Computer Illiteracy is Only Part of The Problem

In the digital age, a lot of emphasis is being placed on computer literacy. As an experienced graphic designer (over 30 years), I find that ignorance, stupidity, and incompetence are significant problems as well.

Lets start with the makers of major design software used to create documents and similar objects on the computer. Despite substantial advances in the field of graphic design, the software we use still is severely flawed in areas that are not likely to be fixed.

Microsoft is a prime example. Casual users may not be bothered or affected by some of these flaws, but professionals find them to be serious. Among these flaws are: numbered lists, PostScript fonts, EPS files, and color processing.

In Microsoft Word, numbered list are generated incorrectly. The numbers in such lists are left justified, as shown in the accompanying example. To make things worse, multi-level list are not consistent with single level lists.

microsoft lists

Also, in Word, PostScript is not supported. For those unfamiliar with this technology, PostScript is a page-description language that permits scalability without the loss of resolution. This technology is used in such programs as Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw to create designs comprised of shapes, lines, and curves. These objects may be modified at will and combined with other objects. The design files created by these programs are called EPS files. They are not acceptable to Microsoft Word as image files.

Many graphic designers also use PostScript fonts in place of, or in addition, to TrueType fonts. Such fonts do not transport well. When files containing PostScript fonts are printed on a computer other than the original host, the text can appear as gibberish. Even TrueType fonts do not transport well. When documents created on one computer and printed on another, bad line breaks are common.

Microsoft Powerpoint, a program used by novices to produce brochures and the like, also has the same font issues. It also has problems with color, a complex issue more suitable to a separate discussion. Suffice to say that Microsoft photos and those that come from your camera are RGB (video colors) whereas the printing process uses CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink).

Both programs seem to be suitable for primarily for home use. From my experience, commercial printers are reluctant to accept them for printing.

Color is a serious problem with professional design software because the people who wrote the software did not understand concept of spot colors.

PMS colors are the problem. Each color is designated by a three or four digit number. To help users of the system select colors, the company prints a book of color samples. Unlike paint, that has the texture built into the liquid (gloss, semi-gloss, flat, etc.) all ink is the same but its appearance depends on the type of paper stock (coated, uncoated, etc.). In its book, Pantone distinguishes the appearance by means of a suffix (C for coated, U for uncoated, CVU for computer video). Let me say that again: The suffixes only represent the apparent color; the ink is the same; the sole purpose is to identify the swatch in the sample book. For example, PMS 185C and PMS 185U are the same color red. In fact, if you use PMS 185U and print it from your computer on glossy photo paper, it will look exactly like PMS 185C. PMS colors also will look the same on the computer screen regardless of suffix.


So where is the problem? The problem arises from dealing with files created by different artists being used in the same computer file. The computer software will treat two colors with the same number but different suffixes as two different colors when generating color separations. Accordingly, software creators need to eliminate the distinction between on suffix and another, but this will never happen.

pantone suffixes

The problem of Pantone colors is made worse by multiple definitions of the same Pantone color. Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, and perhaps others, have different definitions of the same PMS color.

I have written several letters to the president of CorelDraw about this and have not received a single response.


The last problem relates to another form of illiteracy. I cannot count how many times I have seen the word “Stationary” on the awning of a greeting card store.


The same goes for the use of a sign that says “Mens” over that section in a department store or on a restroom door. Even more outrageous is to see the same word misspelled and spelled correctly in the same place.


apostrophe-7  apostrophe-4

The sad thing is that these ills seem impossible to cure. I try to do as much as I can through my blog, but these efforts are too feeble for the vast amount of bad stuff that goes on.


About stanleygraphics

I am a veteran graphic designer who started at the time when cut and paste meant an X-acto knife and rubber cement. I use my experience to educate others. I have an intolerance for ignorance and stupidity.
This entry was posted in annoying, ignorant, language, stupid, typography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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