[scribus] Materials for a talk about Scribus

Rob Oakes lyx-devel at oak-tree.us
Fri Sep 24 19:04:42 CEST 2010

Hi John and Murray, 

Thanks for continuing this discussion.  I['m planning a book chapter on Scribus and I've found the back and forth to be very helpful for that purpose.  Since I'm also writing about LyX, LaTeX and related tools, the commentary here as proven invaluable in improving some of the other book sections as well.  Which is why I'd love to tackle a few of your points.

>> Sometimes it's a good idea for a program to come with "training
>> wheels." The only thing is, there needs to be a way to take them off
>> once you don't need them.

As a LyX user and contributor, this is too rich a target to pass up.  I'm not trying to start a flame-fest, but rather would like to clarify how I use LyX versus how I use Scribus.  (I'm also refining my arguments for said book, so there is also a selfish element in continuing this thread.)

I wouldn't describe the "limitations" as "training wheels", bur rather as structure. But then, I don't think of LyX as a layout program at all.  It's a document processor where I write.  Thus, the short leash is actually quite helpful, at least for my needs.  it provides a sufficient degree of structure so that I can work productively without needing to worry about double spaces, inconsistent use of styles, or other formatting issues that plague me when working in OpenOffice.  It also gives me access to my reference library and the ability to automatically generate a bibliography.

When I work with LyX/LaTeX, my primary concern is *very* clean *semantic* markup.  I don't want any kind of LaTeX ugliness.  Which is why I agree with this sentiment:

> Then I tried Lyx and found that it kept me on a really short leash.
> E.g., I was trying to set the title page, where I wanted the title in
> 120 point type. Lyx insisted that 120 points was a bad design decision.
> Yes, I eventually learned that you can convince Lyx to do it your way,
> but the whole idea of being forced to someone else's idea of good
> design practice left me cold.

It's more than the juvenile design dictates.  Trying to create front-matter in LyX (LaTeX really) is painful.  Especially for a book or similar type of document that really should be unique and customized to the content it contains (though internally consistent).  Every time this comes up on the LyX users list (about once a month), the consensus is the same: 

If writing a book, thesis or similar document use LyX for the text.  Create your front matter in Scribus or another visual environment.  It saves days of time, leads to better output, and it makes it easier to comply with formatting guidelines.  The exception to this rule is when using a class specifically created by a publisher or journal.  In that case, they've already ensured that the type-set output will match with their style guide and you are better off following their dictates.

> In my personal work I start by writing in OOo. But I do not "write" the
> same way everyone thinks I am supposed to. That is, in today's parlance
> I am supposed to create "content" and then use something else to format
> it. I hate the word "content." My brain does not work that way. I need
> to format it as I write it. Else I will forget that I intended that
> paragraph to be formatted a particular way. 
> Indeed, I write as though I was teaching the material to a class. As
> you explain the subject to the class it occurs to you that a drawing
> showing how the concepts you are explaining fit together would help the
> class understand. As the teacher I would turn around to the board and
> draw a diagram or make a bullet list or table or something to give the
> students a visual perception of what I am talking about. Thus, when
> writing the same thing occurs to me. I need to stop writing then and
> run off to Inkscape or whatever and create the graphic. In my OOo
> document I would just enter a paragraph containing <graphic001 here>.
> Then, while doing the layout later in Scribus I can just place the
> graphics at the appropriate places. In my brain the graphic elements
> are at least as important as the words; in many cases more so. I cannot
> understand how people can write without visualizing the final layout as
> they write.

Actually, this is exactly how I like to work.  And it's the way that I've seen great writers work (at least described in some of the materials I've found while researching a book on scientific writing/communication).  First they say something and lay the groundwork for what it means using tags or formatting.  (I like to use semantic tags, but it appears you prefer to use formatting.)

Then, such writers describe figures and images that would help them say it.  Some  need to create the graphic before continuing.  Others continue and then come back to the graphics after all points have been made.  Like you I add a placeholder (in LyX parlance, a Figure float) and a caption.  The image will join the other two pieces of text when its finished.

But all of that is still different than placing the image in a final layout.  And it is that phenomenon that LaTeX users speak so disparagingly when they refer to "finger painting."

> Principles of design sounds like an entire art course. Perhaps several
> art courses. Again, I have just an hour and a half. 

I don't think I was clear, initially.  I'm not recommending that you be comprehensive, or even cohesive.  The original talk I attended, which was called "Illustrator and the Principles of Design" didn't try to be a primer on the principles of design.  Instead, it was a very specific discussion of three examples.

With each example, however, the presenter did three things:

1.) He used illustrations that clearly demonstrated a principle.  For example, one showed how color and position could be used as effective contrasts.  (And all of the layouts were awesome.)
2.) He succinctly described why each example worked and helped enumerate the specific principles/guidelines behind the composition.
3.) He then showed the tools used to achieve the effect.

Though I'm a scientist by training/profession, I've been dabbling in the art/design world for a while.  (Since high school, when I sadly realized I wasn't talented enough to make a living from my artistic skills.)

In that time, I've noticed something important: art and design have their own language.  To move from novice to proficient requires that you learn this language and the ideas it embodies.  This isn't hard, but it requires that an instructor be aware that pupils aren't fluent.   To become fluent requires that you learn both the theory and the lingo, but most instructors I've been associated with don't really bother with the bigger picture.  The discussion is either about technique or its about high level concepts.  The Illustrator presentation combined both, and for that reason, I thought it hugely effective.

That's what I'm trying to advocate.

Take your skills and feel as a designer and instructor (in effect, your aesthetic eye) and use the language of design to help your audience appreciate the layouts at a slightly deeper level.  You don't have to dedicate a huge amount of time to it, but touching on the big picture is always nice.  It also avoids a second problem I've seen at design conferences: technical presentations with little or no context.  It also whets their appetite for the really good stuff, like Bringhurst.  I wouldn't have moved into the design lit without teachers who pointed me there and prepped me to understand it.

>> For me, ... Scribus gives me the
>> tools to do what I want then gets out of my way and lets me do it.
>> Most of what I need to do is fairly easy to figure out, and when it's
>> not, there's this mailing list and an IRC channel I can use.
>> If part of your presentation is giving reasons your audience would
>> want to use Scribus instead of something else (Closed
>> Source/Expensive) this might be a good talking point: you can be up
>> and running in short order, and expand your skills as you go.

+1 for this.  In you are presenting to a novice crowd, it's particularly important.  While I'd like to say that good software speaks for itself, that isn't true.  It needs a spokesperson or salesman to illustrate the real-world benefits.  This is why Steve Jobs is such an effective salesman for Apple.  At his best, he doesn't talk about features, he speaks to the transformative power of great tools.

With your presentation, you could effectively do the same.  Show an awesome example and then answer the question, "Why Scribus?"  After all, there are other options?

If it's a poster, why would you choose Scribus over Inkscape?  If it's a long-form document, why would you choose Scribus over LaTeX (or if you prefer, OpenOffice)?  For existing users, the answer to the question is obvious.  For new users, it is not.

Even more advanced users might appreciate your insights, I like to paint in watercolors, acrylics and oils.  Though its possible to use any medium for a composition, some material begs a particular treatment.  Hearing the technical opinions of other artists is always valuable.  Even if I choose an alternative.

> I think I will just present Scribus and let it speak for itself. If it
> clicks with members of the audience - and I'm sure it will click with at
> least some - then Scribus has won new fans. If someone wants me to
> compare it to other tools I'll just say that I don't have time to get
> into detailed comparisons.

No need to be detailed, 20 sec. would probably do it.  Just enough to answer "Why Scribus?" as applied to that particular example.

> Unfortunately, I do not have a web site. I might be able to post it to
> the web site of our local LUG. But we'll cross that bridge when and if
> we get there.

Please do cross the bridge, though.  As I said earlier, your presentation is relevant to one of my current projects and I would love to see your notes.  I am also trying to find really great examples that I could include (with proper attribution, acknowledgement, etc) without needing to create them all on my own and I would love to see your work.  I would even be happy to host the slides and material.  (I'll stop before descending into full pleading.)

Again, best of luck with your presentation and I hope that some of these thoughts were helpful.



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