"Okay Peorge, but What Are We Gonna DO??"—Mudhead in "High School Madness," by the Firesign Theatre (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firesign_Theatre> and <http://www.firesigntheatre.com>)
After getting to know the new leadership, I felt confident that the people steering the ship were qualified to look after the interests of end users, and that they actually understood what those interests are. But I still wasn’t convinced that the product would matter to anyone, so I asked them how they were determining its direction. I was impressed by the answer.
To determine the direction of QuarkXPress 7, Quark went back to its roots. Back in the late 1980s, Tim Gill and his team traveled around the world, meeting with successful publishers, ad agencies, and design firms. Their goal was to completely understand what these organizations were attempting to do, what their near-term challenges were, and what bottlenecks were slowing down their current workflows. The Quark team then returned to Denver and built QuarkXPress 2.1.2 (and soon after that, QuarkXPress 3), which completely eliminated all other page layout software from the minds and desktops of graphic design and publishing professionals worldwide.
Jürgen Kurz’s team did the same thing. Quark’s 21st century leadership met with its most successful customers, and these trends emerged:
- Collaboration: Documents (print, Web, interactive, and so on) are no longer produced by one person or group. Instead, many people in many locations contribute to every project.
- Globalization: Now that the Internet connects creative professionals, they work together from around the globe, including from their homes. Also, documents are produced in multiple languages for consumption all around the world.
- Multichannel Publishing: Today, very few documents contain assets that will be used solely within that document. Instead, the same content is used in many documents and across multiple media.
- Output: Correct output is still a time-sucking bottleneck. Designers still don’t know how to create files that will output correctly.
Armed with the knowledge and understanding of those challenges, Quark went to work on the biggest rewrite in QuarkXPress history: QuarkXPress 6. However, even with a large staff of engineers working in India and Colorado, Quark couldn’t possibly complete all the technology necessary to build what it had in mind for this entirely new QuarkXPress, so it worked hardest on the underlying technology and gave QuarkXPress 6 only a required minimum of new capabilities:
- An entirely new document structure that allowed multiple layout spaces of any size, orientation, and output intent (print or Web)
- Ability to synchronize text across multiple text boxes
- Editing of native Photoshop documents
- Direct output to PDF
- Native support for Mac OS X
Then Quark went to work on filling in the blanks that would ultimately sculpt QuarkXPress 7 into an entirely new kind of application. To address the now-common need for collaborative workflows, it enables sharing portions of a QuarkXPress document in real time with other team members—a first in the desktop page layout world. Now it would be possible for several people to work on the same document at the same time. The owner of the master document can define and export areas of pages as Composition Zones and give them to other team members. If they are on a network, the master document updates whenever team members save the changes to their Composition Zones. If team members are geographically dispersed, the master document updates when its owner receives the updated Composition Zones via email, FTP, disc, or whatever. Entire multipage layouts can also be shared in this way—for example, a feature story in a magazine or newspaper.
This kind of collaboration was possible before (with Quark’s Quark Publishing System [QPS], for example). But this is the first time it can be done without a file server or file server application—each member needs only a standard copy of QuarkXPress.
Quark’s research also pinpointed exactly which tasks required a user to open a Photoshop file that had been placed into QuarkXPress, and it then built an engine that exactly duplicated 80 percent of those tasks. For companies with lots of QuarkXPress users, this means that they no longer have to buy and maintain Photoshop for each user, which is potentially a huge cost savings.
To address the challenge of global publishing, Quark added advanced support for Unicode, which allows QuarkXPress to work with the most complex language systems on Earth. It also built an elegant interface for working with advanced OpenType fonts, which are based on OpenType and can contain tens of thousands of glyphs per font. Remarkably, Quark added this infrastructure while maintaining complete backward-compatibility with the text in documents created in previous versions of QuarkXPress. I expect that Quark has even more cross-language typographic abilities up its sleeve for future versions of QuarkXPress.
To improve workflows that involve publishing in multiple media channels (print, Web, interactive, and so on), Quark expanded its earlier concept of synchronized text to include synchronized boxes, pictures, text, and formatting for each. So, you can have a text or picture box in several locations across multiple layouts in a project (print, Web, and so on) and when you change one of them, they all change. You can choose to synchronize the content itself (text or picture), or the formatting of the text or picture or box. Or any combination—you have control over what gets synchronized. This feature theoretically assists in keeping content and styling ("branding") uniform across media.
One multichannel challenge that Quark heard repeatedly in its research of design and publishing firms is that designers want to create SWF (Flash) animations, but the complex interface and file format requirements of the Adobe Flash (formerly Macromedia Flash) application is too much work to learn. They want a way to make SWF animations without using timelines and an alien interface.
So in another industry first, Quark recently released Quark Interactive Designer (QID). At $99, it is an affordable XTension for QuarkXPress that lets users leverage their existing QuarkXPress documents and skills to create interactive, motion-filled multimedia files in SWF format. (In a brilliant and necessary move, Quark is providing QID free to registered users of the Education version of QuarkXPress.)
By using Quark Interactive Designer, a designer can take an existing product or company brochure and animate its pieces to fly across the layout, fade in or out, rotate, and so on. The layout can also display videos and music, and users can click on items to invoke actions on the page or go to other pages with many impressive transition styles. A designer can also build an interactive SWF animation from scratch, using existing QuarkXPress skills. For students of history: QID has essentially the same feature set and interface as Quark’s product named QuarkImmedia, which shipped in 1996. In fact, if you know how to use QuarkImmedia, you already know how to use QID. Quark completely rewrote the code of course, but the product behaves exactly as before. Quark has stated that the price will increase to $199 in April 2007, but I hope it keeps the price at the very attractive $99.
Although the focus of this article is mainly on Quark and QuarkXPress, Quark has several other successful products that integrate with each other for cross-media publishing. One of the most impressive is QuarkXPress Server 7, which is a server-based engine that generates native QuarkXPress projects based on user input in Web-based templates. This system makes it very easy to ensure proper corporate branding across many locations and media. For example, a company can set up templates for brochures, ads, catalogues, and other common documents, and let local representatives use a Web browser to fill in their specific information and generate professionally designed QuarkXPress documents, PDFs, or Web banners. All without having to own or use QuarkXPress.
To improve output, Quark added some helpful features that should have been there all along, such as PDF output styles (to save combinations of settings for reuse). It also added support for the commercial printing standard PDF/X. This feature is essential to guarantee predictable output in PDF-based workflows. Unfortunately, Quark chose not to include any PDF output styles with QuarkXPress 7, instead relying on individuals and organizations to create their own. The result is a feature that promises advancements beyond QuarkXPress 6, but in reality provides no immediate gain for the average user. (I’m told that somewhere on Quark’s website is a collection of PDF output styles for common scenarios, but I have yet to find them.)
Just as PDF/X is driving standardization for output, JDF (Job Definition Format) is beginning to drive standardization throughout the entire workflow. With JDF, a project manager can define exactly how a job is to be created, processed, output, and finished. The implied promise of JDF is that a designer won’t be able to create a project that can’t be output. But current implementations of JDF by other software developers basically tack JDF onto the end of the process, as a standard against which the project can be checked—and rejected. Then, it’s up to the people upstream to identify what caused each problem, make changes to the project, re-output it (usually in PDF format) and check it against the JDF specifications again. Repeat until satisfied.
Quark decided to implement JDF into the basic underlying structure of every QuarkXPress project, so that specifications can be defined or changed at any time in the project’s lifecycle, and everyone involved in the project is immediately aware of the changes. Quark calls this new technology Quark Job Jackets, in reference to the time-honored practice of placing all the bits and pieces of a design project into a physical container known in the industry as a job jacket. Just as the physical job jacket includes all the specifications necessary to complete the job successfully, Quark Job Jackets expand on the industry-standard JDF specification to include every bit of information necessary to design, create, edit, preview, color-manage, proof, approve, collect, output, trim, bind, and deliver a job.
For designers, the coolest feature in Quark Job Jackets is automatic color management. By building into QuarkXPress the cross-platform capability to display every page element according to industry-standard ICC color profiles, designers can rest assured that what they’re seeing on their display is as close as possible to what will actually be output. And if the intended output device changes in mid-project, for example using a different commercial printer or desktop printer, the document’s colors will reflect that change onscreen. By putting automatic color management and other output-critical requirements in place from the beginning of the design process, documents are theoretically more likely to output correctly the first time, and the design team can move along to other projects. In combination with synchronized items, it also helps guarantee that cross-media projects actually match across media.
The other immediate benefit for designers is that they can use a Job Jackets file to create a new QuarkXPress project. By doing so, the new project will have exactly the correct size and other specifications for the kind of document they’ll be producing. It will also include all approved colors, font styles, and other content details that often cause jobs to be delayed because of misuse.
The promise of Quark Job Jackets is enormous, but so is its interface. Quark admits that designers will normally use a Job Jacket only for checking their work. The Job Jacket itself will be defined by people better versed in the details of producing the project: project managers, output specialists, and printers. To make the process of building a Job Jacket as easy as possible, they’re essentially modular; it’s easy to import new specifications provided by anyone in the production chain.
A large part of Quark’s original success was its support for printers. Quark continues this tradition today with its recent release of Quark Print Collection, a $299 set of utilities that simplify and automate the production of fully imposed, press-ready files—an essential part of every printer’s daily workflow. (Imposition is the process of rearranging a document’s pages so that they print in an order suitable for final output, taking into account items that cross over a two-page spread, and "creep", or the shift that occurs when paper is folded together to produce a bound volume.) It’s a complex science, with very specific requirements, and Quark Print Collection provides tremendous value to people who output multipage documents.
Quark Print Collection is based on the products that Quark gained when it acquired A Lowly Apprentice Production (ALAP) in December, 2005. Because almost all output originates with either PDF or native QuarkXPress files, the Collection also supports imposition from within Acrobat 7 and QuarkXPress 7. Quark says that it must discontinue its plug-in for InDesign because Adobe’s third-party development rules won’t allow them to continue developing it.
Quark added several other welcome abilities related to output, including full support for RGB workflows and variable data printing (PPML).