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Adventures in document re-creation

2011 March 11

Since I first went back into my archives for a look at Quantum Whatever, the creative journal I designed as a student in the late 1990s, I’ve continued rummaging around both my print copies of the finished product and my electronic files from the project. (Especially since committing myself to producing a final, encore issues.) All kinds of interesting and entertaining stuff in there, some of it conceivably of interest to other people and some of it probably not.

But one item seemed particularly intriguing as something to dust off and share, for a couple of reasons: my poster presentation.

Photo of my honors project poster presentation, late 1999

Table 30, honors project poster presentation event, Memorial Union, Iowa State University, December 1999

There are a few reasons I was motivated to excavate this item. First, it’s the closest thing to a complete style manual that I ever produced for Quantum Whatever. Typefaces, grid guides, layout rules such as they were; it’s all here. The second reason that posting this to the web appealed to me, however, was really just the perverse challenge of it.

I don’t mean the above photo; I just had to dig that out of a box and scan it. I mean the presentation “document” itself. I had all of the electronic files which had gone into creating the above-pictured presentation, but getting them into a modern-format document was quite an interesting challenge for an amateur home archaeologist.

To begin with, all of the layout was done in Pagemaker. Fortunately, InDesign does a pretty good job of opening Pagemaker files, but it’s by no means perfect. Tracking and line breaks change, which throws off some things, and none of the linked files worked. I had all of those as well, of course, but had to hunt them down in various directories of my Quantum Whatever stuff archives.

The real challenge, however, was the fact that the overall poster never actually existed in electronic format. The electronic layout was just a series of 11 x 17″ pages which I printed out, cut down and then pieced together by hand on a great big piece of black foam core. I actually kept the thing along with other junk at my mother’s house until relatively recently, but after finally letting it go the only remaining record of the layout was this:

Honors project poster presentation for Quantum Whatever

From computer to printer to hand-assembly to negative film to photographic print to scanner and back to computer.

It was enough, though. A little Photoshop distortion to restore right angles and I had a pretty good guide to placement. Knowing the size of the papers I could estimate the overall size of the board (about 40 x 32″). From there it was just a matter of exporting the pages of the converted Pagemaker document to EPS files, placing them on a black background in a new InDesign layout, and Bob’s your uncle.

Couldn’t be simpler, right?!

Loads of fun, though, actually. And now, about eleven years after the fact, I have a complete electronic layout of the whole poster for the first time.

(Would that I had gotten into the habit of saving relatively future-proof PDFs of most layouts I worked on earlier; that would simplify a lot of archival exploration, though this particular item would still have been a challenge… but then, as old-timers will remember, exporting a PDF in the days of Pagemaker wasn’t exactly the fast, easy and seamless process that it is with InDesign.)

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