Comparing X-Ray and InDesign Magazine

How do these two publications compare and contrast, and which one is better?

Guest editorial by Jeremy Schultz

In my previous editorial, “X-Ray Magazine Shows Its Fangs,” I gave X-Ray Magazine something of a wrist-slap for talking down InDesign as much as it promoted QuarkXPress, as well as Editor Cyndie Shaffstall’s slight toward users who may feel QuarkXPress is antiquated and stale. With the eighth issue of InDesign Magazine just released I wanted to give that magazine not only a thorough review but compare the two publications side by side and see how they approach this delicate turf war quite differently.

X-Ray Wows With Slick Design

Given that InDesign is the application with drop shadow, transparency and other dazzling features, it’s surprising that X-Ray is actually the publication with the slick design. Matt Bargell (that’s him in the Contributors section wearing the French beret) and Marty Hallberg have created a high-energy design with beveled and embossed parallelograms, a space-age logo, adventurous page layout and the use of DIN typefaces, one of the hotter type families being used right now. It’s a typeface that was designed for engineering so the strength of the typography may be questioned by some, but it is nevertheless a cool font. And how about those covers, which rely on texture and minimalist color schemes but don’t say much about QuarkXPress or the magazine itself? The design is cool though, and that’s the atmosphere this publication tries to wrap around Quark.

InDesign Magazine looks like it could have been created with PageMaker just as easily as InDesign. That’s not a bad thing mind you, and I’m not knocking the publication for that. I only note the use of old-school publication typefaces like Bodoni, Minion, Sabon and Frutiger; the lack of drop shadows for drop shadow’s sake, or transparency for the sake of doing something cool and slick; the columns of copy, narrower than X-Ray‘s and some might say meatier; and the strict design template that doesn’t allow stories to deviate much or be daring with its design. Some of the covers glitter with playful design (I like issues 3 and 5 myself) but overall InDesign Magazine‘s style looks like it would get an A-plus from any desktop publishing instructor, circa 1997. While it is solid and “follows the rules,” it is not bold like X-Ray, which embraces modern-day design fads influenced by web design and hot typefaces. Which one is better? Is there an answer to that question? It only shows how these two publications approach design and communication in two very different ways.

Both Give Voice to the Corporations

In different degrees, both publications speak for the company that puts out the product they promote. X-Ray Magazine speaks for Quark; InDesign Magazine speaks for Adobe [Note: InDesign Magazine is owned by Creativepro.com, and not a publication directly affiliated with Adobe. -Ed.]. But they do it in different ways. InDesign Magazine interviews key Adobe engineers and leaders (in the eighth issue it’s Thomas Nielsen, director of engineering for InDesign and other related products) and I find these interviews illuminate the products in a very different light. They aren’t boxes of software anymore; they’re the work of craftsmen. They’re the work of people you know and can relate to. And, as any good salesman knows, people like to buy from their friends and acquaintances.

X-Ray, on the other hand, offers a forum to Quark (Quark’s director of corporate communications, Glen Turpin, has the last page) but it comes off as being a mouthpiece for the corporation and the way the rest of the editorial is written also makes it feel too corporate. Unlike Nielsen, who seemed to spend much of his interview discussing the challenges InDesign faced and how they were looking forward to meeting and exceeding them, Turpin spent his ink touting the upcoming QuarkXPress 7.0. He’s into corporate communications so that’s to be expected, but what I didn’t expect was how other articles in the magazine speak the same way: “QuarkXPress 7 Takes a Quantum Leap in Color Quality”; “QuarkXPress 7.0 will offer further enhancements in PDF production”. I don’t recall any article in InDesign Magazine entitled “InDesign CS2 Continues To Drive Integration Between CS2 Products” or “InDesign CS3 Promises To Be A Big Step Forward”. I think X-Ray Magazine needs to start looking at how its pages can help the average QuarkXPress user, rather than Quark the company. InDesign Magazine, as with most publications that cover Adobe products, seems to do it right. I can get a lot more use out of InDesign Magazine than X-Ray, and it’s all because of the tutorials and question-and-answer section.

Tutorials and answers: IDM Has Many, X-Ray has Few

This is the big difference between the two publications: InDesign Magazine is chock-full of tutorials, tips and answers for the average everyday InDesign user. X-Ray Magazine, in contrast, has a fraction of the tutorials and tips and spends its pages saying how great QuarkXPress is but offers few insights on how to actually use the application to do something specific. Roger Black’s article on QuarkXPress’s superiority to InDesign in a publication production environment didn’t have many tips and tutorials on how to actually do the things he mentioned. In Stephen Beall’s article on working with PDFs in QuarkXPress, he mentions some specific features of QuarkXPress, such as multi-page PDF import, without walking the reader through the process of actually doing it. Step-by-step instructions are scarce in X-Ray, which is sad considering that in its heyday it had a lot more and seemed to be more useful to the everyday user.

As for InDesign Magazine, open it to any page and point your finger, and you’ll probably be pointing at a tutorial of some sort. I count nine, and while some are simple one- or two-paragraph tips others take up whole pages. These tutorials are thorough, well-written and are geared toward the average user with specific problems or needs. Do you need anchored objects in your text? Read the tutorial, written by this Web site’s own Pariah S. Burke. Could you use a text frame that will enlarge the text that’s flowed into it? Read David Blatner’s tutorial, which is ingenious and illustrates what a great tutorial does: it stretches the capabilities of the software and inspires users to do the same. There is none of this spark in X-Ray Magazine.

100% Quark

Another big difference: X-Ray Magazine is 100% Quark and QuarkXPress. No stories about desktop publishing in general. No stories about the computers we use. No stories about type or design or other topics. Quark is it. Compare that to InDesign Magazine, which opened this new issue with a great article by John D. Berry about sans-serif typefaces, their readability and legibility, and what to use and when (another example of how this magazine focuses on everyday problems for everyday designers). And the sections on new products and books follow suit, with mentions of new typefaces, books on branding, art, photography and more. X-Ray does do a similar thing with Art Director Matt Bargell’s section on cool designer gadgets, toys and magazines, and this reinforces X-Ray‘s atmosphere as the mag for the “cool” designer. But in comparison it is clear that InDesign Magazine has the broader focus, embracing topics of general design and layout as much as InDesign itself.

Bashing the Competitor

InDesign Magazine doesn’t really mention QuarkXPress. Leaf through the pages, and if you do find a mention let me know, but the magazine seems too busy talking about InDesign’s features and general typography to worry about the 800-pound gorilla in the room. But X-Ray Magazine does mention InDesign, and in a very negative article by Roger Black that was the focal point of my previous editorial. If X-Ray was written like InDesign Magazine, there would be tips and tricks on how to work with Quark’s PDF Export, control H&J, build spot and process colors as well as multi-ink combinations, and more. These are the things that designers both novice and expert are looking for when they need to do something and aren’t sure how to do it, but X-Ray Magazine instead writes how QuarkXPress is great and InDesign sucks, switching is bad for you and Adobe is out to control the entire market. All of those conclusions may be dead accurate, they may not, but the difference is that X-Ray Magazine brings one of them up in almost every issue since their relaunch in March 2005.

Both publications are true to their respective products-I’m sure QuarkXPress users find X-Ray to be a compelling read and very interesting, and they are by now salivating for the big juicy steak that is QuarkXPress 7.0. But InDesign Magazine readers find that publication just as compelling, and I’m sure the thought of InDesign CS3 will be just as delicious to them. The difference is that X-Ray Magazine is also committed to showing just how unappetizing InDesign really is, while InDesign Magazine doesn’t really pay much attention to their competitor. They’re too busy playing with InDesign and finding cool new ways to use it and extend its limits, and in that regard the difference between the two publications cannot be further apart.

Download the current issue of InDesign Magazine
Download a PDF preview of the current issue of X-Ray Magazine

Jeremy Schultz (www.jeremyschultz.com) specializes in graphic design, web design and illustration and has been active in the design profession for six years. He is the editor of Designorati:Photoshop, and his designs have been featured in national publications including Dynamic Graphics and SBS Digital Design, and he is the recipient of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals’ Guru Award, inclusion in the 2005 American Corporate Identity annual, and the First Place Winner in Quark VS InDesign.com‘s Celebrate InDesign Postcard Competition.

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9 Responses

  1. marco says:

    Loved the article and downloaded the InDesign PDF.
    But what about prices? ID mag costs $ 69 for two years. But what about X-Ray? I kinda get lost in their website. (off topic: Was it maded with Quark’s InMedia or what? Does anyone actually use that?)

  2. Hi, Marco.

    X-Ray‘s subscription rates, which vary by country, are here. For a 1-year/6-issue print subscription to U.S. addresses, it’s currently listed as $47.76. You also get a spiffy t-shirt emblazoned with the X-Ray logo on black.

  3. Jeff says:

    Great editorial, Jeremy. You’ve really hit the nail on the head as far as the differences in these publications. Well done.

  4. gary lindberg says:

    I agree with your take on the biases for xray and the indesign mag, however, i have been at many forums and presentsations where adobe and indesign fanatics take cheap stabs at quark, including your site. so, why cry foul?
    all i care is that the creative space is kept competitive, and competition breeds innovation. calling a spade what it is, aint bad at all.

  5. addy says:

    Well said Gary!!!
    I think this site is owned by Adobe :) When we guys seeing some really cool reviews about XPress 7.0, these guys just spending time in finding flaws in every thing Quark does.
    I am expecting another cheap reply from the editor…..
    :).Waiting 4 your sweet reply.

  6. Jim Oblak says:

    No one is hunting for flaws in any one application or magazine. If an application or magazine has flaws, they are self evident. It is useful information to all designers to know the features and faults of an application or a magazine about that application.

    If you have a dispute with these self evident flaws, contact the software or magazine publisher to have them corrected.

  7. Jim Oblak says:

    Curiosity: what qualifies as a cheap stab?

  8. mihan says:

    I am in Iran other side of the world and I subscribe Indesign mag because it is downloadeable. xray subscribyion with post servise doesn’t worse.
    indesign Middleeaste version (winsoft.fr) is very capeable in this area and quark doesn”t any Me version.

  9. marco says:

    Thanks forthe prices mr. Pariah! Have to agree with our Iranian friend. I’m over in Europe. To download a magazine is easier. About that arabian InDesign: To bad I can’t past Arabic from Word. InDesign reverses the letters. Arabic is right to left. So is Arabic in Word. When pasting this text in InDesign, the program pastes eveything from left to right. So it actualy pastes the text backwards! The only solution is buying InDesign Middle East. To bad.