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Another Call to Arms, of a Sort

Subject: Neither Quark nor PageMaker is the answer
Date: Wed, 20 May 1998 23:39:42 -0400
From: Daniel Rhatigan <Sparky@inch.com>
Newsgroups: alt.zines

Frequently, discussions in this group turn toward the practical discussions of zine-making: printing, computer programs, layout problems, etc. Everybody's always got a lot of good ideas about how to fix technical problems, but how about some of the design problems that a lot of the questions bring up? Pagemaker or Quark won't give you a good-looking zine, only good choices will. I’m still a fan of people doing it the old-school way with typewriters or even decent handwriting, but for everyone who's moved onto writing and publishing in the digital age along with me, let me rant a little of my design philosophy.

At work, in my zines, in everyday life, I’m always grappling with the relationship between typography and technology. As the fields grow more interrelated each day, each demands a greater understanding of its influence on the other, and those of us who dabble in one cannot help but learn more of both. Consideration of the two can allow us to profit from their relationship rather than be thwarted by it.

I have a true love and respect for type, and I know I’m a geek about it. I think the abstract beauty of a single letterform can be breathtaking on its own, but more importantly I think typography is our means of conveying language, integral to how we read and how we communicate. If typography suffers then communication suffers with it, robbed of its full potential. I value the role that typography plays in language, and I feel a responsibility to allow it to play its role as perfectly as possible. Type should help us understand words, and its complexity should never be underestimated.

Perhaps the easiest way to ignore the complexity of typography is to become distracted by the complexity of the technology we use to set type. Though we are now expected to develop expertise with computers, we are not freed from our responsibility to think critically about typography. Computers are powerful tools that have offered us many new opportunities, but they do not offer us solutions to the problems of working with type.

It is easier now than ever before for anyone to put type on a page and have it look pretty clean, but it is also too easy for the finer elements of effective typography to be ignored. This can be the result of too little technical proficiency, too little visual sophistication, or even too little patience to make the adjustments needed to perfect computer-generated type. All designers now working as typesetters also have the responsibility to master the technology that creates their type. Just as we should not allow ourselves to forget the many responsibilities involved in designing with type, we should also not underestimate the complexity of our common tool ? the computer.

Computer operating systems and software packages are complex tools that allow us to achieve far more than we may have once thought possible. Conversely, their complexity may limit our abilities if we are not able to work within the parameters of their logic. As with any tool or any printing process, we must be sensitive to the way computers work so that we can make the greatest possible use of them. Once we understand the working of these systems, then we often find that we were limited not by the tool, but by our ability to use it.

My years in school and my subsequent years working for myself and for other people have taught me the importance of design and typography. I have come to believe that they present us not only with opportunities, but with problems that we must solve to aid communication and also to improve our visual culture. I say we should seek the best solutions to these problems, while trying to be clear, inventive, expressive, and efficient. This requires sensitivity to subject, concept, medium, and tool alike.

Don't fall into the trap and just play dress-up with visual style. If you're doing your zine out of love, show it all the love you can. Make it as effective and as right-on-the-money as possible. Don't cheapen your writing or the writing of your contributors by making things look "cool" with funky fonts and clip art that aren't really supporting the writing or the tone of the zine. Don't make it too busy just because you can. Don't think that because your program will let you do something that means it's a good thing to do. Make good choices, pay attention how truly readable and how true to itself your zine is. I don't even mean making your zine look slick — if your zine is raw, then use your tools to make it raw. If it's thoughtful, use your tools to show that.

And keep on keeping on.

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