Questions and Answers
The term cats-paw is an old one, reaching back at least to the seventeenth century and possibly earlier. Originally it referred to someone who acted on behalf of a sorcerer or witch, whether as a simple tool or as a full-fledged confederate. More recently, it has come to mean someone who performs tasks at the behest of another. That bit of history, coupled with my own liking of felines in general, made Catspaw a natural choice for a name when it came time to set up shop.
Why Macintosh? Why not Windows?
While so-called Wintel boxes are the predominant desktop computers in general business and home use, the Apple Macintosh is the machine of choice in publishing and most other creative fields. The Mac OS predates Windows by several years, and the Macintosh was the first major platform to take full advantage of such innovations as the laser printer and the ability to display a graphic image or typeset page as it would appear when printed out, rather than as an approximation or even as a raw stream of text.
These historical advantages gave it the proverbial leg up in creative industries, and the unfortunate decline during the nineties of the Commodore Amiga and SGIs line of workstations left the Mac as the strongest competitor for those applications. Windows-only clients need have no fear, however; in this day and age of widespread media compatibility, there rarely is a problem transferring files from one platform to the other.
Why is a knowledge of typography so important?
Before the advent of the Apple Macintosh, Aldus Pagemaker, and the Apple Laser Writerthe first commercially available desktop laser printerin the middle and late 1980s, typesetting was performed by specialists on dedicated terminals and phototypesetting machines. (Before that, of course, it was set by hand using actual metal type.) Typesetters, along with illustrators and paste-up artists, were considered part of the production staff, separate from the editorial or design staff.
As the new desktop publishing platforms displaced the older Linotype-and-paste-up methods, typesetters (and paste-up artists) were increasingly perceived as obsolete. Often, entire production departments were disbanded, sometimes gradually, sometimes all at once. More and more, designers began to handle the typesetting as well as the design, and the number of new typesetters declined steadily. The trend accelerated with the increasing popularity of electronic publishing and the Worldwide Web.
However, while this evolution was going on in the professional world, educational curricula lagged. Many courses of university study for graphic designers still do not include typography classes, and despite the current ubiquity of word processing software, basic typography is not yet taught in secondary or high school. Even HTML itself was created by engineers for the use of engineers, without regard for typographical concerns, though with the advent of such standards as cascading style sheets (CSS) and HTML5, the situation has improved.
In short, good typography is just as important as good design; in some applications, like books and other text-heavy documents, it can be even more important. Properly typeset documents look crisper, more readable, and more professional.
A word about Word
Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time visiting service bureaus may have noticed that many establishments maintain a strong policy regarding customers files created using Microsoft Word. Some refuse outright to handle such files; others revoke their usual guarantees or warranties of satisfaction. Still others that do accept Word files may charge more or require a longer lead time when working with them. Why?
Microsoft Word is a word processor. Despite nearly universal availability and an ever-increasing feature set, it is not a page lay-out application like Quark XPress or Adobe In Design. This results in a number of quirks that make Word files unsuitable for high-end publishing purposes. The most important is that, as with other word processor programs, Word places little emphasis on stability of line and page breaks. Simply changing the printer driver one is using can result in tremendous changes in the lay-out of the document, a fact calculated to give a pre-press operator ulcers.
In addition, Word has evolved over the years from a modest text-editing program into the large, powerful software it is today. Imagine a family gradually adding to their small two-bedroom ranch house until it is the size of a mansion. Certainly it does everything that family needs, but it is probably neither as convenient nor as structurally sound as a mansion designed and built from the ground up to be what it isto say nothing of aesthetic considerations. To use a different analogy: it is possible to use a screwdriver as a hammer to drive nails, but the job is slower, more tedious, and more difficult, and the results are generally less satisfactory.
The programmers have worked hard to streamline Word and to make it usable and useful, but the fact remains that the sheer number of features and the interaction of those features make for complex and sometimes unpredictable results better avoided, when attempting to create documents for professional publication, through the use of a purpose-built page lay-out program.
The computer isnt just a typewriter
Despite its resemblance to a typewriter, a computer keyboard is actually far more flexible, able to generate a tremendous number of characters that formerly were the special province only of the typesetter. With the ubiquity of word processors and other text-manipulating software, there is no reason not to take advantage of this abundance of charactersbut sorting out how to generate many of them is not always obvious. For those who would like to create more professional-looking text, heres a list of those special characters. Adobe Acrobat Reader is necessary to view this list; if its not already installed, it can be downloaded for free from Adobes site.
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