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Ride herd on quality: don't let desktop publishing lower your standards.

RIDE HERD on quality:


Anyone who has become dependent on desktop publishing has probably wondered how they ever got along before without it. With the arrival of desktop publishing, a whole new world of design and production opened up: fast turnaround time; reports and newsletters made readable; typeface, layout and design flexibility; a range of choices!

With so many choices, there are also more decisions. Improved technology means enhanced capabilities and higher expectations. Desktop publishing offers shortcuts, making the production process more painless. The key is not to let shortcuts affect the final product's quality.

As desktop publishing becomes more popular, a wide range of professionals and nonprofessionals are using its superior technology, producing materials which at first glance appear to be slick and professional. Upon closer inspection, however, frequently there are discrepancies in quality. Knowing desktop publishing technology is just the beginning. No computer can replace your own design sense or writing ability.

The following is a list of common problem areas for desktop publishers, all of which can detract from the final product's message and purpose.

Changing Formats and Typefaces

-- In the years before desktop publishing, selection of graphic format and typeface was left to professional designers and typesetters, trained specifically for the task. Writers who knew anything about design and type were usually veteran advertising agency copywriters or newspaper editors. And even at that, there was not as much flexibility as there is today.

Today a church bulletin editor has access to more typefaces and design options than many professionals had 10 years ago, and sometimes those bulletins use all of them on the same page. Although the rules vary for the type of document you are producing, it is usually best to keep your selection of type style to two or three complementary faces per document and establish a format that is consistent throughout each document. Establish standards for point sizes for body text and a limited range of point sizes for headlines. Rather than opt for a cookie-cutter approach to design, the key is to create basic design and type parameters and use them effectively and consistently.

Inconsistencies in White Space and Leading

-- Watch the spacing between paragraphs and words. One sure sign that an amateur was at the keyboard is to note inconsistent spacing between words and paragraphs. Desktop system users have found that it is sometimes more convenient to add white space at random than to demand more copy from their writers or themselves. Also, they have found that to avoid the pain of additional editing, it may be easier to tighten the gaps between words and paragraphs, squeezing too much copy into a small space. The end result is a hard-to-read document with no clear direction.

Spell Checking without Proofing

-- Spell-checkers come with a range of capabilities. One newsletter I produce follows a production schedule where all materials pass through two spell-checking systems. Still, the most potentially embarrassing mistakes have a way of slipping through.

If you don't devote enough attention to proofing, how do you explain to your readers that what you really meant to write was "six million" instead of "sex million"? Nothing can replace a good extra set of eyes for proofing.

Emphasis on Design at the Expense of the Writing

-- Designers and writers tend to work in an environment of healthy competition for the reader's attention, and usually the reader benefits. Designers strive to create a package that is pleasing to the eye, while writers work to craft concise copy that holds readers' attention from beginning to end.

What happens, however, when designer and writer are one and the same? That depends, of course, on how the operator has been trained. But increasingly, even writers are becoming infatuated with the graphic capabilities of desktop publishing.

Increasingly, too much attention is paid to appearance and not enough to substance. Design and writing still demand large amounts of time. From the perspective that desktop publishing is the editor's new "toy," desktop publishers may fall into the trap of spending too much time on design and layout while neglecting the writing.

Layout on Computer Is Not the Same as Paste-up

-- Programmers of desktop publishing systems outdid themselves when they designed the systems now in use. They followed the logic of design in creating their systems, and they borrowed industry terminology to create machines that are compatible with the thought processes of designers and writers. The fact is, desktop publishing is an entirely new animal. One of the biggest mistakes an editor can make is to apply old paste-up principles to new computerized layout.

For example, a change to a layout on a paste-up board affects only that page until physical changes are made to other boards. Although making changes to a layout is more difficult, proofing corrections to a layout is much more simple.

On a computer, a couple of keystrokes on page one could knock a line off that same article if it is continued on another page.

Operators Who Don't Read

-- Computer operators who don't read and raise questions are a variation of an age-old problem that starts with writers who don't proof their writing; editors who don't step back to look at the big picture; artists who don't read the copy they're positioning on a layout and typesetters who refuse to get involved with the information they are processing.

With desktop publishing, it is now possible for all, or several, of those hats to be worn by the same person. With this in mind, it is more important than ever to take the time to actually read the material from a critical perspective prior to printing. Make sure that the writing follows a logical sequence; that there are no typos; that the layout supports the writing; that type, format and spacing work together to provide a clean look that communicates effectively.

The arrival of desktop publishing is helping to relegate the days of proofing type galleys and rub-down headline type to history. The new technology is cost-effective, fast and offers capabilities that allow operators to think big, even when their budgets are small. In the process of thinking big, it is important to remember that the computer is an aid and cannot compensate for the design and writing instincts of the operator.

Tim O'Brien is a senior account executive in the Pittsburgh, Pa. office of Ketchum Public Relations.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:O'Brien, Tim
Publication:Communication World
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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