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The dis(k)located communicator.

THE DIS(K)LOCATED COMMUNICATOR

Measuring the impact of desktop publishing on a communicator's job was the purpose of the Summer 1989, "Desktop Publishing Survey" conducted by Communication World. For this survey, 1,800 questionnaires were mailed out to IABC members around the United States. The survey generated a 20 percent return rate, with 65 percent of those responding indicating they currently use desktop publishing (DTP), 30 percent indicating they plan to and six percent reporting no plans to use this new technology. However, this high rate of usage, and planned usage, does not imply an unqualified acceptance. In the words of one communicator, "Murphy was right: it takes longer and costs more than you thought." Is it worth it? To our respondents, the answer is yes, without a doubt!

Mac Users Edge Out IBM--But by a Small

Margin

A definite trend exists in the type of DTP system used. Mac users have a 13 percent edge over IBM/DOS users, with 50 percent of respondents using a Mac, 37 percent using IBM/DOS and 4 percent using configurations that include both systems. Only eight percent use systems that run on other types of operating architecture such as UNIX or OS/2.

A stronger consensus exists in the choice of peripheral equipment. Almost 94 percent of all respondents use a laser printer, while only six percent use a dot matrix. Outside linotronic or film services are still used by 66 percent for final camera-ready pages.

For most communicators, their DTP system operates primarily as an independent workstation and is not networked to a larger mainframe. This configuration is used in the workplaces of 83 percent of the survey's respondents. Among those systems that are networked, communicators report three main categories of problems:

* The technical difficulties of working with the operating systems/software,

* the non-compatibility of different operating systems/software, and

* the limited use currently made of networking capabilities.

"The mainframe is much more difficult to use. The file names are confusing. You need technical knowledge to understand how it works," cites one respondent. Another networker adds that "copy to be imported (downloaded) must be entered with specific commands that can be hard for other employees/departments to enter in this format."

How Many Communicators Does It Take to

Staff a DTP Operation?

The average DTP department is staffed by four people, who use the system to produce one or more publications representative of the whole range of communication products found in American businesses today. The most widespread application is in internal publications, where 79 percent of respondents use DTP for employee magapapers, magazines, tabloids, and/or newsletters. "I love DTP for some applications," states a Tucson, Ariz. communication consultant, "You can't beat it for newsletters. The main drawback is that it still lacks the sophistication of typesetting." The next most frequently used applications are for external publications: promotional materials, 60 percent; newsletters, 51 percent; marketing and/or sales collateral, 40 percent; training materials, 31 percent; annual reports and/or financial reports, 29 percent; and instruction materials, 28 percent. Also ranked at 28 percent is the internal application of clerical/bookkeeping/business forms, and "other," at 24 percent. The least used applications for DTP are found in external publications, with magazines ranked at 15 percent, and tabloids at nine percent. Not everyone sees DTP as the all-purpose solution, however. One corporate communicator believes that "DTP is not the solution for every project. We added DTP to our capabilities, but we did not 'convert' to it. We use DTP as appropriate, when it doesn't compromise what we are trying to do, and as it saves time and money."

Learning Curve Varies

On average, 55 percent of survey respondents indicate it takes no more than three months from the time of the initial setup of their DTP system to fully implement its intended purposes. Another 39 percent said it takes up to one year, while only six percent indicate it takes more than one year. IBM/DOS users consistently report a longer learning curve than Mac users. The difference is greatest in the short run, with 62 percent of Mac users vs 47 percent of DOS users indicating no more than three months; 34 percent of Mac users vs 47 percent of DOS users indicating it takes up to one year; and four percent of Mac users vs seven percent of DOS users saying it takes over one year.

Both groups report using similar approaches to training, with manuals the leading method at 31 percent; followed by staff, 23 percent; seminars, 21 percent; consultants, 14 percent; and "other," 11 percent.

Training is and will remain a critical issue for all DTP users, as most of the projected benefits of DTP depend upon the skill and efficiency of a trained operator. Again and again, survey respondents stressed the need for quality instruction and the time to take advantage of it. A Detroit, Mich. communicator would do a few things differently if given the chance: "I'd insist management work in a two week period where my staff and I would have free time to learn the system. Although we went to training classes, the course was over two days and covered too much. It was difficult to absorb, and then we had no time at work to practice what we learned, so much was forgotten quickly." A DTP teacher agrees. "My application is teaching DTP at a university," reports a professor at a southern US university, "and the problem I see is that many of the companies that are buying the systems are using unskilled people to design on them. These programs do not act as a substitute for design skills."

Communicators consider access to experienced technical and training support personnel essential during the setup and initial usage period to ensure the success of DTP operations within an acceptable timeframe. It is in this role communicators most often employ consultants, with 37 percent reporting they use consultants for setting up and installing equipment, and 35 percent contracting for training needs. Contract work in design is commissioned by half of the respondents, 51 percent, while routine production amounts to only 28 percent of the assignments. "Get a professional to set up a whole system," advises a communicator at a state government office, "word processing software, layout, hardware--don't try to piece together something by yourself. Make sure training is available, or your investment in technology is worth almost nothing."

Software Use Analyzed

Software programs used by communicators to produce publications via DTP technology reflect a handful of widely accepted favorites. Almost all respondents use both word processing and page makeup programs, although there are a few isolated cases where only one or the other is used. Overall, respondents are most satisfied with the performance of Microsoft Word, with 94 percent of users ranking it favorably. Pagemaker, earning a 91 percent favorable response was second, followed by an 88 percent ranking for WordPerfect. Ventura Publisher ranks lowest among our respondents, at 78 percent, which may reflect its reputation in the user community as a more difficult program to learn (Ventura is an "integrated" program, that provides the user with both word processing and page makeup capabilities). Mac users prefer Microsoft Word by 70 percent, and Aldus Pagemaker by 88 percent; IBM/DOS users cite Word Perfect, by 42 percent, and Microsoft Word by 18 percent as the programs they use for word processing applications. Interestingly, Pagemaker, at 62 percent, is used almost twice as often as Ventura Publishing, at 33 percent, for page makeup on DOS-based systems.

Graphics programs, on the other hand, reflect no strong trends in user preference. There is, however, a strong trend of user frustration associated with graphics programs, as communicators trained primarily in the print world (*1) struggle to master the world of the image. The top six graphics programs our respondents use are: MacDraw, 24 percent; Adobe Illustrator, 18 percent; Aldus Freehand, 10 percent; SuperPaint, eight percent; Cricket Graphics, five percent; and MacPaint, four percent. More than 20 other graphics programs each received 2.5 percent or fewer mentions in the survey. A more thorough tabulation of software is not possible because of incomplete responses regarding the name or version number of the software involved. Excel, a spreadsheet program limited to statistical charts, also receives a four percent ranking.

Graphics Still Fuzzy

It is the issue of publication design that most sharply focuses the problems facing communicators today. It remains an arena of great concern, not only because of the increased level and quality of work expected from DTP and communicators, but also because of the decreasing control of company images that results from the proliferation and use of such powerful communication tools at every level and location within organizations. Respondents, overwhelmingly in love with DTP, still question the mixed blessing of converting to it. The questions they raise cut to the heart of our profession, and how these issues are resolved will help determine the evolution of the communicator's role in the modern business organization.

"The danger persists," suggests a communicator with a power and light company, "that writers and editors will begin to think of themselves as designers and, for the sake of time-savings, bypass the all-important step of getting a designer's guidance on layout and illustration, causing "invisible" deterioration of quality, readability and effectiveness." Other communicators are in close agreement on this. One states the point simply and eloquently: "Too many people misunderstand the capabilities of DTP. It doesn't replace talent."

The question of talent is central to another of the major concerns that communicators have about DTP. For many, it was not the skill they were hired for, nor is it one they might voluntarily seek out. "My greatest concern is how it alters the editor's job," replies a member of the Food Marketing Institute staff. "I see the editor becoming a back-room technician when she/he should be advancing into fewer technical tasks and more exposure to top management." An employee of Tenneco-Automotive is that "we have to continually ask ourselves if we are using our time in the most effective manner possible." For others, that answer is frustratingly obvious. "DTP is not quicker in my experience," claims a communicator at a southeastern bank "By the way," he continues, "I don't do it, I only manage it. It has increased the stress factor in my job, and for those who operate DTP! If we miss a deadline, we've no one to blame but ourselves."

The allure of DTP, with its almost instant access to what were, for many years, a whole range of specialized and inaccessible "trade skills" such as typography, can easily lure non-professionals into believing that anything can be done in minutes. A Pennsylvania National Insurance Company communicator laments that "desktop publishing has trained some company people to expect intant turnarounds on every job." "The biggest battle," echos an employee of the Medical Service Corporation, "is changing the idea that this is production work that requires little more time than typing a letter." The perception poses a serious threat to the communicator's ability to do the job they were hired to do. "Presently," writes another medical center communicator, "a large percentage of my time is occupied in responding to requests for signs, quicky fliers, presentation overheads and other miscellaneous department needs. This leaves little time for other, more important functions and long-range planning."

Perhaps the most critical measurement of all for survey respondents is their ability to deliver the anticipated cost and time savings that are the reasons behind the DTP purchase. They are highly sensitive to these issues. Writes a staff member of Total Minatome Corporation: "Cost! Before DTP, the employee newspaper cost approximately US $2,000. Presently, the company pays approximately $600 for a larger publication enhanced with more artwork and of equal print quality." While this seems to be the experience of most DTP users, not everyone agrees. "Think of it as a design tool first," suggests a communicator at an engineering firm "because that's where the real dollar savings are. As a production tool, the savings may or may not be there, depending upon the project." Echoes a colleague at Advertising Association International, "The joys promised by desktop aficionados - marvelous productivity improvements, dazzling cost savings, and other justifications for investment will arrive late, even in the best of circumstances."

Job Responsibilities Redefined

A basis and important difference may still exist between the developmental goals of our survey communicators and their organizations. The "doubling-up" of job responsibilities that often accompanies the implementation of DTP, as well as the requirement for technical literacy, take the communicator's role in new directions. Upper management bias toward technology portends a future of increasing technological sophistication. Cost reduction, by 34 percent; time savings, by 31 percent; and control of typesetting/layout, by 29 percent; are ranked as the decisive factors in the original decision to convert to DTP. Factors viewed as more "humane" in nature, such as learning difficulties, and adjusting personnel and yourself to the new system, are perceived by communicators as less important to those responsible for the DTP decision. In a business climate where time is money, financial and technical factors continue to receive favored status through all stages of decision making.

For their part, survey respondents are resisting efforts to turn themselves into "artists or typesetters." It may be a losing battle. "I will never hire another assistant who is not an accomplished DTP user," states a communicator at a Nebraska power company, in a comment reinforcing the perceived superiority of DTP. "Is it realistic to find a staff person person who is a good writer/editor, graphically/artistically competent, and computer literate?" asks a communicator with the American Cancer Society. It's the $64 million dollar question; the key to who will be a successful communicator in the next decade.

Desktop publishing, like other computer-based enhancements to the workplace, is here to stay. What remains to be seen is how well communicators will respond to such a radical and lasting change in their job responsibilities. At the moment, few communicators possess the requisite mix of communication/graphic/computer skills that form the backbone of tomorrow's "supercommunicator." Perhaps a communicator at Editorial Design and Print Services sums it up best when he says, "DTP is probably the most significant development in printed communication since the offset press. Let me put it this way: If you're a professional communicator and you plan to be in business five years from now, you can't afford to ask yourself if you should get into DTP. Ask yourself when instead."

(*1) Profile '89, a biennial survey of communicators' salaries and responsibilities published by the IABC Research Foundation, indicates that most IABC communicators come into their field from a newspaper or journalism background.

Joan Carroll is a freelance creative director and desktop publisher in San Francisco, Calif. Alonzo Cobb is a computer consultant and marketing expert in San Francisco, specializing in computerized statistical and financial models.
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:1989 desktop publishing survey
Author:Cobb, Alonzo F., Jr.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Nov 1, 1989
Words:2496
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