Looking Good With the Help of Your PC
Image isn’t everything, but image counts. The substance of who you are and what you do matters most, but projecting the right image helps you get your foot in the door, establish credibility and boost confidence.
PCs can help you bolster your image in numerous ways, but if you’re not careful, you can get carried away with image-bolstering tools at the expense of your image.
The earliest appearance-enhancing computer application was desktop publishing, brought to us in the mid-1980s primarily by Apple Computer with its Macintosh personal computer and Aldus Corp., with its Pagemaker software. Both are still around. But Windows-based PCs are as capable as Macs for this purpose (if still more difficult to use), and Pagemaker has been purchased by Adobe Systems and surpassed for professional use by QuarkXpress and casual use by Microsoft Publisher.
What hasn’t changed is the risk of looking amateurish when trying to look like a pro. You still see people overdoing it by using too many fonts on a page and inappropriate clip art. Pros don’t design pages like ransom notes, with big fingers pointing to headlines, or with ribbons and bows surrounding every block of text.
Today’s do-it-yourself desktop publishing software goes a long way in helping you create your own letterhead, business cards, and promotional materials, providing predesigned documents or templates that you can customize. But you still need to know the fundamentals of design. One good place to go is About.com’s Desktop Publishing page, at
Another way PCs can help you look good is through customized fax cover sheets. Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows XP, includes a slimmed-down though still capable version of the best fax software on the market, Symantec’s WinFax Pro.
The Windows XP version comes with four predesigned cover sheets that you can customize with a logo and personal information. Symantec’s full version comes with more than 200 predesigned cover sheets.
Again, you need to be careful. It’s easy to get too cutesy with fax cover sheets. More than half of the predesigned cover sheets that come with Symantec’s version of WinFax Pro feature cartoons. Cartoon cover sheets may be fine for personal faxing but usually aren’t for business faxing.
The biggest boon to computer-aided image enhancement lately has been the Web, where anybody can hang a shingle for others to see, whether for business, hobby or family purposes. Creating your own Web site is easier than ever with programs such as Trellix Web and Microsoft FrontPage, while high-end programs such as Macromedia’s Dreamweaver streamline the process of creating highly sophisticated sites.
Yet there are countless poorly designed sites out there. Again, people often go wrong by overdoing it. A colored or textured background may seem like a design enhancement, but if it interferes with readability, it’s a detraction. Likewise, large graphics, dancing buttons, blinking text, and other bells and whistles can draw attention away from what is important and lessen your site’s overall effectiveness.
There are many places on the Web where you can get tips on Web design. One good site is Project Cool’s Web Design Tips QuickStart, at <www.projectcool.com/developer/tips/design01_tips>.
E-mail is another area where simpler is usually better. Most of today’s e-mail programs let you send messages formatted using HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), which is a standard used in creating Web pages.
But many people prefer receiving straight text, and there’s typically little reason to use fancy, colored or oversized fonts when sending e-mail. Most e-mail messages that are formatted using HTML are unsolicited advertising come-ons, called spam, and seeing the HTML is a pretty good indicator that you can delete the message unread.
Despite the wonders of today’s technology, if you really need to look professional, no computer program can match the capabilities of a professional. Good designers and graphic artists have the training and experience, as well as the taste and judgment, to help you put your best foot forward without putting it in your mouth.
Regardless of whether you farm it out or do it yourself, keep in mind that with all attempts to look good, balance is key. Appearance should be balanced with content, style with substance, the medium with the message. Ultimately, however, the image vs. substance duality is no duality at all. Online or off, what you are becomes how you look.
You can’t fake it, long-term. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “What you are stands over you the while and thunders so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”
— Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or
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