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Who am I, anyway?

By Daniel Will-Harris

On the web (and in the world today in general) information is everywhere. Whatís lacking is perspective. Itís not enough to know whatís going on, you have to know whatís important (and why), as well as what isnít. My job here is to provide the perspective that will help you make decisions.

>Who am I?

OK, so  you may be wondering who I am, and where I get off telling you what I think. Thatís fair.

I was a designer before there even were personal computers (though Iím not ancient, really). Iíve been writing about computers since 1985 and wrote the first book about DTP on the PC (yes, that tells you Iím one of those ďloneĒ PC DTP people who there seem to be so many of these days. Adobe says that it is now selling over 50% of its graphics software to Windows users).

In 1987 I designed and produced the book, Desktop Publishing with Style, using the same tools I was writing about (a beta version of Ventura Publisher and one of the first LaserJets). I also wrote the first book about DTP with a word processing program, WordPerfect 5.1. Now there are entire shelves of WP DTP books. This should tell you two things: 1) I know about design, and 2) I also know and care about designers, both professionals and those who do it out of necessity. Iíve also written books about Type (TypeStyle, how to choose and use type on a personal computer), about Windows (Dr. Danielís Windows Diet: a fast cure for your Windows pains), and even things unrelated to computers (like Wallets).

Iíve hand-coding typesetting codes and HTML codes (which are remarkably similar). Iíve worked with graphics programs that used letters of the alphabet and printed on ďdaisy-wheelĒ printers, and Iíve produced four-color process print jobs of all sizes. Iíve also written countless magazine articles.

>Perspective

I have a somewhat unique perspective, having actually learned and used hundreds of programs (at least). Most people only have time to learn one and get their job done. But since Iíve been writing about the programs (as well as using them, and thatís important for a real-world perspective), I actually have a lot on which to base my opinion. Itís a hard-earned position (because there are many more bad programs than good ones), but an important one.

If you only know one program (or operating system), then you can only compare any new programs to that one program. That means your perspective is limited, and so is your opinion. When I reviewed Illustrator 7, I was able to tell how much improved it was from earlier versions, but I was also able to tell how far behind it still was in certain areas when compared with other illustration programs, such as Xara.

OK, a word about Xara. Itís only fair that I tell you I think Xara is arguably the greatest graphics program ever written. And I donít say that lightly. I used one of the first copies of Adobe Illustrator (on the Mac). I was one of the first people to see Corel Draw and was so impressed I personally dragged Paul Brainerd (founder of Aldus) over and told him he should buy it and Corel. He tried, but they wouldnít sell.

I know a good thing when I see one. But I donít owe anything to a particular piece of software or company. So when Corel Draw started to get bloated (100MB of space just for an illustration program?) and buggy, I said so. In print. When Ventura fell apart under Windows, I said so (sadly). And when I wrote my book about WordPerfect for Windows (which honestly didnít work at all until six months after its release), I said so there, too, in the book.

Iím totally honest about this stuff. I feel a genuine responsibility to you, the reader. I wonít recommend anything to you that I wouldnít use myself or recommend to a friend or client.

Iím not beholden to anyone (obviously not to Corel, who now owns all the software Iíve complained about in this paragraph). So as much as I love Xara today, if something better comes along, Iíll switch. Just like that. I want to use what gives me the most control and is most reliable so I know that when I output a file, it will print. Xara does that for me today. If you know of something better, tell me, Iíll try it.

>Design

But thatís just my software background. I got into all this because Iím a designer. With my wife and cohort, Toni, Iíve designed and produced all the books Iíve written. Iíve also designed individual books and series of books for Prentice Hall and Simon & Schuster, as well as designing book covers, album covers, CD-ROM covers, software packages, corporate IDís, and logos. Toni and I created the first third-party style sheets for any software (first Ventura, then WordPerfect, now also Word).

Iíve worked with software companies to try to help make their software better. Iíve alpha and beta tested. Iíve whined and complained to software developers and nagged them until they made some things better. Iíve gotten to know a lot of people in the industry (Iíve talked to Bill Gates over a water cooler at Comdex), so I can find out what theyíre doing and thinking.

I really love design. It can be hard work, but itís also fun. I appreciate software that lets me share what I see in my head with other people. So I donít just ďreviewĒ software from some esoteric plane, or some list of features on the box. I actually use it.

>Type

One more thing: I love Type. Iím even fanatic about it. I think itís amazing that 26 little symbols can express so much about humanity and the world around us. I created the EsperFonto system to help everyone choose typefaces that were more appropriate for their needs. Rather than choosing fonts by esoteric things like category, designer or date, EsperFonto groups fonts by their impression, the feelings that they convey. Thatís how professionals really choose type, yet no one boiled it down to a system as simple as EsperFonto before. Do you want a document to be Formal or Casual? Official or Friendly? These are basic questions you should ask when you design any document, and theyíre instantly answered by EsperFonto. The system is now in use by Hewlett-Packard, Corel and Bitstream, as well as to everyone who wants it on my web site. I get a lot of positive feedback from users around the world saying it works.

So thatís where I come from and what I know. We all have to make decisions for ourselves, but hopefully I can help you make more informed decisions.

 

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Daniel Will-Harris is a designer and author whose work can be found at http://www.will-harris.com. His site features TypoFile Magazine and Esperfonto, the webís only typeface selection system. He may be reached via e-mail.

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Copyright Daniel Will-Harris, 2001, All Rights Reserved