If you've used Microsoft software, you'll be familiar with their trend in the early to mid-1990s to "dumb things down". First we had the all powerful "Start" button, where mysteriously the shutdown option lived. Then there was Clippy, responsible for the global villification of its real-life metal counterpart, with pithy observations such as "It's looks like you're writing a letter." And then Vista came along with endless nagging ("You just clicked OK. Are you sure?") and sometimes Kafka-esque messages ("Network resource \\$\MYLAPTOP\ is missing and/or disconnected or in use by another logged in user or resource. Yes/No/Cancel?).
During the same time that Microsoft has either caused or responded to the falling IQ of its users, Adobe has essentially become the only serious option for photo manipulation, video editing, and media design. Oh well. While Adobe software in 1990 was essentially the equivalent of first-year typing lessons - a little tricky but ultimately quite easy and rewarding, today it's like the class after completing a Ph.D. that nobody knows the name of. Holy hell!
My first impression of InDesign was frustrating. I couldn't figure out how to do anything. And I'm expected to know these things, so the more incompetent I looked, the more unhappy I was at not being able to achieve anything. I've used Word Processing and DTP software for years, so I'm literally yelling at the screen, unable to work out how to change the page size, and then screaming about why everything's measured in picas, which mean the square root of zero to me when I'm trying to build a 8x11.5" page. Gah!
So I thought "this software is bad", excluding the expletives, and decided to continue editing my 250-page manuscript in Word. I was about to forgive Microsoft when Word crashed. Again. "Would you like to attempt to recover your document?" it asked regarding my 80,000-word opus that currently looks more storable scribbled on budget toilet roll than remaining as a DOC file. After very carefully selecting 'Yes', I then made many backups and even printed the whole thing in the Survivalist belief that it would endure everything from the instability of Microsoft Office to the post-nuclear apocalypse.
Ultimately I went crawling back to InDesign with a determination to learn it. I bought a book (Visual Quickstart Guide) which helped enormously. And slowly but surely, learning how to manipulate the software in the Adobe mentality, it all started to make sense. If using Word is like driving a automatic Kia on cruise control across Texas, InDesign is like the cockpit of a jet fighter plane that can simultaneously drop laser-guided missiles while running rings around enemy aircraft and still arriving back in time for afternoon tea. It's all buttons and lights and bell and whistles - and a good pilot understands and needs them.
There aren't enough superlatives to describe the power of this program. It can do anything. But the downside is that you have to invest 10-50 hours of learning time to figure it out. I've now dragged the little Word icon into the recycle bin (which didn't crash Windows as I suspected), and I write everything using InDesign. Even though I may not be a great designer, InDesign documents have a polished look that I could never achieve before. Almost like a PC user who has a Mac epiphany, I am now setting about learning other Adobe software by unlearning Microsoft.
I wish everyone to have the same experience, including the initial pain and frustration, because the end result is everything that we expected software to be able to do - and it's worth the effort.
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About the reviewer
James Beswick (jbeswick)
Lunch.com's "token Brit".
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