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A Step-by-step Approach to Designing Templates in InDesign

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This chapter walks you through each step in the template design process and forges a path toward the successful completion of any template in InDesign.
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NOW THAT THE CONCEPT OF TEMPLATES AND THE PRINCIPLES OF THEIR DESIGN have been thoroughly defined, it’s time to learn the steps involved in designing a template. For your template to be successful, it must follow a clear path of development. Although this can be a rigorous process, the payoff is well worth the time and effort.

Designing a template is much like designing anything else. The project’s objectives are established first. Then a preliminary mock-up layout is developed. After that, the actual template is constructed and then thoroughly tested to ensure everything functions as anticipated. Finally, the template can be implemented into a live production workflow.

This chapter walks you through each step in the template design process and forges a path toward the successful completion of any template.

Step 1: Define Your Objectives

They key to successful template design is starting with a clearly defined set of objectives. Before constructing any template, you must step back and gather as much information as possible that will influence the choices made during its construction. After you’ve outlined the project’s objectives, the template can be optimally constructed to serve its intended purpose, and the subsequent phases in the design process should run smoothly. Even just a few hours of planning can save weeks of development time.

Three essential requirements need to be taken into consideration: design requirements, workflow requirements, and printing requirements.

Design Requirements

You need to be intimate with the publication’s design for which you’re constructing a template. If the design is still a work in progress, it’s better to wait until it has been approved before constructing the template, or you’ll be wasting valuable time and effort. The more specific the definition of the design, the more directed your efforts can be at designing a complete template.

When gathering design requirements, start with the obvious. Look at the overall page format and determine its dimensions, orientation, and arrangement (single-page or spreads). Notice how the margins and columns are set up across different layout variations. Then move on to identify the textual content and ascertain the formatting applied to each element, including the typeface, size, leading, color, word spacing, and so on. Also, identify all the graphical content, including illustrations, images, charts, and tables. Determine the formatting applied to each one and establish rules for cropping, scaling, and positioning. If the publication contains advertisements, note all the possible sizes and arrangements.

Look for other special design requirements that need to be considered. Does the publication call for a table of contents or index? Is the publication printed in multiple languages? If so, what elements of the design change from one language version to the next?

Identify any other information that influences or limits your layout choices. Does the template need to be flexible enough to allow for different design options? Or, should the template impose more structure?

Overall, you want to gain a sense of what is required to produce each element in the publication. Each publication is unique, so make sure you account for everything.

Workflow Requirements

Anything that affects the sequence of assembly is a workflow requirement. Gather any special requirements that have an effect on the way the template is constructed. Although it’s not possible to predict every situation, here’s a list of some common factors to consider:

  • In what order will the various design elements be produced? The answer to this question helps you effectively organize the template, making it easier to produce the publication the template is designed for. For example, by knowing the order in which style sheets will be applied, you can optimize their organization by placing frequently used styles toward the top of the list and collecting them into style groups. The same goes for setting up master pages, object libraries, and color swatches. Name and organize them in a way that makes them easier to locate as you need them.

  • Are multiple designers producing the publication? If so, you might need to break up the publication into separate InDesign documents and create a book file to collect the documents together and keep the page numbers, style sheets, swatches, master pages, and other items in sync. It’s also necessary to create a book file when producing long documents, such as books and catalogs.

  • Are other designers using an older version of InDesign? If so, you are restricted by the tools you use, since you’ll need to utilize tools that are compatible with the older version. Tools such as InDesign CS3’s new transparency effects, table and cell styles, frame fitting options, and text variables are not compatible with InDesign CS2.

  • Are there elements that must be produced with Photoshop or Illustrator? If so, consider the use of native file formats, which have many benefits that other file formats don’t have. All the layer information is preserved, so you can control the visibility of individual layers within InDesign. Transparency is preserved, so you can import a graphic without first having to flatten it. It’s also easier to edit a graphic and quickly update the modified link.

  • Does the publication utilize transparency effects? If the publication uses drop shadows, gradient feathers, or other transparency effects, you’ll need to be aware of this when constructing the template to make sure the final document will be properly flattened when printing. For example, since type can interact with transparent objects in unexpected ways, it’s common practice to create an extra layer for textual elements that is located above all the layers containing transparent objects and effects.

  • Is the publication printed in multiple languages? When more than one language in a document exists, you might set up different paragraph and character styles with language-specific settings and the appropriate language dictionary for each language. Also, consider the use of layers to keep the different language content separate, which facilitates production and printing.

  • Will the publication be automated with Data Merge, XML, or another technology? Templates that employ an automated solution have special setup requirements. So, it’s important to know well in advance whether or not your publication will be automated.

  • Will the final content be repurposed for use in another form, such as on a Web site or mobile device? If so, consider using InDesign’s XML tools in your template solution. Or if you plan to export the final content directly to an XHTML document, you’ll need to carefully set up your template to ensure the most optimal export results.

Printing Requirements

It’s especially important to determine the publication’s printing requirements, because they have a big affect on the decisions you make during the template construction process. Also, knowing this information ahead of time allows you to significantly minimize, if not totally eliminate, possible printing problems down the road. Talk with your print service provider about anything you need clarification on. To get you started, here are some common requirements to take into account:

  • Color. Does the publication call for spot colors, process colors, or both? You don’t want to use spot colors if the publication doesn’t use them. Although this seems obvious, you’ll be surprised how often a spot color sneaks its way into a document.

    If the publication is intended for RGB output only, such as a PDF download from a Web site, you’ll want to create RGB swatches and remove CMYK swatches from the Swatches panel. It’s also a good idea to specify the Document RGB color space in the template so that colors of transparent objects are properly blended. Choose Edit > Transparency Blend Space > Document RGB.

    If the publication will be printed in grayscale, your job is even easier. Just make sure that any images and graphics you’ll be importing are in grayscale format so the printing process can be accelerated.

  • Color Management. Will your template be used in a specific color-managed workflow? If so, make sure the template’s color management settings are properly configured.

  • Fonts. Determine which fonts the publication uses and make sure there are no problems with the font files, such as incomplete PostScript fonts and protected fonts, which have license restrictions and cannot be embedded in PDF or EPS files. Also, make sure the fonts are properly licensed, installed, and activated.

  • Bleed. Do images print to the edge of the page? If so, you’ll need to specify the appropriate bleed settings in your template.

  • Resolution. Consider the medium of final distribution and determine the appropriate resolution for all the images that will be imported. Commercial printing requires a resolution within the range of 150 ppi to 300 ppi, depending on the press and screen frequency being used. Desktop printing requires a resolution within the range of 72 ppi to 150 ppi.

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