Word is not a design application

by Jane Clements
Link to original blog: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/style/2011/09/word_is_not_a_graphic_design_a.html

Computers are wonderful. They have changed our world in so many different ways, and almost always for the better – although there are some who would dispute that!

Computers are now ubiquitous and a part of everyday life. Most of the University’s students (apart from some mature-age students) have grown up with computers and take them for granted when it comes to writing assignments. They open up their copy of Word, start by jotting down notes and build up into a polished essay, adding in references and footnotes that renumber automatically as they move paragraphs around. In the olden days, I used to write assignments by hand and type them up on a typewriter, so for me Word is nothing short of a miracle. It’s not only a great time saver but also a quality enhancer. Once I’d typed up my assignment there was no more reworking – it took too long to tweak a word here, reorder paragraphs there and then retype the pages.

We can do so much using Word – insert pictures and graphs, set up the page in columns, even create HTML for websites. There are many templates available for download from the internet that can help you to create a letterhead, a memo, a form or even a newsletter.

It’s therefore tempting to believe that anyone can be a graphic designer and that they can create beautiful publications using Word.

This is a mistake.

Good graphic design is a subtle art that takes into account many arcane skills like typography, white space use, image selection, alignment and the creation of tone and texture. Graphic designers spend many years learning these arts and skills.

One of the skills that graphic designers learn is how to use the applications required for computer generated graphic design. These applications include InDesign and/or Quark Xpress for desktop publishing. There are other applications out there but none that professional designers use (unless you want to publish technical documents and then you might use FrameMaker). Photoshop is the industry standard for image manipulation, while Illustrator is the favoured application for drawing images.

Word is not a graphic design application.

There are several reasons why not, but here are a few key reasons:

  • You cannot easily control the canvas size because Word margins adjust according to the computer’s default printer settings.
  • You cannot easily control a font’s kerning (space between letters) in Word and cannot tailor kerning for individual sets of letters. Also, if a Word document is opened on a computer without the fonts installed then Word changes the font to one that the computer does have installed.
  • It is difficult to lock an image in place on a page and control the way that text flows round it.
  • Word cannot handle EPS graphic files well.
  • Word cannot specify PMS colours.
  • Commercial printers will generally not accept Word files because they cannot control the output.

The same comments hold true for PowerPoint. Therefore, please don’t use Word or PowerPoint to design publications or promotional materials for the University. The University provides InDesign templates to help graphic designers comply with brand requirements. These templates should only be used by graphic designers however – doing a course to learn how to use InDesign will not make you a graphic designer either!