Thursday, 5 September 2013

OUGD601 // Dissertation // History and Future of Desktop Publishing

What is desktop publishing and where did it come from?
Over twenty five years ago several computing technologies, hardware and software, combined to irreversibly change the design and publishing industry.

Did we say twenty five years? Well let's not quibble about a couple of years here or there. The point is that over a short period in the mid 1980s something quite dramatic happened to the graphic design, prepress and printing industry.

Which company invented desktop publishing?
In the mid 1980s, Apple Computer, Adobe, Aldus and Hewlett-Packard each produced key technologies that, when combined, allowed graphic designers, publishers and pre-press professionals to bring the whole publishing process in-house.

Those four companies were responsible for the hardware and software that, to a large degree, still drives the electronic publishing industry. This literally created desktop publishing, or DTP.

The History of DTP
Although hot metal typesetting and manual publishing techniques had long been replaced by phototypesetting, it was not until the mid 1980's that design and publishing was truly brought 'in-house'.

Although the first laser printers were built by Canon, it was Hewlett-Packard's LaserJet desktop laser printer, developed in 1984, combined with the Apple Macintosh computer and Adobe's PostScript page description language and Aldus's PageMaker software, that is generally acknowledged as the cornerstones of DTP.

The Macintosh, with its easy to use graphics user interface (GUI), allowed non-computer literate designers to simulate their normal working environment with its desktop as metaphor approach.

Many design companies and printers have remained loyal to Apple and standardised on the Macintosh. However, with the release of Windows 95 and it's successors, it is now just as possible to use the same software tools on a Windows-based PC as it is on a Mac. Whilst there used to be much debate as to the advantages of Apple versus Windows for graphic designers, especially around the areas of color accuracy and prepress, it is now generally accepted that, for the most part, the choice of computing platform is now more of a preference, than a requirement.

Desktop publishing software
In 1985 Aldus, a company later bought by Adobe, released the first desktop publishing software. Called PageMaker, it allowed designers to layout pages in WYSIWYG mode, rather than having to type in arcane typesetting code commands.

Although PageMaker was the first professional desktop publishing layout tool, it was soon usurped by a company called Quark, who had developed their own layout package called QuarkXpress. One major advantage of QuarkXpress was its plugin system, known as Xtensions, which allowed publishing companies to purchase add-on technology to suit their particular workflow or industry.

In recent years – well after Adobe had purchased Aldus – Adobe released InDesign, which has been steadily challenging and even overtaking Quark's dominance of the DTP industry. Adobe also uses software plug-ins for many of its applications.

Apart from layout applications, other desktop publishing software tools were introduced that allowed publishers to take on increasing amounts of the design and production workload. High resolution drum scanners – and later desktop scanners – alongside Adobe Photoshop, soon put paid to the need for enormous film cameras.

PostScript and desktop publishing
Adobe's PostScript software allowed the designers' creations to be output accurately to a PostScript enabled device, such as the Apple Laserwiter (the first PostScript enabled desktop laser printer). PostScript was now also being built into high end imagesetters, which allowed for printers and pre-press bureaus to output press quality film, directly from a publishers digital files.

PostScript technology was now also being built into fonts and other DTP publishing tools, such as vector drawing applications like Adobe Illustrator. Indeed it is only recently that PostScript font technology has begun to be replaced by other formats such as OpenType fonts.

DTP myths and misdemeanours
Desk-top publishing has often been criticised by graphic designers as being responsible for lowering design standards. The reasons for this are often related to the ease with which DTP has made it for amateur 'designers' to produce published documents. Indeed, the term 'desktop' has been criticised as somewhat misleading.

Many classically trained graphic designers point to increasing reliance by businesses on untrained in-house staff to produce everything from newsletter, to designing logos, stationary and even mass distribution brochures and promotional material. The point made is that, whilst DTP technology may allow more and more untrained people to produce publications, it matters little if the documents produced are badly designed and fail to achieve their purpose.

The number of programs coming under the banner of 'desktop publishing' has also risen and can sometimes include applications as diverse as PowerPoint, Microsoft's Publisher and Serif's PagePlus. Indeed, many word processing programs now claim to include desktop publishing features.

Many printers and pre-press bureaus also complain of receiving incorrectly formatted files from designers who have been taught how to use dtp software to produce layouts, but have not been taught how to process those documents properly for offset-litho commercial printing.

The plethora of non-professional DTP software tools has also led to some printers raising their hands in despair. With many of these tools not supporting basic print production formats, such as CMYK color separation.

The availability of color desktop printers has also led to some inexperienced designers sending 'desktop proofs' along with their artwork, without realising that the colours can often not be matched when printed on a commercial printing press. In much the same way, the colours reproduced on a DTP computer monitor will rarely match those produced when the job is printed.

The future of desktop publishing
The design and publishing business is constantly changing. But most recent changes have yet to be as dramatic as those brought about by the events of the mid 1980s. Computers are constantly getting faster, allowing for more graphics intensive procedures to be performed on the 'desktop' by designers. Digital commercial printing machines have reduced the price of short-run full colour printing. Albeit perhaps at the cost of quality. And complete on-screen electronic proofing (generally PDF driven) is now commonplace, speeding up the whole production process for non-colour critical work.

But perhaps the most dramatic development in desktop publishing has been the web. When companies began to realize that an effective web presence was a crucial marketing tool, many graphic designers eagerly jumped aboard the web design ship. And WYSIWYG web design tools, such as Freeway, Dreamweaver and GoLive, have provided designers with an inroad into the once technically exclusive world of web design, in much the same way that QuarkXpress and Pagemaker opened up the publishing market in the mid-eighties.

Of course, this has sometimes raised many of the same questions of professionalism as were raised by the incorrect use of DTP print publishing tools. Many web developers, who were used to hand coding web sites, have complained that WYSIWYG web design software applications create bloated or non-compliant code.

The ongoing interaction between the printed design world and the interactive digital world will no-doubt continue. The overlap with interactive television technologies has already begun, as has desktop video, design for mobile phones and PDAs. It's going to be interesting.

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