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When Good Desktop Publishing Goes Bad

written by: Sylvia Cochran•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 10/30/2011

Excessive underlining, white rivers and spelling errors galore – is this the new face of desktop publishing? Mistakes of this kind detract from the message and give the profession a bad reputation. Unfortunately, it looks like they are here to stay.

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    State of the Industry

    You have to look no further than the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to recognize what is causing the errors and mistakes that seem to overrun the desktop publishing business’s output. The industry is facing a rapid decline – in part due to computerization. Adding insult to injury, said software suites are very easy to use even for novices. As the BLS further points out, these programs are “affordable for nonprinting professionals to use." The result is clear: Desktop publishers who learned the business in college, and then hands-on, are now being replaced by dabblers who are creating flyers and other materials via a plug and play methods – without knowing the ins and outs of the trade.

    Not surprisingly, there are ample mistakes that gradually creep into today’s ads. Rather than leaving the design of flyers and ads to professionals who have learned the business from the ground up, fly-by-night operators – or helpful friends – occasionally throw together presentations that are as hard on the eyes as they are offensive to grammatical minds.

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    Common Examples of Bad Print

    “Sign with spelling error So what does actual bad print look like today?

    • Streets signs feature obvious spelling mistakes and awkward expressions.
    • Internet ads freely use copyrighted materials. (Not too long ago, Facebook’s side ads featured a photo of a very pregnant N. Suleman. Did the advertiser not think twice about using a copyrighted photo to state its message?) In some cases, these images are also used on flyers. This practice places the entrepreneur in jeopardy of a lawsuit. Even worse, there are times when an improperly used photo may actually damage a photographer, which again places liability on the shoulders of the business that commissioned the print piece.
    • Landscape flyers contain numerous spelling errors. I have actually begun to use these types of flyers – handymen have them dropped at my doorstep, too – as a spelling and grammar primer when helping the kids with their homework assignments. Word usage, grammar and even basic spacing are frequently more fanciful than correct.
    • Brochures are a melting pot of too many fonts, head-spinning type-size changes, gratuitous underlining as well as bolding, and – perhaps due to software misunderstandings – irregular type shapes and distances. Words are too close to a bullet point or too far removed from it.
    • Vanity-published books are a hodgepodge of spelling errors, editorial misses and improper page cutting. As a moonlighting book reviewer, I have had numerous email conversations with authors who were startled to learn that their final print runs – sent out to reviewers the world over – were studded with factual and editorial errors they had fixed some file updates ago. Too bad these fixes never made it into print! Dale Austin highlights this point when recalling a 1993/1994 textbook print disaster that involved too many participants in too many different areas – with nobody really being in charge.
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    Is Desktop Publishing Doomed?

    At first glance, it would seem that the Internet and also the computer software industry have dealt a fatal blow to desktop publishing. Yet in truth, the availability of easy to use suites and accessibility of machinery is only the surface of the problem. Dig deeper to really come face to face with what ails the industry.

    Whereas in the past, employers, businesses and authors relied on trained professionals to take a publishing project from start to finish, the hope of saving money now causes them to entrust their projects to the marginally qualified. The latter advertise online and in print, promising to underbid any written estimate. Saving money is a crucial aspect in today’s tough economy, and businesses may actually decide to go with the less experienced but cheaper hobbyist than the more expensive but well-trained professional.

    If you are a hobbyist in the field, it is advisable to educate yourself about the top 10 typography don’ts. If you are a business, consider that you get what you pay for; do you really want to tie your company’s professional reputation to an inexpertly done flyer by an in-house file clerk -- or an off-site freelancer -- who has never actually worked as a desktop publisher? Authors in particular seem to fall for the Siren’s song of cheap print with an alarming regularity; even if a big publisher is not buying the script, hire a team of editors and desktop publishers who know how to work together to release a meticulously put-together finished product.

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    Desktop publishing mistakes are here to stay – until consumers of these products stand up and revolt. As long as there are no ramifications to printers and publishers for releasing runs of flyers and brochures, which feature some of the numerous mistakes previously touched on, professional desktop publishers will go the way of the dodo bird.

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