iPadReview

Quark DesignPad: layout creation tool for iPad

This new app from the makers of QuarkXpress promises to turn the iPad into a serious design tool. We put it through its paces and find out whether it's up to the job.

DesignPad comes from the creators of QuarkExpress

The old complaint that the iPad is 'only good for consuming content' is thoroughly debunked now. As if to help usher it out the back door and bury it completely, Quark - maker of veteran desktop publishing software QuarkXPress - has released DesignPad, a layout creation tool that's part-sketchbook, part-wireframe design tool, and part-layout starter kit. It's a curious tool, but once you start playing with it you'll start to see its value.

Ready-made layouts

Tap the Start a New Design button to begin. You’re presented with a selection of ready-made layout types; brochure, business card, classified ad, display ad, fact sheet, and so on.

Pick one, and then fine-tune it with the Size controls (US Letter, A4, or custom sizes) and then the Layout options.

This isn't a freeform layout tool but the layouts are still highly configurable

This provides a wealth of tools for adjusting the layout structure, in terms of its columns and rows, number of content boxes (picture and text), headline box size, background image box, captions for pictures, and so on.

Random options

If you’re looking for ideas here, in a rush or not feeling the creative flow, simply tap the dice icon and you’ll get a random set of options dialled in for all but a few core attributes.

Another 'roll' of the dice sees fresh random settings replacing the previous set; so you can keep tapping until you see a design or something you like. Then, from here, you can fine-tune these settings by hand. You can save these for reuse if you like - which is very handy considering how many variables there are.

Tap a box to tag it (headline, subhead, copy, caption, logo, photo, and so on), or jump straight to the Add Content stage.

Take your time

At this point, it's worth noting that you can't go back to play with these options later. That's not a big deal, but it does mean you should nail down these things first.

In other words, although it's great that it's very easy to create designs quickly, it's probably worth taking your time in the early stages to ensure you get it right first time, to avoid annoyances later on.

Grid-based design

It's great to see how DesignPad encourages solid grid-based design. This doesn't mean things are inflexible; although it's true that this isn't as free-form a layout tool as the blank page you get in regular DTP software, the layouts are still highly configurable.

Tap on an item to bring up a customisation menu

Picture and text boxes that are generated as part of the initial layout specification process will automatically follow changes to the grid. Press and hold on any grid gutter and you can drag it around; the grid itself and all the existing boxes will change shape to follow this.

You can add new text and picture boxes to customise the design further, but they don’t follow changes in the grid structure. They also can't be shuffled behind existing content, so make sure you plan accordingly.

Text and pictures

This stage is also where text and picture content and the fills and outlines of objects are set. Tapping an item brings up a set of icons for customising the appearance and contents.

Picture boxes can be filled using content from your own iPad photo library or from a ready-made stock image library.

Unlike your own pics, stock shots are bundled into the layout output option - but more on that in a second.

The Color Picker is intuitive and easy to use

Text boxes are pre-filled with lorem ipsum placeholder content, and sliders and scrolling font lists give control over font size, face, inset, alignment, and colour. The typefaces available are the regular iPad set, so choose the nearest to your final plans and be ready to adjust later.

Output your designs

Which brings us to output: you can email a rendered PNG graphic of your layout, which is great for a quick demo to a client or colleague.

You can tweet it if you prefer, but what makes this more interesting is that you can also email a link to a regular QuarkXPress document that's generated from your DesignPad efforts.

Wireframe-style

This app isn't meant for making finished layouts ready for repro, but you can knock together a wireframe-style page layout with pictures and text in minutes, email yourself the QuarkXPress version, then fine-tune it in Quark's professional desktop publishing software.

The app is best used for basic wireframes rather than finished layouts

For a designer with an iPad, this is rather stunning. And did we mention that it's free? Who ever said the iPad was only for content consumption? Not us - and not Quark, either.

  • You'll find this review, and many more, in Tap! Magazine issue 22.

Now read:

Key info

  • Price: Free
  • Works with: iPad
  • Version: 1.0
  • App size: 2.2MB
  • Developer: Quark Inc.
  • Age rating: 4+

Our Verdict 10/10

A superb wireframe design tool for creating page layout ideas, with flexible export options, too. Sold!
  • Wealth of customisation options
  • You can save settings for reuse
  • Encourages grid-based design
  • Great for wireframing
  • Can't change options once set
  • Not ideal for finished layouts

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