The desktop

Depending on your age, the phrase “desktop publishing” might evoke uncomfortable recollections of family members creating party invites in Comic Sans on Microsoft Publisher circa 1997.

But, aesthetic travesties aside, a fundamental shift was taking place: the tools of the trade, both for editorial design and the dissemination of information, were migrating from professional publishers and commercial printworks to the home office.

Professional desktop publishing like Aldus Pagemaker (1985) and Quark XPress (1987), combined with early image editing packages like Adobe Photoshop (1990) and Jasc Paint Shop (1990), began to transform the way that professional designers worked, and accelerated the adoption of digital printing presses by the commercial printing industry.

Interestingly, the speed of the shift to digital design tools also sharply illustrated the dialogue between design and technology. Designers don’t exist independently of their tools: design decisions, visual language, and cultural conventions are strongly influenced by the available technology.

The arrival of these software tools made it possible to use new graphic techniques, including more radical photo manipulation, experimental typography, and complex layering. Coming to prominence in the 1990s, David Carson was one of the pioneers of these new possibilities, eschewing received wisdom and disrupting the graphic design industry in the process.

The desktop design revolution: key moments

1970: Xerox PARC Alto computer introduces the first mainstream graphical user interface design (GUI). Check out that portrait screen — something that didn’t return to mass-market UI design until the arrival of the smartphone.

1974: Bravo, the first what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) word processing platform, by Xerox PARC. Here, computer historian Ken Shirriff has set Steve Jobs’ famous commencement speech in Bravo, showing that advanced computer typography predated the Mac by a decade.

1984: Apple Macintosh 128K — the first Mac, complete with the beautiful “hello” by Susan Kare.

1985: Microsoft Paint, a simple raster (pixel-by-pixel) image editor, is shipped with Windows 1.0. Paint survives to this day — though it received a stay of execution a couple of years ago. And the amazing illustrations of MS Paint artist Pat Hines show how technical constraints can be the friend of creativity!

1985: Aldus PageMaker, later Adobe PageMaker, a professional editorial design and typesetting tool. It was discontinued in 2001, and effectively superseded by Adobe InDesign.

1987: Adobe Illustrator, a professional vector image editor. Over 30 years later, it remains a core part of Adobe Creative Cloud.

1987: Quark XPress, a professional editorial design and typesetting tool.

1988: Aldus Freehand, later Macromedia Freehand, Adobe Freehand, a professional vector image editor. Discontinued in 2003.

1989: CorelDRAW, a professional vector image editor. Corel continue to own and develop the product today.

1990: Serif PagePlus, an entry-level desktop publishing tool, is launched. Check out that DTP aesthetic!

1990: Microsoft Word for Windows, the first WYSIWYG version of Word. This is a version of Word 6, running on Windows 3.1! Word might not be a “proper” design tool, but it enabled a generation of designers to discover typography and the dubious joys of clipart and — yes — even WordArt (click for nostalgia).

1990: Adobe Photoshop, a professional raster image editor which fostered big changes in graphic design practice in the 1990s. Although primarily a photo editing package, Photoshop remained the primary tool for UI design until Sketch hit the market in 2010.

1990: Jasc Paint Shop (later Jasc PaintShop Pro, then Corel PaintShop Pro), an entry-level alternative to Photoshop.

1991: Microsoft Publisher, an entry-level desktop publishing tool, here running on Windows 95.

1996: GIMP, an open-source raster image editor and a free alternative to Photoshop, here running on Linux.

1999: Adobe InDesign, a professional editorial design and typesetting tool, and the successor to Adobe PageMaker.

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