by Quark Marketing Team  |  October 14, 2021

40 Years of Quark: Tracing the Evolution of Graphic Design & Desktop + Digital Publishing

Celebrating 40 years of brilliant content

Before Quark established itself as an industry leader in content lifecycle management for global enterprises, it was just a feisty computing startup out of Colorado. It’s hard to believe that 40 years have passed since our inception, but time flies when you’re busy establishing and continuously redefining an entire industry.

In celebration of Quark’s 40th anniversary, we’re taking a closer look at the past, present and future of the graphic design and desktop/digital publishing industry. From the early days of Apple III computers to cutting-edge cloud technologies, Quark has been the consummate publishing pioneer.

Part one of this three-part series focuses on the first 40 years of Quark’s existence and the people, moments and ideas that gave birth to a dynamic, thriving industry. In subsequent posts, we’ll examine where we are today – and where we’re headed next. Throughout it all, we’ll chat with some of Quark’s longest tenured employees and current leaders about what we’ve learned along the way, and how we’re shaping the content lifecycle management and digital publishing world of tomorrow.

The First 20 Years

How It All Started

Like many other tech companies, Quark had a small but auspicious start. With an obsessive interest in computers, a few years of experience working at Hewlett-Packard and other burgeoning tech companies, and a $2,000 loan from his parents, Tim Gill started Quark in 1981 alongside co-founder Mark Pope.

In a 2019 interview with the Computer History Museum (CHM), Gill describes how the $2,000 loan was used to buy a high-quality letter printer to support early guerilla marketing efforts: “Quark was started literally because Paul Gomez lent me an Apple III so that I could write a word processor … so my very sophisticated marketing was to print a letter using the word processor and send it to all the dealers saying, “This was done with this word processor on the Apple III,” and that, because there was no other alternative, led to a fairly rapid rise in sales.”

Gill and Pope landed on the name Quark because of their fascination with physics (a quark is a type of elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter) and because trade magazines at the time were not yet running ads for any companies whose name began with “Q,” which allowed for some easy differentiation. Initial products included Word Juggler, the first word processor available on the Apple III computer, and Catalyst, a software that allowed users to move a program from a floppy disk onto a hard drive, so the program could be launched from the hard drive.

Early successes in word processing opened the door – and Quark’s creative and technical minds – to the realization that graphic design and desktop publishing processes were long overdue for disruption and innovation. Legacy players with expensive and slow proprietary typesetting technology had a stranglehold on the industry. But with the 1986 arrival of Fred Ebrahimi, who assumed the roles of president and CEO, and the 1987 release of QuarkXPress, things were about to change in a big way.

QuarkXPress and the Birth of Professional Desktop Publishing

When QuarkXPress arrived in 1987 for Macintosh, there were some early players in the desktop publishing space who catered to computing enthusiasts and amateur publishers. Those competitors included Ready-Set-Go and Aldus PageMaker (who were eventually acquired by Adobe), but QuarkXPress quickly established itself as the predominant professional desktop publishing tool.

This was not a toy for playing with at home but rather a dynamic tool that provided unprecedented speed and precision to massive publishing outlets. Layouts were precise down to the pixel, superb color-matching made it much easier to see how your final product would look when printed, and pages printed so fast that typesetting bureaus and print houses would often assume the cost to transfer their clients from a competitor to QuarkXPress (and printers would more than make up that cost by unlocking better efficiencies and higher capacities). Later versions would seamlessly support Adobe’s PostScript fonts, AppleScript and Windows, which further increased Quark’s dominant market position.

In his interview with the CHM, Gill estimates that in the ‘90s, QuarkXPress reached a pinnacle in sales with a 90-95% market share in the publishing industry. He also credits Fred Ebrahimi’s vision for helping to reach that goal, as Ebrahimi led Quark’s global push into the EMEA and APAC regions while expanding support for other languages.

Of course, every great story has ups and downs, and Quark’s is no different. With some missed opportunities (Gill wistfully describes how Quark failed to capitalize on a chance to buy Photoshop before Adobe) and the perception that Quark was falling behind in the innovation cycle due to their dominant market share, the door was left open for aggressive competitors like Adobe.

As the desktop publishing industry became more competitive toward the year 2000 – and the technological revolution caused by the internet continued to turn all industries on their heads – Quark began to look ahead to a new century of opportunities and challenges.

The Last 20 Years

The Path to Enterprise Content Lifecycle Management

When looking at the last 20 years of Quark’s evolution, few people are better positioned to reminisce about it than these two employees: Deepak Goyal, Senior Vice President of Research & Development, who started at Quark in 1999 and is the longest tenured employee, and Amit Sood, Vice President of Global Consulting and Services, who began his career at Quark in 2001.

QuarkXPress was still very much the flagship product at the start of their careers in the early 2000s, and both Deepak and Amit contributed to its ongoing development. Their contributions included further adaptation to support Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Middle Eastern languages, support for PDFs, and an increased focus on digital and interactive content.

For Deepak, the key to navigating the transitional period of the last 20 years was striking a balance between Quark’s established expertise in graphic design and desktop publishing with a need to read the writing on the wall: “It has been a continuous evolution. We are very mature in publishing, but you have to change with the market. That’s how we see growth – companies will always have to adapt.”

The first step in this adaptation was reimagining the concept of content. As organizations developed a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the importance of content, Quark saw an opportunity to expand beyond its traditional audience of publishers.

But getting into other verticals, such as finance, government and pharmaceuticals, would require a very hands-on approach, according to Amit: “The only way to understand a customer’s problems is to observe them directly.” For Quark, that meant working with subject-matter experts in each vertical “to understand their unique challenges so our products are able to speak their language to help them complete their mission-critical tasks.” He added, “Seeing the frustration of people not able to complete their work was inspiration to make efficiency in our products a priority.”

Indeed, products that not only meet but anticipate customers’ needs would become a constant focus as Quark approached the end of the 2000s. The company also introduced the ability to author semantically rich XML to support an explosion in technical documentation, and the company also leaned further into interactive content. In 2008, then-CEO Raymond Schiavone signaled an all-in effort on enterprise content.

As global networks exploded in size and complexity, there was a clear need for enterprises to push out large volumes of multichannel content without hiring thousands of designers and content experts. Content automation, where a few people can control the publishing process, was critical to control workforce sizes and reduce expenses, and Quark was happy to answer the call with Quark Publishing Platform. This enterprise focus would grow in complexity with the 2017 acquisition of Docurated (now, Quark Docurated), which allowed Quark to fully develop its content intelligence capabilities. Both practices would be essential to curating a modern enterprise content experience.

“When we started with enterprise about a decade ago, we were defining the market,” said Amit. “We were telling them this is a problem you should solve and budget for, you need to improve your assembly lines, and so on. Now when I’m talking to these people, they already understand the challenge. The market has matured.”

Reflecting on Where We’ve Been – and Where We’re Going

When asked about who and what has made the biggest impact during their tenures at Quark, Deepak and Amit echoed some similar themes: inspirational leadership, a great company culture, and the opportunity to tackle evolving challenges without being micromanaged.

“Ray Schiavone was a true leader in every sense, and he made everything so big,” said Amit. “From what music would be played at town halls to how he would address you, it made us feel like we were part of something special.”

“Our leaders over the years brought different – but equally valuable – perspectives to the table,” said Deepak. “With Ray, we saw peak professionalism. Christopher Hickey brought energy and passion. Now with Martin Owen at the helm, we are embracing his product strategy experience and clarity of vision for where we – and more importantly – where our customers need us to be in five years.”

Amit also points to the combined experience of the Quark team as a major ongoing advantage and another reason for his optimism. “Most customers need some level of customization, and now we have hundreds of years of experience in professional services and implementation.”

Both Deepak and Amit also express excitement about ongoing improvements to AI and ML capabilities across product lines, road maps that reflect a comprehensive strategy to ensure all of Quark’s software solutions work together in an optimal fashion, and investments in services and support to deliver greater ROI.

Check out parts two and three of this 40th anniversary blog series to learn more about Quark and our contributions to graphic design, desktop and digital publishing. It’s a really “Qool” time to work in content.

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