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Desktop Publishing: Building a Partnership of Image and Text

History of Desktop Publishing


Design Guidelines for the Image of the Page or Display


Composing the Image

The first edit of an image really begins with the mind's eye, with a border or frame and a concept for filling it. With a camera or image recording or drawing system. Where and how you or someone pointed the camera acted as a kind of image scissors that cut the image from its initial scene or context. The use of the paint brush or pencil to draw on a computer screen or canvas is just another way to frame and complete an image. Once an image is designed or captured or captured by camera in some way, once the first cut is made, the computer provides important additional tools for further image manipulation and the placement of images within other media such as slides and pages (essays or books).

Integrating the Image Means Reading the Image

When we choose to use an image or images in a mixed or more comprehensive composition, their use and placement must be done with thoughtfulness and care. The use of an image needs just as precise a placement and a selection as the words in a sentence. Think of the image as a visual word. From years of instruction in composition, we know it is best to choose our "words" with our audience in mind. Why do we use a certain image? Effective image use depends on knowing what images will be "readable" or understandable by those receiving them. Effective use means finding an image that contributes to making our point, to saying what we want to say. In some cases the visual image may be the only "word" on the page or screen and must do all the work. In some cases the image may have just one word or one sentence with it. This is common with our early reader books and advertising to all ages. Many popular publications using paper and web pages today share the space for communication in such a way that images claim almost as much space as text, and sometimes more.

The reading teacher and the composition teacher share in the teaching of many important ideas. The composer of an image or the composer of a larger composition that integrates images with other media such as text needs to ask the same questions of their work as the readers of the work should be asking. How strong is the relationship between the image, the text and other media in this composition? "Is this image in its original state (i.e., no manipulation or "doctoring")? Why are we looking at this? What is the main idea behind this image? What motivates the creator here? If this image was altered, who did it and why? How did the original artist expect this image to be read (e.g., as an interpretation, a prediction, a documentary)? (Burke, 2001) Burke's extensive list of other potential questions for reading an image is available at his web site.

Shlain (1999) takes the issue of image integration one interesting conceptual step further. He sees the role of images and the role of text in a tug of war for influence of the mind, with text speaking to the linear and abstract left hemisphere of the brain (in his opinion, the more masculine side) and the image speaking to the holistic and visually oriented right hemisphere (in his opinion the more feminine side). Though his provocative thesis is not widely accepted, it does help us to understand the depth of the challenge in creating a harmonious composition where all the media elements support each other. His writing has caused me to think of the multimedia elements of a composition (e.g., images, text, videoclips, sound, etc.) as members of a family. Just as with the members of a human family, the dynamics of the interactions can lead to dysfunctional families that can fail in their mission to sustain each other and thereby cause each to fail. The interactions of the members can also lead to functional families that not only increase the effectiveness and value of each other, but make a larger contribution to the concerns of the world around them. Harmony is an ancient concept but no less relevant in the complexities of composition in our emerging digital world.

Design and Image Composition

Once these initial decisions are made about integrating the image, other issues can be considered that can make or break the communication power of the image. A multitude of books are available on the topic of conceptualizing and planning for visual communication so check with your favorite library and the bibliography at the end of this page. Shorter web based treatments are provided here including the rule of thirds and other design ideas.

The "Rule of Thirds" is a guide for the placement of elements in an image. It is a simplied version of the golden section (see great pictures illustrating this concept) or golden ratio. (Readers with greater depth in mathematics will appreciate exploring additional history on Phi, or 1.618). Viewing images based on the Golden section will help establish the idea.

The rule of thirds has the placement of key elements of an image at the intersection of thirds in the image frame. This is easier for the eye to imagine and work with than the actual golden section grid. Here are excellent but short treatments on this simple guideline to more effective shooting and cropping of images.

There are many other design elements to consider in image composition. However, there is no one right way to approach or to precisely describe the mental frame of reference that raises the quality of image work. The many ideas that emerge here from these resources should also be carried into video composition.

Changing the Digital Image

Once an image is captured by camera or drawn by hand, it often needs to be changed or edited further. This is done for several reasons. It may be that the initial image capture was poorly composed. It may also be necessary in order to fit the image into its display space and/or to remove distracting and irrelevant parts. For web use, it is also extremely important that the file size of the image be cropped and/or scaled to keep the image at the absolute smallest size possible yet still get across its message. Smaller image file sizes are important in making a Web page load and display quickly. Paint (Win), iPhoto (Mac) and Pixlr (online editor that is cross-platform) can each carry out the basic image editing procedures of scaling, cropping and reformatting. The classroom exercises will focus on the use of the Pixlr image composition tool.


Pixlr (online, cross platform image creating and editing service)

Paint (Windows OS)

The Microsoft Paint program is on every Microsoft Windows computer as part of the operating system. Paint is first of all a tool for drawing images, though drawing with a mouse is a challenge. Paint's strength is that it is very simple, but the basic image editing operatings require more clicks than iPhoto or Pixlr.

iPhoto (Mac)

Selected Basic Features for Current Desktop Publishing

    There are two critical features that distinguish this software from basic-text word processors: 
  1. Page Layout (the ability to place different fonts of text and image objects on the same page without being forced into continuous columns)
  2. Image/Graphics Control (features that allow the user to resize, rotate, crop and otherwise shape an image)

  3. Examples of desktop publishing output are as near as any magazine, brochure, book and current product documentation. Many companies advertise their services and give examples of exemplary work on the web.

    It is now routine in professional publishing for even one page to contain a complex mix of main story text and sidebar text with a related story. Within this text will be a range of artwork, photographs, and graphs and charts. 

    A multitude of other features are discussed in the software reviews section below.

Current Reviews

There is a larger criticism related to the DTP concept of balance that is perhaps more instructive. All technologies have features that can be used to extremes. Perhaps the most biting critique that one can make of desktop publishing is the way that overall design fails when graphics, images and other features effectively catch attention yet obscure or become out of balance with the quality of the text content that they accompany. That is, design also fails when more attention is given to looks than to substance. The most effective composers give proper attention to both. This inline frame page below from effectively makes this point. For reviews of specific desktop publishing applications, try these Google search that will appear in the inline frame below. Right click the links within the search to pop them out in their own display window or right click the immediate links below.

Selecting, Learning and Using Desktop Publishing Software

Educational Relevance of DTP

Shelf and Web Bibliography



Barry, Ann Marieseward (1997). Visual Intelligence : Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication. State University of New York Press.

Berger, Arthur Asa (1998). Seeing Is Believing : An Introduction to Visual Communication. Mayfield Publishing Company.

Burke, Jim (2001). Illuminating Texts : How to Teach Students to Read the World. Heinemann. [Author's web site and his web companion to text]

Elkins, James (1999). The Domain of Images. Cornell University Press.

Finnegan, Ruth H. (1988). Literacy and orality: studies in the technology of communication. Oxford, UK ; New York, NY, USA: Blackwell.

Kress, Gunther R. , Van Leeuwen, Theo  Gress, Gunther R. (1995). Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design.  Routledge. [web essay on this book]

Messaris, Paul (1994). Visual 'Literacy' : Image, Mind, and Reality. Westview Press.

Schapiro, Meyer (1996) Words, Script, and Pictures : Semiotics of Visual Language. George Braziller Publisher.

Scholes, Robert (1989)   Literary Criticism. Yale University Press. [Reviews]

Shlain, Leonard. (1998). The Alphabet versus the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image. Viking. [Booklist Review.]

Snyder, Ilana (Editor), Michael Joyce (Editor) (1998). Page to Screen: Taking Literacy into the Electronic Era. Routledge.

Shlain, Leonard (1999). The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image. Arkana; ISBN: 0140196013

Stephens, Mitchell  (1998) The Rise of the Image the Fall of the Word. Oxford University Press. [Booklist Review.]


Pub: v1.0, 3/1997; v5.09, 9.2.2009 Page author: Houghton   |   Back to chapter home.