What was LAYOUT about?

Feature Image: Layout newsletter

Some 15 years ago I found myself at a loose end. At the time I was a freelance journalist writing about design for computer magazines and about computers for design magazines.

Freelance budgets were being cut everywhere and there was a lull in commissions. This happens every few years and is always temporary. But it bothered me that useful information kept coming my way that would have interested my readers – graphic illustrators, layout artists, desktop publishers, page designers, art editors, digital printers and editorial production staff working in newspapers, magazines and books – yet I had nowhere to publish the stories.

So I decided to compile a two-weekly 8pp newsletter called LAYOUT into which I could publish all that stuff myself. Most of the content would be news-in-brief style stories of one or two paragraphs, with a couple of longer pieces reserved for the back pages, such as how-to workthroughs, event write-ups and book reviews.

To put LAYOUT in its historical context, the very first news story on the front page of issue #1 (dated 28 October 2005) confirmed the rumours about a big graphics software industry buy-out:

Adobe is cleared for acquisition

The US Department of Justice Review has given Adobe clearance to pursue its plan to acquire Macromedia, according to an Adobe announcement on 13 October…

Macromedia, heh. Remember them?

LAYOUT was a hobby rather a business venture, hence its tagline: Just the essentials • no adverts • every fortnight. I insisted that the newsletter should be available in print on quality matt art stock as a faux two-colour job, delivered by post (a PDF download edition was also made available for the cheapskates). LAYOUT was among the last printed B2B newsletters of its kind.

I had always been fond of the format ever since Jay Nelson showed me how his own long-running graphic design newsletter Design Tools Monthly usually found their way into subscribers’ ring binders. This gave the newsletter longevity and value as a continuous look-up resource.

LAYOUT sold few subscriptions but readers said nice things about it. The man at my local print shop commented on each issue. A bloke at Adobe said he admired it. Best of all, David Blatner contacted me directly to complain about something I wrote in it.

Inevitably, after a few months my paying freelance work picked up again and I was forced to switch the unprofitable LAYOUT to a monthly cycle. Six months after that, I ran out of hobby time, refunded remaining subscriptions and laid the newsletter to rest.

If you’re interested, here is the final issue, dated 4 October 2006, which you are welcome to download for free. In this issue, you can learn what was happening that week… about The Daily Telegraph’s hub-style newsroom, Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo XI, Sony’s eBook reader launch, the latest compatible XTensions for QuarkXPress 7, what was new in Acrobat Pro 8.0, a full review of the Wacom Intuos3 A6 Wide graphics tablet, and a devious workaround for removing greyed-out unused Swatch colours from an InDesign document by exporting to .inx format and editing the XML code by hand.

When the COVID-19 pandemic halted advertising spending, my writing commissions were summarily cancelled and I thought another of those quite periods was beginning. I seriously considered reviving LAYOUT ‘for a new generation’ (like Pepsi-Cola but not so fizzy) until I realised that lockdown had triggered a sudden explosion in interest in online remote training. I’ve been running remote courses in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign practically every day since.

This doesn’t mean I can’t start blogging on LAYOUT themes again. Perhaps I will do exactly that, right here.

If nothing else, it will help me feel better about all those stories about new hardware and software products, app updates, third-party plug-ins and scripts, bug-fixes, tricks and tips, workarounds, industry publication reviews and special focus stories being left to waste. No publication dates, no space commitments; I can just post new stories when they come to me.

And no ads, of course.

Alistair Dabbs

1 Comment on "What was LAYOUT about?"

  1. Aha!
    Found you…

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