Refuse To Enter Into Dialog

I first began using QuarkXPress as a sub-editor in 1989. This is not a badge of honor. It’s an excuse. You see, old habits die hard.

In Terry Gilliam’s 1977 movie Jabberwocky, there’s a scene in which the hero Denis visits a medieval barrel-making factory, a deliberate anachronism intended to satirize the dehumanization of modern-day production lines. When Denis moves a pot of nails a foot nearer one of the workers in the interests of efficiency, the production line immediately loses its rhythm and the factory descends into slapstick chaos.

This scene comes to my mind every time a new version of QuarkXPress appears. The right thing to do is learn all the new features and increase your efficiency by using them. What often happens, though, is that you soon fall back into your old habits because they’re easier to remember and therefore quicker to do.

Wearing my ‘professional trainer’ cap, I see this a lot in experienced students. But when I switch over to my ‘production guru’ cap (actually I prefer the expression ‘page whisperer’), I find I sometimes do the same thing myself.

The most common stuck-in-the-mud habit among QuarkXPress users is their obsession with dialog windows. This is probably because you needed to open dialog windows to do just about anything in the program back in 1989 anyway.

When QuarkXPress 7 came out, we should have been able to reduce our reliance on dialog windows by 90%, thanks to those pop-up tabs in the Measurements palette. But I’m still seeing plenty of dialog abuse. This week I watched in amazement as an apparently responsible adult actually chose to open a dialog window in order to change the font of some selected text. I kid you not.

I suspect that Quark spent so much effort showing you how to use version 7’s clever tabbed Measurements palette for new features such as OpenType, transparency and soft drop shadows that they forgot to mention how it helps you with the old stuff.

So I’m going to retread some new ground for you old-school users out there.

Here’s the Text tab of the Measurements palette. Go on, take a closer look. On the left, I can change the vertical alignment of a text box. On the right, I can define insets for my text box. The Item> Modify>Text dialog window is not needed.

Here’s the Frame tab. Use this to choose a frame width, style and colour. So why are you still pressing Command-B?

Now I’m in the Runaround tab. Here I can choose what kind of runaround I want and define the text outset values. No need to open a dialog to do it.

If you look closely in the Character tab, you may notice that you I can set baseline shift values for selected text without having to go via the Style menu. The Paragraph tab (shown here) lets me set first line indents, left and right indents, and vertical space before and after paragraphs. Forget Style> Formats.

The Align tab contains just about all the Space/Align buttons I could ever need: no dialog, no extra floating palette required.

And finally, the brilliantly named Tabs tab. If you’re fed up with the way QuarkXPress handles tabs through a cumbersome dialog window, you’re obviously using the program incorrectly. Do it in the Measurements palette instead. Simple, really.

Thus ends the lesson for today. Now please excuse me: I have some pages that need whispering to.