29 May 2011

[design] QuarkXpress's Days of Future Past

2632.Punditry is full of its own pitfalls. It tends to create them for you.

It must be said, it really can't be helped. Even the most clear-eyed, prudent, and sober prognostication still amounts to throwing the dice. And when trends seem to be strong, they can't be denied in the moment.

One of my favorite articles ever written is one done by Scott Kelby, in 2003 for (then) Mac Design Magazine, which was succeeded by Layers magazine. Kelby is of course justly famous as one of the premier Adobe Photoshop doyens, with a fairly sparking wit besides. His writings, salted and peppered with his inimitable humor, are always a pleasure to read.

Back in 2005, I got permission to post to this blog this aforementioned column, titled "Big Trouble in Page Layout Land". It was a witty survey of the scene in 2004, when I first started learning page layout, at what seemed to be the trajectory of QuarkXPress … and it wasn't looking promising.

Quark, Inc had rightfully displaced PageMaker as The Layout App To Have If You Were Only Having one. XTensions technology was innovative, XPress had a way to do everything you could do in print at the time. But, in 2002-2003, QuarkXPress 4 still ruled the roost. QuarkXPress 5 was rolling out, but wasn't bowling the DTP world over - it had tables, which was nifty, but wasn't enough to cause the installed base to storm on over the Quark for an upgrade.

Things were looking pretty grim for Quark. Because not only was Adobe bringing its "A"-game on InDesign, as well as evolving it into an integrated Creative Suite - eventually bringing drag-and-drop simplicity between InDy, AI, and PS, and a slick look and feel, but Quark didn't make XPress OSX-native until XPress 6, which debuted more than 2 years after InDesign 2 which was, while not quite the Quark-killer everyone had hoped for, winning fans for being OSX-native. InDesign 3 was the equal of Quark 6, passed it when reinvented as the Creative Suite, and hasn't, in my opinion, looked back. It zoomed out ahead, taking a good deal of Quark's market share along with it.

Reliable market-share figures are hard to come by, but the rumor and buzz I hear are remarkably consistent … upwards of 50-60 percent of the electronic layout market has moved over to Adobe InDesign. Locally, I've applied for my share of design jobs, and the refrain I hear over and over and over in skills-desired-lists is InDesign, and very little Quark.

In 2003, Scott predicted that QuarkXPress would be, in my words, to InDesign what Microsoft Publisher was then to Quark - an entry-level layout package for the small-office and non-professional design market, complete with templates for newsletters, business cards and such … the sort of person who would use Publisher then, someone who needs to get out publications but not necessarily design them.

The dice have come up a little differently though. Quark, in 2003-2004, seemed to be slow to start and slow to catch up. Scott's prediction seemed not an unreasonable one. Well, mabe Quark is now the scrappy underdog that can, because in the meantime, while XPress has lost a great deal of market share, it's hanging on the minority position it enjoys, and a strong one - 30-40 per cent, if the buzz I'm hearing is correct. Quark is applying itself to the digital trend aptly (rather than clumsily as in the old dark days there), with Quark Design Studio locked and loaded for the iPad. 

So while it would seem that QuarkXPress's days as the dominant platform are over, predictions of its demise (by more than one of us) were rather overstated.

That's not the fault of any of the punditry. It sure looked like that's the way it was going.

And, for what it's worth, I'd still trust Scott Kelby on the trends in the industry. 

But even the best shot misses one or two occasionally.

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