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Myths And Misconceptions About Desktop Publishing

What It Is. What It Is Not.

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Aldus Corporation founder Paul Brainerd, is generally credited for coining the phrase, "desktop publishing" after the development of Aldus PageMaker (now Adobe PageMaker). Before the invention of desktop publishing software the tasks involved in desktop publishing were done manually, by a variety of people and involved both graphic design and prepress tasks which sometimes leads to confusion about what desktop publishing is and how it is done.

 

Perhaps this list will help you combat your own desktop publishing and graphic design misconceptions or those of others.

1. Desktop publishing is just another name for graphic design.

Things a graphic designer might create
Some of the many possible graphic design print projects. | Image © Jacci Howard Bear
Graphic design has been around far longer than desktop publishing. Desktop publishing is simply a software tool that graphic designers can use to help translate their concepts and ideas into the proper format for printing. But desktop publishing software is also a tool that anyone can use to create and print their own designs as well.

2. Desktop publishing is amateur design.

Even amateurs usually do better than this.
Even amateurs usually do better than this. | © Jacci Howard Bear
Desktop publishing by itself isn't design. It is the use of specific software tools to create projects such as business cards, invitations, books, newsletters, bookmarks, posters, and just about anything else that can be printed. Projects can be good or bad. It's the vision and skill of the person using desktop publishing software that determines the quality of the output. Desktop publishing software can be used for creating good or bad, professional or amateur design - it doesn't discriminate.

3. Real graphic designers don't do desktop publishing.

Page Layout in PageMaker
A page layout created in desktop publishing software. | Image © Jacci Howard Bear
Most of today's graphic designers use desktop publishing software so in that sense, yes, they do desktop publishing. See the two previous myths for clarification.

4. You can do desktop publishing with Microsoft Word.

A newsletter done in Microsoft Word.
A newsletter done in Microsoft Word. | © Microsoft, Inc.
Yes and no. Desktop publishing software works in a different manner than word processing software. However, word processing software continues to evolve to include more of the features that used to only be available in desktop publishing software. For printing simple projects to a desktop printer, a word processor may be sufficient for your needs. For commerical printing or for complex page layout tasks, desktop publishing software designed specifically for page layout is more desirable.

5. You can do desktop publishing with Microsoft PowerPoint.

Presentation in PowerPoint.
Presentation in PowerPoint. | © Microsoft, Inc.
No, but people try. You can do desktop publishing and use PowerPoint. That's a fine line sort of distinction. PowerPoint and other such presentation programs are not desktop publishing software. Graphic designers might do some work in PowerPoint but so do office managers, executives, accountants, Web designers, secretaries, and the kid across the street. It's simply a different tool used by many type of people, just as desktop publishing is a tool used by many.

6. You can do desktop publishing with Adobe Photoshop.

Adobe CS4 Screenshot by J. Bear
Adobe Photoshop CS4 with photo open for editing. | © Jacci Howard Bear
No. Well, sort of. Adobe Photoshop and programs like it are graphics software. Photoshop is simply one type of software tool used by designers and non-designers. True, graphics software is used by graphic designers and others who use desktop publishing software but it is not a page layout application — the type of software that defines desktop publishing.

7. Anyone using desktop publishing software can create professional designs.

Popular Desktop Publishing and Graphics Software
Box shots provided by Serif, Broderbund, Nova Development, Microsoft, Quark, Adobe, and Corel.
No. Sure, the advertising hype for "easy-to-use" desktop publishing software claims otherwise but it's not true. It is true that desktop publishing software allows the non-professional designer to do page layout more easily and with a plethora of templates, fonts, and clip art at their fingertips they have the potential to create projects that look really good. But the software itself doesn't guarantee professional-quality design no matter who uses it.

8. Desktop publishing is obsolete as a career choice and valuable skill.

reading broadsheet size newspaper
Print and desktop publishing aren't dead yet. They are just going through some growing pains.
Not at all. It's true that opportunities for freelance and to some extent in-house work in graphic design and desktop publishing are on the decline. And desktop publishing is changing. That doesn't mean it's going away, just growing with the times to encompass more digital publishing. Even if straight-up desktop publishing jobs are scarce, jobs of all kinds include more and more desktop publishing knowledge as a requirement or at least a nice-to-have preferred skill.

Desktop Publishing Today

Is desktop publishing dead? There are rumors that it has run its course. In truth, everyone can benefit from knowing and using desktop publishing. It's old technology that keeps evolving to keep up with today's world.

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