Adobe InDesign is the tool of choice for creating high-quality print-ready documents. These days, nearly every magazine or high-end printed piece was created with InDesign.
While InDesign is hands-down the perfect application for print design (as well as for some forms of web imagery, such as infographics), it’s not for everyone. It requires an aptitude for design and a fluency with the nuanced vocabularies of typography and layout. And even if you have those skills, InDesign comes with a steep learning curve. You can do anything you dream up creatively, but first you must learn how.
Fortunately, because documents are multi-faceted, they are typically built collaboratively by a team of professionals. Designers with InDesign skills are essential to defining and maintaining the look and feel of a document, while the informational components — the source text and imagery — are provided by one or more content specialists. Whether these are authors, business people, or legal counsel, they’re usually 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 the desktop product than through any web-based form of collaboration.
Content owners and stakeholders typically send emails, marked-up hard copies, or annotated PDFs to inform designers of changes to the document at the center of this shared activity. Designers, the InDesign experts, manage everything about the document. For example, they can easily change any piece of text, and they have complete control over style and layout. Because of its flexibility, InDesign doesn’t mandate or prescribe a single best practice for collaborative authoring.
The limits of desktop-only workflow
As organizations grow and the number of people providing input to documents increases, workflows in which multiple authors focus on a central InDesign resource (whether an individual or a team of designers) can encounter the following challenges:
- The process of communicating content or design changes is often time-consuming and inefficient.
- Errors can be introduced through miscommunication.
- Designers may bypass validation processes, thanks to InDesign’s free-form nature.
At this point, it’s easy to see why Adobe introduced a server form of InDesign. It’s also clear why the company made InDesign 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. The solution accomplishes this by separating the two dimensions of the document:
- Content — the text and images maintained by authors
- Style — 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 aren’t able to change much, if anything, about the templates’ design, and this allows designers to rigorously enforce brand guidelines. Also, by keeping the content in a form that can be automatically validated or directly coupled to a database, the solution helps to minimize errors.
InDesign Server solutions enable every participant in the content creation process to do what they do best: business owners and content authors maintain the text and image selection, while designers control how that content is visually expressed and delivered.
Upload, edit, publish
The workflow can be very simple. For example, Silicon Designer users can upload any InDesign document into an editable experience while the editing interface is created automatically, on the fly. By default, all text becomes editable, every image becomes swappable, and authors can immediately begin editing the content.
Users can go beyond this quick and easy approach to create workflows that are much more nuanced. With just a bit of adjustment to the source InDesign file, they can make text frames, images, and branded areas non-editable. The components can be made editable and even connected to a specific data source through a special form of interface.
Advanced features: blurring the line
Solutions like Silicon Designer also allow for flexibility. For example, content authors can be allowed to add inline formatting such as bold or italic, apply paragraph or character styles, or even crop / scale images. Levels of authoring flexibility can be determined entirely by the InDesign file that’s uploaded into the system.
At its extreme, Silicon Designer can even give complete creative freedom to all document contributors, behaving something like “InDesign in a web browser.” However, if you need that type of creative freedom, it’s best to simply use the desktop product. Web-based editing is valuable precisely because it’s not InDesign: there is no learning curve and it provides just the right self-service experience for editors and authors, with features and options driven by their roles in the publishing process.
Designers are still central to the process, but they play 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. For example, if they define a minimal resolution for output, Designer automatically warns the user if they try to scale an uploaded image beyond the defined number of dots per inch. Designer is also excellent for ensuring that content is in compliance with regulations.
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’ve been building solutions based on InDesign Server since the product arrived on the scene in 2005, and our solutions have advanced in capability and ease of deployment with every passing year. Today, InDesign Server is more widely adopted than at any other point in its history, as organizations find value in collaborative content workflows that efficiently deliver branded, accurate, and timely documents.