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​.je​re​myschultz​.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 (win​soft​.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.

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