Author: Peter White
Inspiration rarely comes when you are staring at a blank screen so plan the layout on paper first. Make as many variations as you can think of using quick thumbnail drawings. Look at other documents for inspiration. You should have a pretty good idea of what you want to create before firing up your favourite desktop publishing software.
When you have decided on a layout, setup the document. Make sure it's the right size. If you are not conforming to a standard page size, work in centimetres or inches (or derivatives of them) for print, and use pixels for digital work. Don't forget margins, bleeds, guides, and columns if you need them. Create a master page for multipage layouts so you don't have to repeatedly apply the same guides, headers, footers and other elements.
Once you have a clear idea of what you are going to make, organise or get hold of everything you need such as logos, fonts, colour schemes, images, and print requirements, if applicable. If you are designing for a company, don't forget to check out its brand guidelines; it could save you a lot of time in the future.
This point cannot be stressed enough. The amount of times you save your work is inversely proportionate to the amount of work you'll lose if (when?) your computer crashes or the power goes off. You never think it will happen to you - until it does. Save your work every five minutes or check your software for an ‘auto-save' option and then you can forget about it.
With carpentry they say you should measure twice and cut once. With desktop publishing, you should create once and proof read it three times. Check the copy to make sure it is conveying the right message and that it reads smoothly - reading aloud is a good way to do this. Look for typos (don't rely on the spellchecker – sea what eye mean?), grammar and punctuation. Check the overall layout for spacing. It also pays to get someone else to look at your work.
When you have finished your project do not, if at all possible, hand it over to the client. Close the file and work on something different. Leave it alone for two days (if time allows) and then revisit it. Looking at projects with a fresh set of eyes is a great way to spot design flaws and areas that need improving. Once you are happy with your work for the second time, it should be ready to go.
Ideally, this should be the final stage of the process. In truth, you'll probably get asked by the client to make changes. With this in mind, can you afford to hand in your projects on the due date? Leave yourself sufficient leeway so that if you need to make minor changes, you can still deliver the project on time.
Peter White works for Serif, developer of specialist software for desktop publishing. Serif's range includes free desktop publishing software for less proficient users and PagePlus which is desktop publishing software aimed at experienced and professional desktop publishers.
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