How desktop publishing transformed business in 1988

Thanks to new tools in the workplace, anyone could turn out documents, books and illustrated reports -- and small print shops were wondering what hit them.

Computers in the workplace were for more than just crunching numbers

Desktop publishing cuts out the print shop

34 years ago
In 1988, computers in the workplace meant reports and documents could be generated quickly in-house. 3:22

Thanks to new tools in the workplace of 1988, anyone could turn out documents, books and illustrated reports — and small print shops were wondering what hit them.

"Business people used to think writing was a bore," said reporter Fred Langan in a piece for the CBC-TV business program Venture on Feb. 21, 1988. "Now we're in the middle of a paper explosion." 

"Canadian business types can't wait to get to the office and use the new toys."

"Desktop publishing" was a "hot business buzzword," and it was accessible to any office with a computer and a laser printer.

'A ton of documentation'

Corporate trainer and graphic designer Jeannette Hanna said there was a lot more to desktop publishing than making newsletters. (Venture/CBC Archives)

Jeannette Hanna was not only a graphic designer skilled in the art of desktop publishing. She trained companies how to use it for all their paper output.

"You may say 'I build airplanes,' but what you do, along with that airplane, is produce literally a ton of documentation," she told Langan. 

Langan explained how desktop publishing worked.

"Using the little signs on the screen, the designer clicks the mouse — that's the gadget in her hand — and the page expands on the screen."

By "little signs," he was referring to what we now call drop-down menus.  

Goodbye print shops 

Graphic artist John Orr said he found desktop publishing faster and less expensive than former methods that required typesetting. (Venture/CBC Archives)

The style of type could be changed, graphic images inserted, lines drawn and graphs put in.

Langan said some 200,000 desktop publishing programs had been sold in the past year.

And they enabled companies to work right up to a deadline, rather than having to allow time to take a document to a print shop.

"You just print out that last page on a laser printer, slap it into the document and you're off to the meeting," said Tom Simpson, vice president at brokerage firm McLeod Young Weir.

But there was a downside to desktop publishing: typesetters and corner print shops had been squeezed out.

"Jobs that once cost a bundle, then were handled by the experts, are now done by amateurs," said Langan.