DTP Monkey: The Path to Technomancy, Part 2

The unofficial-turned-official club newsletter was directly responsible for me landing my first real job as a DTP monkey. I walked into the interview with my portfolio of club newsletter and stickers I made on my old Mac SE and the Mac IIci my best friend had that were printed on my trusty, 70+ pound LaserWriter II SC with the Canon engine that lasted well over a decade. The guy who interviewed me was a bit skeptical that I made those. I was honest and told him that I didn’t do all the work, and that I had a friend that started the newsletter. I showed him what *** did and what I did — explaining how you could tell our layout and writing styles apart.

I took the time to go through a few of them telling him about how I made them and the technical challenges. I explained things like the truetype fonts not lining up exactly with bitmap graphics in onscreen displays because of font smoothing that would shift the location of things by a few pixels. And how I had to measure the offset and make a few test prints in order for the graphic and font to line up perfectly with dot precision even though on-screen it looked off. I also explained techniques such as layering two of the exact same flows of text over each other and offsetting them slightly or reversing one flow black to white to show up seamlessly over a black area—it was a more convincing drop shadow before there were convincing drop shadows. I also told him how I decided to push the text to the edges of the page to allow more white space for a cleaner look. Typewriters couldn’t handle going further than the last inch or two, while laser printers had a larger print area—usually ~.25 inches on all sides. If I recall correctly guy hired me over the phone before I could get home from the interview. (It was that job or another one.)

From that point on, I had to juggle college, work (that could actually pay for a modest apartment) and a somewhat active social life. I had stopped making stickers and flyers by that point, but started looking into other things. I taught myself proper typography (“what’s ‘x-height?’”), color theory, professional theories on layout and design. Some of these theories I knew intrinsically because of all the media I consumed and regurgitated. And others enlightened me a to the “why” things were done how they were done.

To this day I have to correct people who learned to type on typewriters and remove their double space, and explain what kerning is to them. If you look carefully you can see the telltale signs on this when reading my posts: I use actual quote marks and apostrophes, not inch and foot marks. Why do I do this when most people do not even notice? Because that’s how professional typesetters did it, and I care about text looking good. Typesetters of centuries past, painstakingly placed each block of metal containing a single letter, adjusted leading and fit the text into the space needed manually. Today I can type away, press option-[, option-shift-[  option-] and option-], hit print and put all those guys out of work and make them spin in their graves or envy us, depending on their perspective. I still shudder a bit seeing two hyphens instead on an M-dash and a hyphen in a range instead of an N-dash (option-shift-hyphen & option-hyphen on the Mac). Why? Because it is so incredibly easy to do it correctly, and looks a lot better. But I am one of the few people that cares and notices. Am I a typography snob? Yes! Do I ride people about it? No. If I did I would be a jerk. I do however mention it from time to time though… (By the way, the ellipsis is option-semi-colon, and I admired Herb Caine’s smooth lead in and lead out style of writing enough to use them liberally.)

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