The people at Quark are remarkable. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dan Logan, the product manager for QuarkXPress, about where he came from and what drives his passion for QuarkXPress. He also provided some insight into how Quark has changed since last year’s acquisition by Platinum Equity, how Quark deals with new versions of Mac OS X, and how they develop new versions of QuarkXPress. Dan also gives some surprising career advice for budding designers.
To keep up with Dan, follow him on Twitter at @danlogan
Here’s how our conversation unfolded (my questions are in italics):
Let’s talk about Quark — the company. In which countries is Quark most successful?
Besides the U.S., we’re most successful in Europe — especially Germany and the UK. Quark is all over the globe, with development centers in Denver, Florida, New Jersey, Dublin and India.
Quark is much more than QuarkXPress — Quark has enterprise-level products such as Quark Publishing System, QuarkXPress Server, Quark Dynamic Publishing Solution, and Quark Brand Manager. How does QuarkXPress fit into this mix, and how do designers fit into it?
All these automated solutions require designers and problem-solvers. And they’re all based on QuarkXPress, which is itself a dynamic publishing solution!
What do you like most about working at Quark?
I feel that software development ultimately is a creative endeavor. I definitely enjoy the creative problem solving of software development. I like arguing with my peers about the best way to tackle a problem. My passion is to help designers who are more talented than me do their work so that I can continue to enjoy their work, which I love.
What did you do before joining Quark?
After finishing school in Denver, I began a career as a photographer, moved to Los Angeles, and worked as freelance camera assistant. Soon, I was drawn into a busy photography and design studio, working on every kind of project you can imagine. I did editorial photography for magazines, and our firm created all kinds of publications, including coffee table books, corporate branding and collateral materials for major companies. While I used QuarkXPress to produce many of these projects, I was actually not formally trained in using QuarkXPress!
I had planned to spend just two years in L.A., but after six years I moved back to Denver, where I had gone to school. I did freelance work, but didn’t like the “promotional” aspect necessary to maintain that kind of work.
How did that bring you to Quark?
In 1998 I heard Quark was hiring, and I got job in technical support for QuarkXPress 4. It turned out I was “a natural” — I’m known for being patient and helpful, so by the end of my second year I was one of the senior technicians.
And then you moved into program management?
Exactly. I joined Program Management to implement the Product Management team’s direction and build the features of the product. My job was to connect Product Management with our programmers to make the new features work, because I understand how designers think and can communicate well with both programmers and Product Management.
I imagine that you learned a few things by moving from technical support to actually helping build QuarkXPress!
Oh yes! I spent two years in Program Management, tweaking existing features such as Books and Indexing. I definitely learned how difficult it can be to implement even the smallest changes in such a complex, multi-lingual application as QuarkXPress.
So, what was the first version you had serious input into?
I was “Technical Product Manager” for QuarkXPress 6, as a graphics and layout specialist. I worked on the Multiple Undo feature, among others.
In QuarkXPress 7, I managed all the Transparency features, which required rewriting the entire graphics engine. I also created the Quark Vista feature, which lets users transform and add effects to pictures, and also export pictures in different file formats. Vista and PSD Import together helped us win a Macworld Eddy award for version 6.5, fulfilling a childhood dream for me.
Quark has frequently invented and named new technologies and features, such as DCS (Desktop Color Separation) and PDF (Printer Description File). After years of using PDF as the official name for files that let QuarkXPress know which features a specific PostScript printer supports, Adobe co-opted that acronym for their new “Portable Document Format”. Did Microsoft’s use of “Vista” for their newest version of Windows cause a problem for you?
Yeah, Microsoft announced Windows Vista about six months after we released Quark Vista as a free XTension for QuarkXPress. That was a little inconvenient, but it all worked out. The most visible parts of Quark Vista are now found under the Window menu as Picture Effects and under the File menu as Save Picture.
What was your involvement with QuarkXPress 8?
I became Product Manager for QuarkXPress 8. Product Management’s job is to design the functionality — all the way through to the user interface — and then work with R&D to implement those specifications, and with Quality Assurance to ensure that these features are working as planned.
What was your role in developing QuarkXPress 9?
Besides continuing my role as Product Manager, I designed the Conditional Styles feature, the EPUB features, the Blio e-book features, and App Studio (with help from our technology partners). I also worked on migrating the best features from the Gluon products that we had acquired.
So, what Big Feature has you the most excited right now?
App Studio is most exciting, especially since I’ve seen so many customers actually using it! We try to design a feature to be the most flexible as possible — we don’t know how customers will use it, and customers find ways to use it that we haven’t thought of. That’s the proud moment of any product manager — how a user took the technology, slightly tweaked it for their needs, and produced something we didn’t foresee. For example, one customer created a functional two-state button out of a slide show! I hadn’t thought of that.
Is there a small feature you’re proud of, that you’d like more people to know about?
For years, I’ve tried to get “Update Style Sheets” into QuarkXPress. I saw people with notepads on their desks to write down changes to text, so they could enter those changes into the Edit Style Sheet dialog. Starting with QuarkXPress 8, they can simply click on an icon in the Style Sheets palette to update a Style Sheet from the currently selected text.
Also in QuarkXPress 8, we added Option/Alt-Drag to duplicate items.
I also wish people knew more about all the modifier keys for resizing and moving boxes. It creates a flowing design experience that wasn’t possible before. I think of it as “learning how to drive.” For me, the optimal process when designing is to keep one hand on the keyboard and the other on the mouse. In fact, I would like to see MORE keyboard shortcuts, for things like frame width, for example.
And what are you working on in QuarkXPress 10?
Ha! I can’t comment on specifics of future releases and besides, we still have some things to look forward to in QuarkXPress 9 including a new update this week. But overall I’m working with R&D teams to ensure that we’re implementing new or updated functionality, based on what we call a “user model”.
What’s a “user model”?
Essentially, we ask: “How does the user, without any additional information, assume a feature will work?” Then we try to make it “intuitive” based on users’ current experience and expectations. This involves assigning keyboard shortcuts, adding new behaviors such as drag-duplicate, and so forth. Our goal is to implement all features in a way where non-technical users can embrace it without a bunch of training.
I also work with Quality Assurance to balance quality with scope, to decide when to do a maintenance release. Then at shipping time, my role transitions to “go to market”. This means training technical support people, sales people, media and analysts on the new features. After that I go into a User Evangelist role to show people on-site how to use the latest features.
I imagine this gives you some unique insight into what’s causing trouble for people.
Definitely. By evaluating user success, I can see where we succeeded in our implementation of a feature, and where we need to make adjustments for future versions. For example, our EPUB features were updated in version 9.2 because of this. I like to call this process “The Circle of Innovation”, an expression coined by Apple describing how they iterate with outside developers to put the most value into Mac OS X.
It sounds like Quark has a good system in place for getting customer information to the appropriate decision makers. What does that process look like?
Product Management is the main contact point for customers: we go on the road, meet with customers, present at conferences, present webinars, and so forth. It’s a diverse group, because of the varied interests now at Quark. The management team includes print specialists, automation specialists, enterprise workflow specialists, and small-user specialists. We have product managers with backgrounds in India, Japan, the Middle East, and Europe.
My role inside Quark includes meeting with all the managers to prioritize our goals, and to meet with Quark’s vice presidents to incorporate their goals for customer base expansion and development direction.
OK, then how do you decide which directions and features to implement?
Quark uses a process called Scrum, rather than our earlier Waterfall process where product managers would define functionality down to lowest possible level. We used that process for QuarkXPress 6 and 7, but it was a bit too slow for our current needs. Scrum lets us react faster and reduce overall development time for a major release.
Uh, what’s Scrum?
According to Wikipedia, the term originally comes from rugby, where it refers to the way the players from both teams put their heads together when restarting the game. For us, Scrum is an iterative, incremental, agile method for managing software development.
In our use, the goal is to implement tasks in small chunks, so that each part is ready whenever ship time arrives.
What’s your role in the Scrum?
I represent the customers’ interests in the Scrum.
Since we’re on the topic of your role at Quark, has Quark’s acquisition by Platinum Equity last August changed your role?
Nothing specifically for my role. Platinum supports our dynamic publishing strategy, which essentially means creating next-generation solutions to enable organizations to automate their publishing process and design and publish content to multiple channels from print through to devices such as the iPad. We’re all about helping publishers stay in business! Of course having Platinum Equity as our owners also provides us access to a very experienced mergers and acquisitions team that enables us to do things like our recent acquisition of Mobile IQ, which is hugely exciting for Quark and our customers.
OK, since you represent the customers’ interest at Quark, I’ll ask a question I’ve heard from several QuarkXPress users. Some companies complain that they can’t upgrade to QuarkXPress 9 yet because of older workflow XTensions or other software that doesn’t work yet with QuarkXPress 9. However, earlier versions of QuarkXPress don’t work well with Mac OS X Lion (and presumably this summer’s upcoming Mountain Lion). This creates an impossible situation: if their company is growing, they need new Macs, which can only run Lion, and earlier versions of QuarkXPress aren’t 100% compatible with Lion. What advice would you give them?
Talk to us! Make sure we know what’s keeping you back. Almost always, the other components are available in another way. Sometimes, a larger organization is using a workflow that requires some updated thinking — updating the workflow usually includes the added benefit of making them even more efficient.
Why doesn’t Quark just make earlier versions work on newer operating systems?
It’s impractical for us to go back to the old code base — we keep them available for a year or more and release maintenance upgrades for as long as possible. I know customers often think that software companies make these decisions to try and push users to newer versions but the reality is at some point, it becomes technically unfeasible for us to be tied to the old code base. For us to deploy QuarkXPress 8 on Lion would take more than just fixing the icons.
One final question: what areas would you recommend a creative professional focus on for long-term success?
I don’t think all designers have the same goals in mind. Some want a successful career. Some want to produce work they’re proud of. If a successful career is your most important goal, realize that you probably won’t be designing much — your best shot is becoming an art director. If production is your thing, then become a production manager and study the most efficient ways of using the tools.
I guess it boils down to understanding which type of person you are: “Know Thyself.”
That sounds like great advice that has served you well in your own career. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with our Planet Quark family, Dan!
My pleasure, Jay. I think Planet Quark is a great resource for Quark’s customers, and I’m happy to engage with it.
Jay Nelson is the editorial director of PlanetQuark.com, and the editor and publisher of Design Tools Monthly. He’s also the author of the QuarkXPress 8 and QuarkXPress 7 training titles at Lynda.com, as well as the training videos Quark includes in the box with QuarkXPress 7 . In addition, Jay writes regularly for Macworld and Photoshop User magazines and speaks at industry events.