Collaborative Authoring with Adobe InDesign
We just presented a webinar on the topic of “Editing InDesign Documents Online,” and it provides a summary of why you would edit InDesign documents online, along with demonstrations of how you can do so, through an online interface with our Silicon Designer product. Here’s the webinar:
Most of the content about the “why” was created by the great Jeff Seal, a few years ago. It is truly timeless. The Silicon Designer product, however, doesn’t sit still. It meets the challenges of scaling collaborative design, offering ever-greater capabilities with each passing year.
In preparing the webinar, I noticed that Jeff had used the title “How to Share InDesign Files” for his presentation, and I think that’s a great way of looking at it.
Why do designers and Adobe InDesign exist in the first place?
Organizations need documents, and the almost universal, lowest-common-denominator requirement is for marketing collateral: business cards, product flyers, postcards, etc. Considering only this fundamental use case, there are good reasons that Adobe InDesign has evolved into the magnificent application that it is today, and creative geniuses engage this powerful tool to make these important materials on a daily basis, all over the world.
Most organizations care quite a bit about defining their brand, and this is where designers truly earn their keep. This is because the majority of the rest of us mere mortals do not have a brilliant design sense, and very few of have managed to master Adobe InDesign, which is omnipotent only to the extent that you learn how to master its capabilities.
When left to their own devices, salespeople might create documents like these, ranging all over the map in terms of design:
This is where designers can save the day, by defining and maintaining (often tenaciously defending) a brand identity. But design workflows face challenges as organizations scale: if salespeople are not able to get updated content fast enough, they may revert to doing things themselves. This is where the “how” of sharing InDesign files becomes critical.
Three ways InDesign files are commonly “shared”
InDesign is a desktop application, so “sharing files” can typically mean one of three things, if you haven’t web-enabled the workflow:
- Two or more authors/designers pass a file back and forth (typically using packaging, which includes copies of assets and fonts), or by opening the same file and saving it back to the same location.
- In an editorial workflow, multiple authors work in InCopy to edit stories, which are managed in a central InDesign file for publication.
- A single designer maintains the InDesign file, but receives edits from non-designers. These can come all sorts of ways, but typically the salespeople or others requesting content changes don’t touch the InDesign file themselves. Rather, the content is shared: Marketing owns the brand guidelines, Business Owners define the pricing, Legal defines disclaimers, etc. The designer maintains the InDesign files and implements edits based on a conglomeration of input via emails, phone calls, PDF annotations, etc.
The third scenario is what we presented in the webinar, as it is what we see most in the real world. But web-enabling the workflow can make sense in any of these scenarios.
Enter Silicon Designer: edit InDesign files online!
Silicon Designer is a solution for editing InDesign files online. While Adobe InDesign is a significant component of Silicon Designer, the solution assumes InDesign, and adds three modules to it:
- A web-client, with a customizable user interface.
- A back end composition engine that renders output exactly as seen in the web client.
- A web services engine that communicates between client and composition engine.
It also includes documentation about setting up InDesign files for editing, and an optional plugin for InDesign that makes setup more efficient.
Web-enabling InDesign authoring workflows
Silicon Designer is built on top of InDesign Server, which is a critical component of any modern web-to-print solution. With InDesign Server, we are able to interrogate an InDesign document and instantly create a web experience based on that document.
Silicon Designer can ingest any InDesign document, and deliver an editing experience for that document, even if its creator never intended it for online editing. However, much of the power of Designer is further optimized when at least some document setup is made with an eye to eventual online editing.
Silicon Designer looks at the metadata in the inDesign file, starting with common elements that are familiar to most InDesign users: layer names, for example, can become the names of tabs or fields for data entry. Locking a layer in InDesign typically prevents users from editing content on that layer.
In cases where you need really fine-grained control, the Silicon Designer plugin for InDesign helps you define and apply “markup styles” to page objects, allowing the designer to define the editing experience in exquisite detail. Can the author edit just the style of a page item? Can the page item be moved? The setup can be as simple or as refined as you like.
Online collaboration: empowering non-designers
Once your InDesign files are made available online in this fashion, users can share content in really effective ways. A salesperson, for example, can change the price in an InDesign document without having to know anything about InDesign itself. A franchise owner can update their address (or have their address info auto-populate) on new content received from the head office. At the more creative end of the spectrum, students can design their own yearbooks.
Does the designer go away? Not at all. Instead, the designer is made more powerful. Rather than laboring over individual edits, they are in control of a more efficient process that enables direct editing by others, using templates that are a bit “smarter” than a typical InDesign document. This means that the templates not only define the design, they inform the user experience for editing as well.
The Silicon Designer user interface (UI) can range from very controlled to very free-form, giving the user greater or lesser ability to control rendition intent. There are times when online editing means moving objects, changing colors and fonts, and engaging in wild free-form creative editing, yet often the greatest feature is when the user can not alter the design intent. As I’ve written about here, limits are often your friends.
Deployment and inter-operation
Silicon Designer solves the challenge of web-enabling InDesign documents for online collaboration, yet it does not expand far into tangential functionality such as eCommerce, asset management, or workflow. Rather than trying to do everything, we built Designer to do what it does best, and interoperate with those sorts of orthogonal applications.
We can host Designer for you, or you can deploy on your own servers. Feel free to contact us to learn more, or to schedule a trial.