anyway.

The Mid-Range, I-Love-To-Fuss System

This configuration is for magazine editors or brochure and report specialists who fancy themselves as amateur designers. Patience, an eye for detail and a pigheaded desire to learn are definite assets. Be prepared to work the odd evening and weekend.

Hardware: Mac IIcx with 5 megabytes of RAM, internal 80 megabyte hard drive, laser printer, 13-inch high resolution color monitor or black and white full-page display monitor, 300 dpi flatbed scanner, 2400 baud modem. This sytem may have more power than you need, but as an enthusiast and fuss-aholic, you will want room to grow and experiment. The scanner comes in handy when you want to position photos or create artwork, and the color monitor lets you proof color publications on the screen.

Software: Aldus PageMaker, Microsoft Word, Aldus FreeHand, Silicon Beach SuperPaint, MicroSoft Excel, a clip art library, Claris FileMaker II and Connect MacNET -- plus a whole bunch of nifty utilities and desk accessories such as Fifth Generation Systems Suitcase II, Ray Lau's Stufflt, Symantec Utilities for Macintosh, and so on. The main elements of this software combination duplicate the basic I-Hate-Fidding system, but with the fancier hardware you will able to do much more with the same tools. Freehand will give you the power to create sophisticated graphics, and Excel will allow you to make graphs and bar or pie charts.

To get started: Take the extended training offered by your computer dealer or use an independent training consultant. Work with a design firm to get your publication launched, and also use it for ongoing support until you feel comfortable with the entire process. Find a printshop whose sales rep is familiar with the new technology, and constantly pick his or her brains for information on the finer points of print production. Make friends with the folks at your local high-resolution output service bureau; they are usually on top of the latest hardware and software developments.

Disadvantages: Sometimes the endless fussing will drive even you bonkers, and your spouse may find your commitment to the machine a bit disturbing. On the other hand, you are the kind of person who derives a lot of fulfillment from solving tehcnical problems, and you will be proud of both the look and the content of the publications you produce.

The High-end, In-House-Design-Group

Powerhouse

This is for seasoned production experts only, and will allow you to serve a wide variety of needs, from creating periodicals, brochures and the annual report for your public affairs group to assisting other departments such as human resources with manuals, technical reports and so on.

Hardware: MacIIxi design workstation with 8 megabytes of RAM, 100-300 megabyte internal hard drive, laser printer, full-color, high-resolution, refrigerator-sized double-page display monitor, accelerator board, network hardware including a file server to link your department with other workstations and client groups, cd-room drive, mass magnetic media storage system, 9600 baud modem, color scanner, color printer and maybe even a super high resolution output device such as a Linotronic L-300.

Software: The more the better -- build yourself as big a library as you can afford, and ask your computer dealer to send you the latest new releases for testing. Powerful Xpress is the DTP standard, but also having PageMaker allows you to serve a broader internal client base. Adobe Illustrator 88 is the graphic package of choice, and Letraset ImageStudio allows you to digitally manipulate scanned photographs, which can then be imported into DPT applications. Soon the technology will allow you to create composite process color separations (including color photos) on the Macintosh, virtually eliminating the stripping process. Your high-resolution imagesetter will produce as many negatives per page as the job requires, and your printshop will simply shoot the plates and roll the press.

To get started: Commission a specialist to help you choose the right hardware and software. Be sure you have a good mix of computer experts and traditional graphic artists on staff. The technology may be new, but much of the printing process remains the same, and computer types often are neophytes when it comes to knowing how ink gets put on paper. Make sure not to rush into things; don't throw away the razor knives and light tables the day the new hardware is delivered. In a large company, the transition from traditional production methods to high technology can take up to two years. Keep your mind open and always keep your eyes open for what is hot. Somethimes it pays to wait for the second generation of a brand new technology, so you don't get stuck with a buggy, overly expensive system.

Disadvantages: These days experienced computer-literate designers are few and fat between, so it's easier to get the equipment than to find the right people to operate it. Try not to get in over your head, and be prepared to stay up all night once in a while. One more thing: despite your talent and experience, your position may be undermined by fussy, enthusiastic magazine editors who insist on doing it themselves.

Ron Shewchuk is president of WordsWork Comprehensive Communications Inc., a consulting firm serving corporate desktop publishers.
COPYRIGHT 1989 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on doing more with your DTP machine; desktop publishing packages
Author:Shewchuk, Ron
Publication:Communication World
Date:Nov 1, 1989
Words:2516
Previous Article:The dis(k)located communicator.
Next Article:'We kicked! We screamed! We dragged our feet!' (instituting desktop publishing in business)
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