Paul Brainerd (Aldus PageMaker)

…if all people doing desktop publishing were doctors we would all be dead!
Massimo Vignelli

Paul Brainerd at the Aldus office in Seattle, 5 July 1985 (David Healy Photo)
Paul Brainerd at the Aldus office in Seattle, 5 July 1985 (David Healy Photo)

The US company Aldus Corporation was founded on 1 February 1984 in Seattle, Washington, by Paul Brainerd (born 1947). Brainerd has a B.S. degree in business administration from the University of Oregon (1970), and an M.A. degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota (1975) and worked at the Minneapolis newspaper Star and Tribune. In 1980 he joined Atex in Redmond, Washington, a company that sold computer-assisted publishing equipment to the newspaper industry. In 1983, the plant was closed, thus Brainerd and five other Atex engineers decided to stay in the Pacific Northwest and start up their own company.

Brainerd and his partners decided to name their company Aldus, after Aldus Pius Manutius (Teobaldo Mannucci) (1449–1515), a famous fifteenth-century Venetian pioneer in publishing, known for standardizing the rules of punctuation and also presenting several typefaces, including the first italic. Manutius went on to found the first modern publishing house, the Aldine Press.

The flagship program of Aldus Co—PageMaker was released in July 1985. This groundbreaking program was the first-ever desktop publishing application and revolutionized the use of personal computers, virtually creating the desktop publishing industry. The term desktop publishing was coined by Brainerd.

PageMaker relied on a graphical user interface, and was initially for the then-new Apple Macintosh, in 1987 for IBM PCs running the then-new Windows 1.0. PageMaker relies on Adobe Systems’ PostScript page description language. Suddenly anyone could design brochures. Publishers had to become computer literate, and Apple started selling Macs and LaserWriters in large numbers. Aldus helped Apple to market its hardware to customers who wanted desktop publishing capabilities. In return, Apple featured Aldus’s software in much of its advertising and also helped the fledgling company distribute its program.

PageMaker 1.0 screen
PageMaker 1.0 screen

Retailed for $495 PageMaker 1.0 (see the nearby screenshot) included all the basic elements needed to lay out pages: free form drag and drop positioning of page elements, sophisticated type tools, a well-chosen selection of drawing tools, the ability to import text and graphics (most importantly, EPS files) from other applications, and the ability to print to high-resolution PostScript printers with WYSIWYG accuracy. The users could easily create professional-quality books, newspapers, newsletters, brochures, pamphlets, and other graphic products.

PageMaker not only made desktop publishing possible, but it also spawned entire cottage industries for clip art, fonts, service bureau output and scanning, and specialty products for laser printing such as foil overlays. The $495 price point allowed Aldus to have a gross margin of almost 90 percent. It was very inexpensive to produce software in those days, in terms of the floppy disk and the packaging and the documentation. That gave them all the money needed to reinvest in customer service and support and product development.

Aldus succeeded to make the PageMaker program accessible to all kinds of computers and operating systems, signing agreements with Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft Corporation, IBM, Wang Laboratories, and Digital Equipment. Then it decided to offer its program to computer users outside the United States, establishing itself as Europe’s leading producer of desktop publishing software by the spring of 1988. Controlling nearly half of the British, French, and German markets for these products, PageMaker was the world’s fourth most popular software program.

Despite the popularity of PageMaker, Aldus’s status as a single-product company caused some concern among managers and investors. The company needed to move beyond PageMaker to other products and functions in order to continue its rapid growth and remain profitable. Thus in 1987, Aldus introduced FreeHand, a raster graphics drawing program, and SnapShot, an instant electronic photography software package for use on personal computers. Later Aldus presented SuperPaint, Personal Press, Digital Darkroom, PhotoStyler, PressWise, and PageAhead.

In January 1988, sales of the PageMaker program topped 200000, with 90000 copies of the program shipped in the preceding year. That spring, Aldus introduced updated versions of PageMaker for use on the Macintosh and on IBM-compatible PCs. With this advance, Aldus maintained its dominant grip on the desktop publishing market.

PageMaker continued to evolve, reaching new heights with its 1992 version 4.2, which had such essential features as text rotation and a story editor. Despite some interesting marketing ploys, however, Aldus had lost significant market share to the rival QuarkXPress, which had some powerful features, such as color separation, which PageMaker then lacked. Later QuarkXPress continued to gain market share, due largely to ignorance and mythology regarding PageMaker’s capabilities. Most people who used both programs preferred PageMaker, but that didn’t seem to help Aldus, and their dwindling revenues eventually led to their acquisition in 1995 by Adobe, which re-introduced PageMaker as Adobe PageMaker and subsequently updated it to version 6, 6.5, and finally 7 in 2001. Then, Adobe rebranded the next version of PageMaker to Adobe InDesign. InDesign was developed in Seattle by the PageMaker product team. The last released version of Adobe InDesign is CC 2023 (18.2.1) from March 2023.

Biography of Paul Brainerd

Brainerd family fishing around their cabin in the national forest at Diamond Lake
Brainerd family fishing around their cabin in the national forest at Diamond Lake, middle 1950s (Phil (left), Sherry and Paul Brainerd)

Paul Brainerd was born on 17 November 1947 in Medford, a small timber and agricultural-dependent town in Southern Oregon, to Philip (Phil) Franklin Brainerd (1913-1995) and Leta VerNetta Brainerd (1919-2017). Paul grew up working in his parents’ portrait studio and camera shop on Main Street where he learned about business and customer service. The family was not wealthy, but the importance of giving was deeply instilled in Paul and Sherry (his five years younger sister) from a young age. They had a cabin in the national forest at Diamond Lake where spent many days each summer, and the kids were free to roam the woods, exploring the streams and trails and encountering the wild creatures that lived there (see the nearby image).

Paul was an above-average student in high school and played some basketball and football. He used his interest in photography to contribute to the high school yearbook. In 1966 he enrolled in the University of Oregon business administration program. As a student, Paul worked on the college paper, the Oregon Daily Emerald, and got involved in the business, technical, and editorial side of printing and publishing. Learning that a Springfield newspaper was not using its presses at night, he got the Emerald to shift from linotype to the more efficient offset process, saving 50 percent on production costs. This allowed for an expanded paper, causing the student staff to complain about having so many pages to fill. He also organized the Emerald into a not-for-profit corporation, establishing its independence from the University.

In 1970 Brainerd earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business and went on to the University of Minnesota for a Master of Arts degree in journalism with a minor in business (which he got in 1975), where helped manage the school paper there, and then got a job as an assistant to the operations director for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. At the Star Tribune, where he worked for seven years (1973-1980), Paul started working with Atex, a Boston company that was computerizing many of the steps of newspaper production, where he wrote the specifications for the word processing system used by major magazines and newspapers. Brainerd moved to the Northwest where Atex had a research and manufacturing center in Redmond. Kodak bought Atex and closed the Redmond operation in January 1984. Kodak offered Brainerd a job in Boston, but he declined the move and lost his job. He told his mother, “I’ll either be very rich by the time I’m 40, or I’ll be very poor”.

Paul Brainerd
Paul Brainerd in the late 1980s

So, at the beginning of 1984, unemployed but with a small nest egg funded by Atex stocks, Brainerd launched his own tech company, hiring four of his laid-off colleagues. Brainerd recounted: “We gave ourselves the task of doing the business plan, building the prototype, writing the functional specification, and raising the money that we’d need to continue. We literally had six months to do it because we only had roughly $100000 in capital, which is what I put up. The engineers worked at half salary and I worked for no salary.” In the summer of 1984, Brainerd set out to raise money for Aldus and their PageMaker product. He pitched to venture capitalists in Seattle and Silicon Valley. Forty-nine turned him down. With only $5000 left in the bank, the 50th, which included former Apple Computer executives, said yes.

After the success of Aldus Corporation in the late 1980s, in 1991, Brainerd stepped out of day-to-day management of the company, to focus on long-term and strategic planning. He had to come back and take over two years later when the company posted quarterly losses. His search for a new executive team led to a breakfast meeting with leaders from Adobe, manufacturer of the PostScript Printer language. In March 1994, Brainerd announced that Aldus would merge with Adobe. He traded his job and three million shares of Aldus in for a seat on the Adobe board and anywhere from $88 million to $112 million in Adobe stock.

Out of work once again, Brainerd formed the Brainerd Foundation to organize and fund a number of groups with an environmental focus. He spoke out and wrote to focus attention on solutions to issues such as global warming. In 1997 Brainerd founded Social Ventures Partners, an organization that works by matching philanthropists, who provide funding and mentorship, with local community organizations. In 2000, Brainerd founded Islandwood, an environmental learning center created to improve access to meaningful, nature-based learning experiences for the region’s children. In 2018, Brainerd founded Camp Glenorchy, an accommodation provider that operates in Glenorchy, New Zealand.

Paul Brainerd is a good man, who very successfully turned from money-making to do-gooding. Respect!