Finally, a Good Desktop Publishing Tool

I’ve been creating content personally and professionally for over a decade. That’s not a presumptuous statement—I’ve always enjoyed writing personally and every job I’ve had has required me to produce content, both written and visual.

One thing that’s always bothered me about creating content, whether for myself or my job, is that I’ve never found a really good workflow for publishing. I’ve used multiple blogging platforms personally, from iWeb (yes, iWeb) to Tumblr, WordPress and more nerdy solutions like Jekyll and Octopress. There are advantages and disadvantages to each tool, but the common denominator is that actually pushing content onto the web through each is at best mildly frustrating and at worst a project management nightmare.

One of my major frustrations with publishing platforms is that many relegate you to a web interface (or web and mobile interfaces). That’s understandable from a user-experience standpoint: managing multiple platforms, including native apps, can be a nightmare and requires a massive engineering team. For me, though, content creation is best done with complete focus and a web browser is not the ideal environment. (Self-control has much to do with this, of course, but to some extent “the medium is the message,” and we use our browsers for information discovery a significant amount of the time.)

Beyond my issues with distraction, though, creating content through browser-based interfaces has never been enjoyable, it’s always been necessary. The user experience is getting better, I believe, through tools like Ghost, but smaller platforms are feature-poor compared to mature open-source projects like WordPress (which can be a problem in business contexts).

I’ve often wondered, “why hasn’t someone come up with a good solution?” Great attempts have been made. MarsEdit is a classic publishing tool and newer players like Blogo are really nice. I’ve used both of those tools (and others) and can’t seem to stick with them. Preference plays a role, of course, but it seems like every app I’ve tried either has too much or too little, features that get in the way or lack of features that force me to the web interface for some part of the publishing process. (At one point I even tried a ‘manual’ system that combined plain-text files, NValt, Dropbox and Notesy1.)

A simple publishing tool seems like, well, a simple thing, but it’s not. Even for a single personal blog, features like offline access, draft management, post customization, formatting, image management (a big one…) and other tricky features make it really hard to find a true all-in-one solution. Those problems are compounded significantly when you add different publishing platforms to the mix—if you push content through mutiple channels, you’re pretty much relegated to the browser, especially in a business context.

When one of my business partners2 told me he was buildling a tool to make desktop publishing a really good experienc, I was skeptical. It’s a hard problem to solve. Since I’m somewhat of a software explorer, I asked for a copy of the alpha version of the product.

From the outset, I knew I was going to like the product because the app got out of the way. There was a distinct lack of friction—the app felt ‘light,’ almost too-simple. That’s because many of the features are under the hood (and not visibly accessible when you’re actually creating content). Even when the publishing engine was broken (and I couldn’t post content through the app) I found myself using it to write because, well, it was enjoyable to use.

Being a part of the testing process for the app was a great experience because I had the opportunity to talk directly with the app developer about make-or-break features that would determine whether I would use the app every day or give up like I did with the others. Anecdote isn’t evidence and recommendations from one person aren’t the way to build software, but a few of my feature requests made it into Version 1.0 (and a few more might make it into subsequent releases).

Today, the product—Desk—went live in Apple’s App store3. Here’s what it looks like:

And here’s a screenshot of the app being use in full-screen mode (my preferred view):

It doesn’t look too exciting, but that’s what’s actually exciting. It looks like what it is: a giant text box. For me, using Desk reduces friction. I launch the application and start writing. No need to log-in, click through multiple screens, etc. If I want a picture in the post, I drag and drop it into place—no need to go through the ‘traditional’ uploading process.

The best part, though, is that everything I need is just a click away:

Post status management, categories, publishing options, url-customization, etc. I can store drafts locally or access content that’s already on the platform.

And if I need to add a new channel, I’m only a few clicks away:

What this means for me practically is that I have access to content on both my personal blogs and all of The Iron Yard’s blogs as well as the ability to update or publish content on each of those channels (which makes reviewing and editing much more streamlined). I can do this online or offline, all from one simple interface on my desktop.

As simple as this sounds, the best part about using this application is that my workflow for publishing content has become much, much easier and, dare I say, enjoyable.

Great job on this app, John, and thank you for adding Night Mode. Passengers sitting next to me on red-eye flights will be very grateful.

Here’a a peek at Night Mode: 

1. I follwed Mike asdasdf’s process for managing plain-text files. You can read about his workflow on his website.2. John Saddington is the creator of Desk. You can read more about him on his blog and more about his app, Desk, on the Desk website.3. You can download Desk from Apple’s App store.

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