A very long time coming, Quark finally get with the program (Mac OSX) and not only give millions a reason to finally upgrade to Apple’s chrome-plated OS, but give graphic designers the first serious update in almost a decade.
Like Telstra after deregulation of the telecoms industry, Quark haemorrhaged customers after the advent of InDesign, and they have a lot of work to do to regain them. Part of their effort to do so is to restyle Xpress as a single-stop design solution for your print design, website and content sharing.
The ability to produce websites using the tools and work methods you’ve spent much of your career getting used to is great in theory, but Xpress makes such a bungled and clunky job of placing elements it’s too early to throw Dreamweaver or GoLive in the bin just yet. Print designers who’ve made the jump to web design follow a fairly strict regimen maintaining site heriarchy and terminology that Quark haven’t bothered with, and whether it’s lack of experience in web design software or trying to rewrite the protocols the industry has spent 10 years standardising remains to be seen’
Another new part of the Xpress toolset Quark have been pushing is avenue.quark, the inbuilt Xtension to import, export and handle XML data. In version 5 it was just another Xtension to purchase, now it’s included.
The theoy is that you can use Quark not only as your design tool but your content management tool, using XML-tagged data to send between projects or elsewhere in your organisation confident that the attributes it needs will stay in place.
As with the web design function, it’s a much better theory than it is in practice. The first problem is that XML functionality in Xpress would be fine if there weren’t already content sharing solutions out there (in most graphic design studios, they’re called ’emailing Microsoft Word files back and forth’). Quark is where you bring data in to manipulate it, it isn’t the base where you manage your data to send elsewhere. It’ll take more of a head shift in designers than many will be willing to make in the near future unless they’re small business manned by sole operators.
And even if that headshift is to come, the nature of XML will hold it off even further. Designers are creative and have little regard for heavy handed program code for a reason — it’s not the language they speak. For an idea of XML code, go to the most complicated web page you can find and look at the HTML source code. Depending on your confidence in web design, it’ll either be a major project with a steep learnng curve or a page of gobbledygook that might as well be the original script of Passion of the Christ in Aramaic. Try to teach an average designer how to use and manipulate XML, and they’ll snort derisively.
There’s plenty of good news though. Xpress now looks gorgeous under Mac OSX (like all Mac OSX applications do), and the changes are added onto the fringes of tasks you take for granted rather than changing the ones you’re used to. While some OSX shortcuts (particularly Expose in Panther) interfere with some of the keyboard shortcuts you use most, the changes are overwhelmingly welcome and positive. The ethos of Quark being a one stop design shop works in one area at least; an Xpress file is now a ‘project’ into which you can save multiple layouts (one can be your web page, one can be your business card, etc). They’re all accessible via tabs at the bottom of the screen and all share colour and style sheet attributes.
Multiple layouts also take advantage of the synchronised text palette, where you can save a box of text as a synchronised text string, replace it anywhere else in the project, and update it once to change it across the board.
Xpress finally offers decent support for arranging data in tables too, making it easy to draw a table or convert text into a table format. And you can finally collect fonts with a job to send to your bureau or printers etc, although Quark still fall down badly by having no inbuilt preflight utility — something even InDesign’s had since it’s first days.
All in all, it boasts a beautiful new look thanks to finally having embraced the world of OSX and a familiar way of working. That same familiarity is Quark’s best weapon against the competitors edging into it’s market, but it needs more.
It needs to vastly improve its web design capability or drop it altogether. It makes a passable basic utility to design a few roughs, but has no place in the same market as programs that take web design much more seriously. It needs to look closer at XML, decide whether it’s going to set the world on fire, and either make Xpress’ handling of it a lot more user friendly or drop it too.
And as usual, Quarks needs to look at its pricing. For the cost of Xpress 6, you can buy one (or more) entire computer systems, while InDesign — which still offers more features — undercuts it by two thirds.
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