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How Quark Finally Got It Right

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Inspiration. Innovation. Customer focus. Leading the market. These are not terms most people would use to describe Quark even a year ago. But QuarkXPress 7 is a shocker: it's so far beyond any previous release that you have to wonder what changed at Quark (the company). Jay Nelson digs into the recent changes at Quark to find out how they did it and what they're thinking.
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It seems that everyone loves to hate Quark. Not QuarkXPress necessarily, but certainly Quark, Inc. And for good reason—as its monopoly of the page layout market continued unchallenged from about 1992 onward, the company began to take its customers for granted. Quark slipped into providing substandard customer service and spotty technical support. It added questionably useful features to QuarkXPress and ignored basic improvements requested by its user base. The product became less stable, and its output wasn’t keeping up with the changing landscape—especially in regard to Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF).

But that all ended a few years ago. Or at least, that’s what Quark wants you to believe. And based on my experiences with the company over the past year or two, I tend to agree. It took a lot to get me to change my mind: I had to meet and interview Quark’s new leaders many times and dig deeply into the complete feature set of QuarkXPress 7. I had a lot of disappointment and distrust to overcome—I’ve used QuarkXPress since 1989, but by 2001 was fed up with the company. I certainly didn’t expect that by the time of version 7’s release, I would be so impressed that I would agree to record a training video for it. The rest of this story describes and explains what I’ve come to know about Quark.

Who’s On First?

Any company is just a collection of people. Its products are the result of the visions, beliefs, and efforts of those people. Its culture develops from the attitudes and beliefs of its leaders. Although this direct relationship is true in any company, it’s easiest to see in the smaller ones, in which each person’s action has a direct result on the company and its products.

Quark, Inc. has always been a privately held corporation led by only a dozen or so individuals—and only about half of them fill the role of "executives." Quark’s small size greatly influenced its original successes, as did its freedom from the demands of public shareholders. When Quark decided to turn the company in a new direction, this small size and visionary freedom made it possible to literally reinvent itself for a new generation of technology and publishing workflows.

Quark’s leadership has completely changed hands: every team leader is now a seasoned professional plucked from the trenches of graphic design, newspaper and magazine publishing, prepress, printing, Web design and production, and interactive media. Yes, interactive media. Quark’s latest addition to the QuarkXPress family is Quark Interactive Designer, a SWF (Flash) development environment directly inside QuarkXPress. But I’ll get back to that later. Let’s talk about Quark’s new leaders.

First, Quark’s chairman, Fred Ebrahimi, stepped out of day-to-day operations. In his place are several incredibly talented and dedicated industry professionals working hard to reinvent Quark (the company) and its products (including QuarkXPress and several other powerful tools). At the top of the development team is Jürgen Kurz, Senior Vice President of Desktop Products.

Jürgen Kurz’s resume is impressive: before joining Quark in 1997, he was responsible for 34 magazine titles with a circulation of almost 5 million. He also directed multimedia businesses and developed e-commerce solutions for catalogues. His initial position at Quark was as Product Manager for QuarkImmedia—Tim Gill’s personal attempt to bring interactivity and movement into the static world of page layout. Most observers agree that QuarkImmedia was ahead of its time, and it was eventually discontinued.

In 2000, Kurz joined Quark’s senior staff and began the lengthy process of reimagining Quark and redesigning QuarkXPress. One of the first steps was to find a suitable product manager for QuarkXPress 6, which was then being planned. Quark chose Tim Banister, who had been working in quality assurance for QuarkXPress and had 22 years of experience in commercial printing. Kurz wanted a product manager with lots of real-world experience in facing deadlines of getting things right and onto printing plates.

Kurz continued filling key leadership roles with people who had extensive experience as end users of the products Quark was attempting to develop. For example, many of Quark’s newest engineers formerly worked in the publishing world, as did Quark’s current field representatives.

At the top of the executive branch is Quark’s new CEO Ray Schiavone, the former head of Arbortext who led that company’s transition from an XML-based authoring company to become the leader in multichannel publishing.

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