Swipe files and what’s cheating?

Random notes on being a student:

As I mentioned, I’m back in school on Mondays and Wednesdays (I’m in the office late those days so Miracle and Zoe are picking up the slack). I signed up to take a class on InDesign, the notoriously non-intuitive Adobe program. I’ve never taken a computer class in my life and resent that the user interface of these programs is so poorly designed that only extreme personal dedication would allow one to learn on their own. I am a stupid ingrate. I should shut up (!) and stop complaining. As a student, I bought the entire creative suite for peanuts. A measly $230 as compared to $1,200 for the whole package. It’s worth taking the class for the discount alone. I could have just bought an upgrade (I have Pagemaker 6.5) but even considering the cost of the class and books, the class was still less expensive than the price of the upgrade. I tell you, education is such a bargain. Accordingly, when I was eyeing the other kinds of software available for purchase in the bookstore (AutoCad!), it occurred to me that I just may continue to take some computing classes for awhile… Yes, I know that the edu versions of the software have some features disabled but I don’t care about those features anyway so it works out for me.

Being in a classroom again is interesting in many ways. Of course everyone is at least 20 years younger than me except for another old lady (like me) that I sit next to. We’re slower than everyone else and spot each other. Another student is bright and charming but deaf and -I’m sure- an aspie so he talks really LOUD. He’s trying to impress a young girl -with an annoying purple eyebrow piercing, I keep wanting to brush whatever that is away from her eyes- who sits behind me and it’s all I can do to keep from passing him a brochure in the hopes it’ll up his chances. When not surveying the social landscape aka being a busybody, I find I’m spending as much time analyzing the instructor’s method of instruction with an eye towards improving my blog visitors learning and retention as well as my own tutorials. I’ve picked up a couple of tips from the instructor that I’m looking forward to using.

Speaking of, we’re supposed to start this thing called a “swipe file” which I’d never heard of and it wasn’t explained so I googled it -I tell you, kids today have it so much better than we did!- and found out that it’s the practice of collecting ads and copy as a resource of ideas. It’s my understanding that PR people and graphic artists have been doing this for ages. We do it too. At least I do. I have tons of pictures I’ve collected from fashion magazines; we just don’t call it “swipe filing”. I suppose we should. It’s more honest. My first swipe file assignment was to collect 3 ads with good alignment so I picked up my most recent copy of Co-op America and I was genuinely surprised at how bad the ads were. I’d never noticed before. Or at least, I never had a vocabulary or parameters with which to judge them before. Since the Co-op America magazine was not going to help with my assignment, I picked up the Economist (good read by the way but I’m soooo behind). And I kid you not, I ripped out the first three ads I came to because they were good. The dichotomy between the two publications was striking. The “money” magazine had the best work. The fair trade publication had the worst. What was up with that? It shouldn’t be this way. Sad. It makes doing good works look second rate.

I’m doing okay with the mechanics and navigating the features of the program but I’m not very good at the design part of the class. I was not aware this was an “art” class. I thought it was a software class so I feel like I’ve been suckered into something I had no interest in pursuing. It really frustrates me if I have to design a layout of something. Here is a project I’m supposed to turn in on Monday. When I was sitting there fiddling with it, I just thought, why should I do this? I’m really lousy at it and I know tons of designers who could do this so much better than I can so why should I fool with it? I mean, in real life, you don’t fiddle with what you don’t do well, that’s why you hire experts. I know tons of experts, why couldn’t I just use them? But then I realized, that’s the great disconnect between school and real life. In school, you’re supposed to “do your own work” but in real life, you’d work in a team and just do your part of it, excellently of course. And I decided that maybe some people have a hard time letting go and hiring experts to help them in this business because school socialized them into thinking that hiring help is like cheating. Well, it may be cheating in school (maybe the system of student work interaction needs to change?) but in real life, it’s smart.

Maybe I already told you this story before but I used to do this introductory 2 hour seminar called Manufacturing 101 and I’d start the class by passing out a quiz. Which we’d then grade of course, the questions being the source of the class discussion. One time, I had three ladies who all worked together who took the class. They owned a garment laundering and processing facility, washing mostly denim so they did a lot of work for the local 5 pocket outfits. That’s what jeans are called in the trade by the way, 5 pocket. Anyway, these chicas were all copying off of each other’s quizzes, passing their papers back and forth, hoping I wouldn’t notice. Well I noticed all right and when the test was over, I went over and confronted them about it and one tried to deny it so I gathered up their papers, and wrote a big fat 100, A+ and a big star across the top of them. I was thrilled! Yes! That is the way to do it in real life! I used them as an example to the rest of the class. See, these ladies already worked in the business. They already knew that singularly they couldn’t answer all the questions correctly but collectively, they stood a chance at getting them all right. Now, in real life, who’s going to be more profitable? People who already know they don’t know and who will actively work with other people to get the work done correctly. Isn’t that what matters? In real life, it’s not how smart you are that matters. What matters is being smart enough to know who does know the answer and where and how to find them.

Now, who’s going to do my homework? It’s due on Monday :).

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  1. Cinnamon says:

    Kathleen, I’m an InDesign guru, I use it all day long working for a textbook publisher. I can try to help you with questions you have but I’ll admit that I’m often confusing when explaining steps via writing.

    And I have to disagree that this is an unintuitive program. I think its very intuitive. I’ve tought myself how to use it, and I have all the other programs in the Adobe fleet. But the one time I sat down to do something with CAD and I was painfully frustrated. Different brain processes I suppose.

    And your comments about collaboration really hit home. Excellent sentiments that I agree whole-heartedly about.

    If you don’t have the Visual Quickstart Guide for InDesign I would recommend checking it out of your library or buying it if you plan on using the software for your next book. And if you like I’d be happy to look at the template for your next book and offer suggestions to make things look better or go smoother for you. I’m not a designer, that’s not my forte at all. But I love making templates using InDesign. Love it! Making paragraph styles gives me a sick thrill.

  2. andrea says:

    It’s funny that you noticed the difference in quality of ads. Usually that can be attributed to the fact that national advertisers hire ad agencies and smaller companies rely on the publication to compose their ads or try to do it themselves. BTW, if you really want to nail great layout, study the Golden Mean…it’s a Greek thing. It is supposed to mirror nature’s perfect most pleasing proportions in composition. There is a Disney short about it wherein Donald Duck tells you all about it. My college color and design teacher showed it to us and I still use the principals today. It was in preparation for a mandala project.

  3. Jess says:

    You could use my free Rock Star dingbat for the concert themed flyer, hehe.
    I’ve been teaching myself php and mysql so my font site is easier to update. I’m surprised that I’m actually doing well at it.

  4. Judith says:

    Of course everyone is 20 years younger. My dh went back to school 2 yrs ago and he feels the same way you do. Everyone is 20 yrs younger “I’m old!!! Now he in his 3rd year of college and more of the students are his age and some are older. It has been proven that the average age of a college student is around 35. I cant remember where dh found this info. I have always heard this in sociology classes. I remember hearing this when I first went to college at 19, ( I was trying to get an education so I could leave my husband) I needed an education so I could get a good job and support myself. This did not work out tho.
    Swipe file, interesting I have never heard of this term. I have been doing this for years and did not know. I have some magazine pictures from 1981. Dh, was just talking about my old magazine pictures (tonight) that I save for years. He said tonight ” You cant buy that stuff now so could you just throw the pictures away??? I told him no I can not. I will tell him about this Swipe file tomorrow. There must be something wrong with me. I can’t tell when adds are bad. I wonder if this has something to do with art??? Im not good at that. Kathleen I could not help you with your homework sorry. I know nothing about what you are taking. My dh had to help me 4 yrs ago with my computer class. Thank gawd for all his help. I got a B. My dh helped me last year in my facial class. I passed this too. Dh is now going to help me with the nail program. Dh is in the nursing program.
    Dh and I were talking about school tonight he was saying he has such a crap memory. He said he has learned some things to help him memorize and learn the things he needs to know for tests and the future. He just learned this stuff this year. He said he going show me some of this stuff this weekend. Kathleen, I dont see why you cant call up someone and get some help with this school project. It’s not like you are asking them to do it for you, you just need some help. What matters is being smart enough…
    I agree with this. 50/50 ask the audience and phone a friend!!!! Bon chance with your project.

  5. Joan says:

    I love your Manufacturing 101 quiz story. It’s refreshing to hear an example of reality being reinforced in an education setting.

    I wish you were my instructor while I was in school. I might have felt better about being a thinker rather than a follower who was ‘taught’ by memorizing reference materials. My argument of ‘they call it reference materials for a reason’ never went over very well with my instructors.

    Love your blog!


  6. Diane says:

    Aha! I’ve been swiping for years and confess that my “file” is really a messy stack. Kathleen, try to have some fun with this class. As a technician, left brain work comes easy to you and now you have to integrate the right brain to complete the tasks. This left-right connection is tricky for ALL of us!

  7. jocole says:

    ahhh “swipe files” although when i was in school we called it “scrap”. regardeless, wonderful stuff, i have notebooks and notebooks.

    it’s always nice to be reassured that you dont need to know everything and that you should ask for help. i have the problem thinking that i have to do it all on my own. thanks for the pep-talk kathleen.

  8. katie says:


    I can’t believe I stumbled across your blog! I bought your book (2 years ago?) and have made everyone I know even considering entering this business buy it!

    In school, they also called it “swipe”, but when I started working they called it “tear sheets” or simply “tears”.

    I wish you had been one of my teachers…maybe I wouldn’t feel so guilty and shameful all of the time asking for help or confessing that there are things that I don’t know!

  9. Pam M. says:

    The term “swipe files” is very well known in the copywriting field. Many pro copywriters use this term all the time when suggesting to cut out ads that have great copy that work. They basically “swipe” the idea and change it around a bit to fit whatever they are writing for.

  10. Georgene says:

    I just got back from an InDesign workshop this afternoon. After 6 hours, I have a headache. I have found the program invaluable for my work, especially communicating with factories overseas. Everybody can open up a .pdf file.

    I have only self, and ‘DH taught’ rudimentary skills though, and was hoping for shortcuts and tips to make things go more smoothly.

    They say if you learn something and then go to sleep, you retain better. I think I will go take a nap.

  11. hannahy says:

    Kathleen, I just came across your blog and am so ecstatic about all of the invaluable info you so graciously bestow… i must be honest by saying that this will sound completely “newbie” only because honestly, that’s what i am. i just ordered your book and can’t wait to read it (after oct 6)!

    I am just entering the business as a designer and am taking all of the standard 1st steps in creating prototypes of my design: fabric sourcing research, pattern making info (i don’t sew :( ), concept to customer plan, business plan, etc. etc. what i need to ask is if learning adobe indesign is necessary?? i read on another of your blogs that learning CAD is not – and the importance of hiring help when something is not your forte of which complex computer programs are not. I have been told by others that i should learn CAD, but then i suppose this is a subjective opinion. however, is it good to know design peice or photoshop for tech packs? (sorry – complete newbie) i am very willing to learn what i need to, but have the tendency to get into things sometimes because i don’t fully understand their uses and find out later there is a different route i could’ve taken that somebody more seasoned would’ve known. i don’t want to come off as lazy – i just need proper information on the necessities of buying an expensive program and also taking the classes (which i would definitely have to do) and if there are people that you can hire to help out where these programs come in to play?

    I apologize for my naive question in the midst of all of the other ones. I’m sure i will also learn more about all of this in your book and in continued research of your site…Thank you so much again for what you do for people at all levels of this industry!

  12. Kathleen says:

    what i need to ask is if learning adobe indesign is necessary?? i read on another of your blogs that learning CAD is not – and the importance of hiring help when something is not your forte of which complex computer programs are not. I have been told by others that i should learn CAD, but then i suppose this is a subjective opinion. however, is it good to know design peice or photoshop for tech packs?

    It is not necessary to learn adobe indesign. I’m learning it as a function of being a publisher and writer of instructional material, I want the stuff I put together to be more professional. It is not due to a function needed in the apparel industry.

    Learning CAD wouldn’t hurt but again, it’s not necessary. I mean, I don’t much CAD either.

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