Editing InDesign Documents Online

Adobe InDesign is the tool of choice when it comes to creating high-quality print-ready documents. If you look at nearly any magazine or high-end printed piece these days, chances are it was created with InDesign.

While InDesign is hands down the perfect format for print (as well as for some forms of web imagery, such as infographics), it is not for everyone. In the first place, InDesign assumes a certain aptitude for design itself, and a fluency with the nuanced vocabulary of typography and layout. Even if one brings those talents, there remains the steep learning curve inherent to the InDesign software. You can do anything you can dream of creatively, but you must first learn how.

InDesign-centric collaboration

Fortunately, the designer is usually one member of a team of professionals: because documents are multi-faceted, they are typically built collaboratively. Designers with InDesign skills are essential to defining and maintaining the look and feel of a document, while the informational components of a document – the source text and selected imagery are provided by one or more content specialists. Whether an author, a business person, or legal counsel, they are usually those people with neither the time nor the inclination to get their hands dirty with InDesign.

InDesign came on the scene as a desktop software product, and to this day, more InDesign documents are created and maintained solely with it, rather than through any web-based form of collaboration.

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Whether by email, marked-up hard copy, or PDFs exchanged through a web portal, content owners and stakeholders will typically inform designers of changes to the document at the center of this shared activity. The all-powerful InDesign expert manages everything about the document: for example, they can quite easily change any any piece of text, and they also have complete control over style and layout. Because of it's flexibility, InDesign does not mandate or prescribe a single best practice for collaborative authoring.

The limits of desktop-only workflow

As organizations grow, and the number of users providing input to documents increases, the workflow in which disparate authors are focused around a central InDesign resource (whether an individual or a team of designers) can encounter challenges:

  • The process of communicating content or design changes is often time-consuming and inefficient.
  • Errors can be introduced through mis-communication.
  • Designers may bypass validation processes, thanks to InDesign's free-form nature.

At this point, it becomes clear why Adobe introduced a server form of the InDesign product, and why InDesign was made extremely extensible, allowing it to support easy automation of authoring and publishing processes.

Liberation: separating content from presentation

InDesign Server enables online editing workflows that let designers control the style of a document, while content authors and business users control the content in parallel. This is accomplished by separating the two dimensions of the document:

  • Content; the text and images maintained by authors
  • Rendition intent; the style catalog and layout maintained by designers

Solutions built with InDesign Server, such as Silicon Designer, define a fully-automated process of making InDesign templates  (which are created in desktop InDesign), available to content authors via a web-based interface. Typically, the authors are not able to change much, if anything, about document design, which is usually a good thing, as brand guidelines can be rigorously enforced. Also, having the content in a form that can be automatically validated, or directly coupled to a database, helps to minimize errors.

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This effectively lets all participants in the content creation process do what they do best: business owners and content authors maintain the text and image selection, while designers control how that content is expressed and delivered.

Upload, edit, publish

The workflow can be very simple: Silicon Designer, for example, lets users upload any arbitrary InDesign document into an editable experience, while the editing interface is created automatically, on the fly. By default, all text becomes editable, every image swappable, and authors are able to immediately begin editing InDesign content.

Beyond this simplest & fastest approach, the experience can become much more nuanced and fine-tuned. With just a bit of adjustment to the source InDesign file, text frames can be non-editable, or editable through a special form of interface, bound to a specific data source, etc.

Advanced features: blurring the line

The absolute separation between content and presentation can also be made less rigorous: perhaps the user is allowed to add inline formatting like bold or italic, or can apply paragraph or character styles. Or even crop or scale images. Such levels of authoring flexibility can be determined entirely by the InDesign file that is uploaded into the system.

At its extreme, Silicon Designer can even allow complete creative freedom, behaving something like "InDesign in a web browser." Yet that is not the point, generally speaking. If you need to use InDesign, it's best to simply use the desktop product. Web-based editing is so valuable precisely because it is not InDesign: it is far easier to learn, and provides just the right experience for editors & authors, with features and options driven by their roles in the publishing process.

Designers are still central to the process, but in a new, more powerful, role. Instead of fixating on the final output of individual documents, they define templates that include rules for how the content flowing into them will behave: copy-fit logic or pagination logic, for example, to define automated rules ensuring correct output regardless of the size of input received from content authors. Silicon Designer and other robust online editing solutions give designers many ways to ensure success when authors change content: they define a minimal resolution for output, for instance, and Designer automatically warns the user if they try to scale an uploaded image beyond the defined number of dots per inch. Designers set general rules that control the system, rather than applying these same rules over and over manually.

Next Steps

If you're thinking of building an online editing solution, especially one based on Adobe InDesign, we'd be happy to talk with you. We have been building online editing solutions based on InDesign Server since the product arrived on the scene in 2005, and such solutions have advanced in capability and ease of deployment with every passing year. Today, InDesign Server is more widely adopted today than at any other point in its history, as organizations find value in collaborative content workflows that efficiently deliver branded, accurate, and timely documents.

 

 

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