The other day, Cathi told a tragic story about how
I remember right after my newspaper moved me to a brand new building and informed me I’d have to do layout with an exacto knife and waxer again because they had no Mac for me . . .
And while I’m in awe of Cathi’s skillz, I have to say, when I think “X-Acto and wax,” my associations are quite different.
More than once—more than once, I say!—I have seen type spec’ed in the margin as something like 16pt Akzidenz Grotesk, and I look at this tiny type and think, “Sixteen points, my ass,” and then I click on the line and find that, yeah, it’s sixteen points, with the superior attribute applied to it, so it’s shrunk down. And the designer didn’t even notice that he or she had done it. Or worse, she did notice, but she left it like that saying, “Oh, let the compositor figure out what point size it is.”
And then the same designer will demonstrate to the comp how a blockquote should be formatted by creating a separate text box with a runaround and then dropping that into the middle of a regular paragraph. Apparently because the designer doesn’t know how to set indents. And god forbid she should know what a style sheet is, or a character style. I mean, really—knowing how to use your tools, that’s so . . . working-class. Designers are professionals.
That kind of laziness makes me apoplectic. “It’s the fucking X-Acto and wax technique!” I rail, waggling my hands at anyone who’s standing nearby. To me, those words represent a bullet-headedly analog approach to using digital tools. It’s like pulling an automobile along with a mule team . . . or . . . something like that. It comes from thinking of a layout program as merely digital paste-up.
“What’s wrong with digital paste-up?” you ask? Well, disregarding the question of whether you should have some faint inkling of how to operate the tools you spend your entire day beating your head against, suppose someone wants to make a Web site out of your book that’s set up with every piece of indented text in a separate box, and with the whole thing styled in “Normal” with local overrides. How would you export your text as a single thread, while retaining some kind of indication of how it’s structured? And don’t tell me “I’d just use Quark’s ‘Make My Homepage :)’ widget!” (or whatever they’re calling it). I’m not saying those automagic exporters are useless, but if you put a pigsty of a document into them, you will get a pigsty of a Web page out of them. If, on the other hand, the document is set up thoughtfully, generating valid code from this kind of conversion is not a big deal.
But even if you’re a shortsighted eejit who doesn’t believe the document in hand will ever be repurposed into some other format, don’t you think maybe it might be helpful to the compositor if you were to supply a template that has at least some small hope of being usable? Maybe they’d make fewer PEs if they didn’t have to recreate your badly described design from scratch. (Hint: It’s also easier for you to write up an accurate comp order if you set up your layout properly in the first place.)
And, more to the point, don’t you think it would maybe help the designer who has to modify your files two years from now, for the second book in the series, and who can’t make heads or tails of that abomination you so creatively call a “layout,” because no two body paragraphs are the same and none of your written specifications match what’s actually in the file?
I’m probably going to keep raging inarticulately about this from time to time, because it pisses. me. right. off. But for now, I just wanted to define the term X-Acto and Wax Technique. When I use it here, I don’t mean clever stuff like what Cathi was talking about. I mean the filthy files turned out by the shockingly large proportion of supposedly computer-literate designers who shouldn’t be allowed to work with anything other than an actual X-Acto knife and a waxer.
I am just telling you.