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by Martin Turner  |  December 30, 2021

12 Brilliant Content Design Tips, Part 2

Content Design Tips

We counted down the days until Christmas on our social media channels with 12 days of brilliant content tips. Thanks to Martin Turner for providing some additional thoughts on each. Last week we explored the first six, and today we conclude with the remaining six. We hope you find some inspiration or at least some good reminders for the holiday season – and beyond. Happy New Year from Quark!

7. Upgrade your applications and utilities.

Now’s a good time to ensure you’re using the latest versions of your apps and utilities, but be careful if you decide to upgrade your operating system.

Over the years, most power users (and all designers are power users) pick up little utilities and apps that help them a lot. But, sadly, as we upgrade operating systems or hardware, many of these utilities stop working. Sometimes that is because the creator abandoned them, but often it’s because it took a bit of time to update. Now is a good time of year to go back through all your favorite utilities—the ones you use all the time, and the ones you used to—and check if there’s an update. This can have unexpected side benefits: even a utility you are no longer using can be messing other things up because of old code interfering with something else.

While we’re on this, it’s always worth upgrading your applications to the latest version, but you need to think long and hard before upgrading your operating system. New application upgrades generally solve problems, whereas new OS versions usually create problems. Some of those problems, such as old printers and scanners your rely on stopping working, will never be solved. It’s very rare that an OS version upgrade brings a new feature that you actually need, unlike applications. Intermediate updates, of course, are a different matter: always take the intermediate updates, especially if they reference a security problem.

8. Let the past inspire you.

Museums, galleries and libraries have been busy digitizing and uploading tens of thousands of cultural treasures which are out of copyright,, so you have access to centuries of design inspiration.

One example is the British Library, http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Browse.aspx where you can browse manuscripts and early printed books. Whether you are looking for an authentic medieval illuminated letter, or period illustration from the Belle Epoque, or simply a decorative edging, the wealth of ten centuries of previous designers is now available to you in a way that would previously have required a dedicated researcher and a budget of thousands to source.

While you’re getting inspired by the past, take some time to improve your understanding of the history of type. The British Museum kindly provides specimens of early type in the introduction to its online collection. Often, you can speak subtly through not only your font choices but also through the way you use them in the layout. Remember that in QuarkXPress you can set custom kerning and custom tracking for a font, and you can also improve the hyphenation and even the way punctuation is treated at the ends of lines. Refined type just looks better.

9. Turn to artificial intelligence.

If you need to source a face, this https://thispersondoesnotexist.com is a free site that generates endless numbers of artificial faces that are unique and copyright free.

From time to time, every designer is faced with needing to source faces that aren’t identified with anyone in particular. Just pulling them off Facebook, etc., is not an option, in the wake of copyright scandals that have hit big companies which attempted it. But artificial intelligence is here to the rescue, with https://thispersondoesnotexist.com, a free site which generates endless numbers of artificial faces generated via AI from real faces. You will need to refresh the screen a few times, and you will need to look carefully to make sure there are no giveaway signs. If people aren’t your thing, you can

also get horses, cats, chemicals and even art. All this is copyright free and completely unique to you: no one will ever use those faces again, and no one will come complaining that you used their face without permission.

If faces are not what you need, keep an eye out for what there is: Stylegans (which is how all this works) are a growth area, and more are coming online all the time.

10. Backup your presets.

Make a backup of your macros, actions, libraries, etc., so you don’t lose any of the valuable tools you’ve curated.

Over the years you’ve probably developed all kinds of presets, macros, actions, style sheets and other methods of cutting down time. These are amazing time-savers—right up to the moment that a glitch or an unexpected software upgrade deletes them, or they fail to transfer to your shiny new computer. Make a separate backup of your presets—doing so can save you hours of frustration.

It’s also worth revisiting presents which may have been great at the time, but are now getting in the way.. Most software has gone through a lot of changes, and some of your presets may no longer work, or they may have been superseded by much richer features built directly into the applications themselves. As the holiday period moves towards an end, it’s a good moment to have a look and see what you’re actually using, and whether it’s still the right thing. The same goes for deprecated workflows. In QuarkXPress, many users are still exporting print files to distil into Acrobat files later on using the print dialogue. This was long ago superseded by direct PDF output, which has far better features with fewer problems—but we often keep doing things because we’re used to them.

While you’re revising old presets, are there new things that you keep repeating even though you know they could be automated?

11. Don’t forget print.

Rumors of print’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, and pricing is more reasonable than you may realize.

Not only is print not dead, but we’re actually living in its golden age . The costs of digital press reproduction have tumbled in the past years, which has also pulled down the costs and minimum print runs for offset. For larger quantities, flexo print is dramatically higher quality than it was even 10 years ago, and CMY reproduction can now meet many of the needs previously covered only by CMYK. Online pricing also makes it much easier to get a quicker take on what things really cost. If you’ve been working to the same mental-cost list for more than five years, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Many printers now not only have their prices but also their templates online. Remember that in current versions of QuarkXPress, you can easily import and convert not only PDF templates but also IDML template files.

While you’re on this one, if you don’t have a sample set of papers from each of your favorite printers, email them right now and ask for one. You can dramatically upgrade the end user experience by picking a better paper, and you can also save your customer a lot of money by not blindly choosing a more expensive stock ‘just in case’.

12. Clean the machine.

Both Macs and PCs work better with lots of free space, so delete what you don’t need, clear your font cache because corrupt fonts can wreak havoc, and literally clean your screen and keyboard to remove bacteria.

Having a bit of downtime over the year’s end? Now is a superb time for a bit of housekeeping on your design computer. Most designers (actually, most people) tend to keep saving things until their computer is almost full, and then delete only enough to be able to keep working. Actually, both Windows and Mac machines work much better if there is a large amount of free space. If you find you are facing the hourglass or spinning ball, facing sudden freezes or unexpected restarts, freeing up disk space by archiving onto an external disk should be the first place to look. While you’re at it, physically clean the screen and the keyboard. Medical scientists have found that the average computer keyboard is richer in bacteria than the average toilet.

And, once you’ve got that far, clean the font cache. FontExplorer Pro and several other utilities enable you to do this. Corrupt fonts can play havoc with your machine’s stability, but they are often the last thing people look for. If you’ve never cleaned them before, it’s time to do it now.

Martin Turner is a chartered public relations practitioner with 30 years of experience in commissioning and designing print, advertising and online marketing materials. He graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English language and literature, and subsequently worked in the arts, automotive and healthcare industries before running his own consultancy in commercial branding. Martin is also a long-time power user of QuarkXPress.

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