Designing for Online Editing
We just had a webinar about how designers prepare templates for online editing, and the recording is below.
It was great to get the designers' perspective, so we invited two of the best designers on the planet to share their point of view: Greg Wasmuth of CoCreators Group and Scott Citron from Scott Citron Design.
Extending the InDesign Document Model
Before introducing the designers, I set the stage. It all starts with Adobe InDesign, and much of what we're doing builds upon established practices: more than half of the designer's work in an online editing solution is largely the same as building a template as they normally would for print or graphic output.
The basic (visual) model: defining rendition intent
Most such "classic" InDesign work leverages the InDesign document model. When a template is created, it defines the visual and rendition characteristics of the document: the geometry of the page; the image frames and text frames; the referenced style catalogs; swatches; stories of text, etc. The designer uses these to define the visual characteristics of the document.
Working within the "normal" document constructs is all you need to do to produce basic print or graphic output, and a basic editing experience can be generated automatically without going further than specifying the visual dimensions of the output.
However, web editing experiences often go far beyond the rudimentary features like editing text and swapping images. Say you don't want all the text on the page to be editable? Or you want to define copy fit logic for one text frame, while not allowing copy fit in another? Maybe a date on a document would be best edited with a date picker? All these things can be accomplished, thanks to advanced features of the InDesign product.
The other side of the document: informing user interface
Adobe InDesign was built to be completely extensible. Out of the box, there are numerous ways you can put information into an InDesign document that have nothing at all to do with the ultimate visual or rendition intent. This information is generally known as "metadata," and it can be stored inside InDesign files in a variety of ways.
For example, simply naming layers is an act of entering metadata: you don't see layer names in a document's PDF or PNG output. However, layer-naming can be a big part of defining a web experience: layer names can tell the browser-based application whether items on that layer are editable or not, or the layer name can be accessible to the editing experience in a variety of ways. Beyond such familiar features, there are more esoteric options available within standard InDesign such as script labels, and advanced forms of metadata that can only be created and accessed with code.
You can also assign metadata at different levels: "document-level" metadata might specify the list of swatches or paragraph styles, which may be transferred to the editing experience, while "object-level" metadata can define parameters like "this text frame should be edited like this," or "this vector art should have these color options," or "the text field in this frame should come from a date-picker." Among these document-level and object-level settings, a designer has the tools to define the nuanced subtleties of how these documents can be edited.
The complete picture: rendition and associated metadata
Silicon Designer is built to ingest the document and its metadata, using a format we call "SDXML" (Silicon Designer XML). Although you don't need to know the details, the point of SDXML is that it combines information bout the document itself — all of its visual characteristics — with associated metadata (indicating the designer's decisions about how the document should be edited), to produce an online editing experience.
To make all of this as easy as possible, Silicon Designer includes a tool for marking up a document, which called the Template Markup Tool. This lets you define document-level configuration for editing, as well as item-level detail, defining how each object on the page should be edited.
Greg Wasmuth: making InDesign editable online
I have worked with Greg Wasmuth since 2002, and while he has never been a Silicon Publishing employee, we've collaborated on so many projects throughout his years at Modern Postcard, Mindfire, Aspen Marketing, Epsilon, and now his own company CoCreators Group, that he is effectively an extension of our team. Having contributed to a number of Silicon Designer deployments, Greg has made several contributions to improving the product, especially in the ways that we empower designers to set up templates.
Greg explains, in the above webinar, the nuts and bolts of template setup: using our template markup tool, which is a plugin to InDesign, designers apply a "markup style" to any objects they want to make editable.
Markup styles are a lot like paragraph styles, in that under the hood they store a great deal of information: can the item be moved, scaled, rotated, deleted? Can formatting be changed? Like a paragraph a style, the application of one style to an object gives precise detail as to behavior, although with markup styles this impacts editing behavior, as opposed to rendition intent.
Once you've set up your InDesign document using the template markup tool, the tool then creates a special kind of InDesign package, which is uploaded into the Silicon Designer administration module. The server then does its magic of creating an editing experience just as you've defined.
When users are done with an editing session, they can deliver whatever sort of output they like: PDF, InDesign, JPG, PNG. The output is generated from Adobe InDesign Server: nothing special needs to be installed on the user's desktop. Because we use InDesign Server, we are able to generate the highest-quality output using literally the same composition engine that designers overwhelmingly prefer: Adobe InDesign.
Scott Citron: designing for the gamut of use cases
We have always been in awe of Scott Citron's work; he's one of those creative geniuses who can work across different styles and temperaments, from highly-branded, "constrained" content for the largest corporations, to highly-expressive, unrestrained art supporting an ambitious creative vision. Scott created three documents for this webinar, demonstrating the range of situations we encounter, and the ways designers configure templates for different use cases.
At the more constrained end of the spectrum, the Real Estate postcard is a natural and common document type for online editing. Here, you generally want to enforce brand guidelines, so formatting options are more limited. Designers, therefore, will apply markup styles that allow for content changes, but minimize the user's ability to change styles. In this document the legal disclaimers can not be edited, and most text can be edited but not styled/moved: only the main heading is open for some creative changes, if desired.
InDesign is increasingly used to design web assets, and the same can be said of documents edited in Silicon Designer. Banner ads are natural candidates for online design. With Scott's Facebook ad example, we see the use of non-printing objects. The buttons at the bottom of the document are not going to render in the final output, but are there as visual cues to give the person editing online the context to the output: it is also possible, with Silicon Designer, to toggle that layer on or off.
Finally, Scott came up with an example of the classic use case for "free form" editing: school yearbooks. Here, creativity and freedom are the order of the day. Once you let users experience total design freedom — where anything can be moved, rotated, or styled — you need tooling to manage the chaos. That is why Designer has alignment tools, snap-to-grid functionality, and guides; all to let online designers express their creative freedom with responsibility.
Since its inception, Silicon Designer has made creative professionals all-powerful in controlling the online editing experience. We are thankful to work with talents such as Greg and Scott, who inform the direction of the product and keep it safe for the real world. If you would to discuss further with any of us, links are below: