I’ve got the World on a String, Wrapped Around my Window

Have you ever stopped to think about how the text you read on a computer screen is displayed? Probably not. You probably have more pressing matters to attend to. It may as well be magic for all you care. But the truth is that you’ve come this far following a trail of characters, one after the other, to get to this point on the page. 393 in fact, including two end of paragraph carriage returns. Yes, what you think of as white space is also a character in a long string of them. Go ahead and imagine what this text would look like if there were no line breaks: literary ticker tape!

The way word processors put together plain text is rather awkward, especially when you wish to add images and elements of graphic design to your documents. Of course, it is not impossible to manipulate. If you are old enough to remember Telnet and BBS’s (Bulletin Board Systems), you might remember lively sprites made out of type, hiding amidst the seemingly plain hedgerows of text. This was known as ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) Art, and they ranged from simple images such as this high five (  ^-^)oo(^-^  ) to intricate works of art. However, this form of expression is hardly mainstream, and hardly appropriate for everyday business communications.

Defining a document’s layout using a word processor is not much different from trying to create pictures using type characters. Say you want to place a checkbox on the right side of the document, at the same height as a block of text. Would you press “space bar” 30 times to push it over there? What happens if you have to change the text above or below it? Your string of text will be disrupted and you will have little control over the way your word processor breaks the line. This is definitely not the right tool for the job.

Luckily, there are many tools and standards in place for creating document layouts and applying concepts of graphic design to them. Applications such as Publisher, InDesign, and Scribus, just to name a few, allow users to manipulate the position and look of text and image on a page. They are even capable of producing layouts for bound publications, like books and magazines.

Graphic design applications have been around since the 1980’s, and, as they reach maturity, it looks like they will be as ubiquitous as word processors have been for the last two decades. This new discipline is known as Desktop Publishing, and soon everyone will be expected to know how to apply it. This is a global phenomenon, and thus translation agencies have to move to the forefront of providing expert Desktop Publishing services. Processing countless documents daily in practically every language on Earth, we had to adapt quickly to respond to this challenge. Now, our experience is at your disposal.