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Interview with Diane Burns and Sandee Cohen on Digital Publishing with Adobe InDesign CC

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Diane Burns and Sandee Cohen, authors of Digital Publishing with Adobe InDesign CC, answer interview questions for designers about moving from print to digital format and layout.

Peachpit: What’s the most important thing designers need to understand when moving from print to digital?

Diane Burns: First and foremost, I think, is to understand that digital publishing is still relatively new, certainly compared to print, and it is still evolving at a rapid pace. There is no one format or one answer as to which of the possible digital formats you should choose. When your client or your company says, “I want it on the iPad!” there is no single choice that will be the right choice for every situation.

Whether you choose to move your print publication to interactive PDF, reflowable layout ePub, fixed layout ePub, or an app depends on so many details. You need to determine who your audience is, whether your want your publication in a store, such as Apple iTunes, whether or not you want interactivity, and on what device(s) you want your publication to be viewed. You have to look at resources, especially regarding who is going to make the digital publication. It almost always involves additional steps.

So the first step is really to learn about what options are available and how each format differs from the others. This issue is really why we wrote our book. It is intended as a guide for print designers who are moving beyond print to the digital world. When we discuss the various features InDesign has for interactivity, for example, we try to make it clear what does and doesn’t work with each of the various formats.

It is our hope and intention that after reading our book, designers and other creative professionals will understand much more clearly which direction to go with their publications. You can’t move from print to digital without understanding, and taking, that first step.

Sandee Cohen: Pick the right format for the job—and don’t limit yourself to one format! I recently did some consulting for an author who has created an interactive PDF of a book on jazz. The PDF was perfect for all his multimedia content, but he was having trouble figuring out how to get the PDF file to play on tablets correctly—with all the movies and sounds.

I realized that a fixed layout ePub would be great for his book. Those documents can play perfectly using iBooks on the iPad. And the book doesn’t have to be sold through the Apple iBookstore.

Then I realized that a fixed layout ePub might not be able to play on the desktop. So we came up with the idea of providing two different formats when a customer buys a book. This is similar to what Peachpit does with digital books. With two formats, he’s covering more of the options for readers. This is important as no one format is right for every purpose.

We created Chapter 1 in the book as the overview that will help users pick the right format or formats.

Peachpit: What do you think designers find to be the most challenging aspect of moving from print to digital?

Diane: Initially, fear. Fear of the unknown, and of not understanding what they should be learning about. Again, this is why we wrote our book.

Sandee: I’m lucky. I worked on print advertising as well as television and radio ads. So I’ve got a good handle on how to use movies and animations in documents. One way to understand the principles of interactivity is to look at the bells and whistles in websites. See how the buttons are laid out.

I recently heard a speaker mention her company’s big mistake when creating their first interactive presentation. The buttons were laid out as very small circles that prompted actions. The problem was the circles were much too small for users to be able to click with a finger on a tablet.

Peachpit: What’s the most common mistake that print designers make when trying to apply their print skills to digital?

Sandee: Trying to fit everything on one page! Just because all the information was on one page in the magazine doesn’t mean it should be one page in a digital document. Think about the user who will have to scroll up and down, in and out, and around the page to see all the content.

I have a subscription to several magazines that have created tablet versions of their magazines. All they have done is take the print document and export it as a tablet app. It’s a horrible experience for me. I’ve pretty much given up reading those magazines. I now focus on the ones that build pages correctly for digital publishing.

Peachpit: What’s the most fun part of creating digital publications?

Diane: I think the most fun part is adding interactivity to documents. We all like to see things move, and we all enjoy a more engaging experience when consuming information. We like pressing buttons. We like seeing one thing change to another. All this and more is possible now using InDesign. We can bring our pages to life in a way that we cannot do in print.

Sandee: For me it’s the fact that InDesign’s animations can run in fixed layout ePubs. I love setting text to scroll up or down the page or create slideshows of images. I’m having a lot of fun pushing InDesign’s animation controls to do things that are not expected.

Peachpit: What parts of the book changed the most in the update from CS6 to CC? Were you surprised by any of the changes?

Sandee: Reflowable ePub changed a lot. There were many new features that make it much easier to create ePubs. In fact, any publisher that is still using CS6 is missing out on a lot of important features in reflowable ePubs.

But the HUGE change is the adding of fixed layout ePubs with animations on the page. So many people who wanted to create tablet apps will now be able to create fixed layout ePubs with almost all the same interactivity. We have a friend who has been one of the major innovators creating DPS tablet apps. He has recently written a blog post that says he is switching from DPS creation to fixed layout ePubs!

Diane: I can’t say we were surprised exactly by any of the changes. We’ve both been working with the new versions of InDesign under development since CS6, as part of Adobe’s pre-release program. As for what changed the most, there is no question that the biggest changes were in the area of ePubs.

In the case of reflowable ePubs, the kind of ePub most people are familiar with from reading them on their iPad or Kindle, there were some really significant changes made in how well InDesign was able to export a print file to the ePub format. This was not trivial, in the sense that reflowable ePubs are basically mini-websites that use CSS and HTML files to create an eBook. In InDesign CS6, you almost always had to do some pretty extensive editing in the CSS and HTML files, using Dreamweaver or some other editor. This meant you had to know a fair amount about coding.

With InDesign CC, a lot of work was done on the way InDesign exports to ePub, and now it is really possible to format even a fairly complex document, export it to ePub, and have the files more or less ready to go, with little or no editing in the CSS and HTML files.

In addition to making it much easier to create reflowable ePubs directly from InDesign, the other big thing, of course, is that InDesign CC allows to create a newer kind of ePub, a fixed layout ePub, with little extra work and more or less automatically.

Peachpit: The new fixed layout ePub introduced by Adobe in InDesign CC is intriguing. What excites you the most about this new ebook format?

Sandee: OK, I’ve already mentioned animations, but the other thing that is so important about fixed layout ePubs is that everything on the InDesign page is completely translated over to the fixed layout ePub. This means that a company can create a print document and then move it over to PDF and fixed layout ePub.

But an important thing to understand is that fixed layout ePubs do not have to be actual books sold to readers. A company can post a fixed layout ePub brochure for customers to download. Just because it’s called an ePub doesn’t mean it has to be a book.

Diane: Fixed layout ePubs, also known as FXL (eff-ex-ell) ePubs, are really, really interesting. They have many of the benefits of PDF files, including, and perhaps most importantly, that they can be created with little advanced preparation, and by simply using the Export command from InDesign. Once exported, they look exactly like your print layout, no matter how complex or image-intensive it may be. Easy. They are, in appearance, very much like PDF files.

But they offer some real advantages over PDF files. For one thing, FXL ePubs support almost all of InDesign’s interactive features, such as buttons, object-states, and even animations. It’s true that PDF files can include some of these features, and that’s why we talk about interactive PDFs. But, as we discuss in our book, many of the interactive features of PDF files that may work on a computer screen will fail to work, or in some cases, even fail to appear on a tablet such as the iPad. That is a deal-killer in some situations. But FXL ePubs offer interactivity that works beautifully on the iPad. That’s a big plus.

Another advantage of FXL ePubs is that they can be sold in a commercial store setting. You can publish your book as an FXL ePub and sell it in Apple’s iTunes store, but you cannot sell a PDF via iTunes. Yes, you can read a PDF in iBooks, but you can’t purchase it in the iTunes store. For those who wish to have wider distribution than their own website, this is significant.

The one limitation of FXL ePubs, for now, is the limitation of available readers, and most notably, the lack of support on Kindle for InDesign-generated FXL ePubs. However, iBooks supports them very well, as do all Kobo readers. On the desktop, iBooks is available to Macintosh users running the Mavericks or later OS, and via Adobe Digital Editions on both Macintosh and Windows computers. FXL ePubs can also be read using the Readium plugin for Chrome browsers.

However, I think the support is going to grow, and fairly quickly, because there are just too many advantages this format brings to the table. Not the least of which is that they are really easy to create from InDesign. And Adobe seems to think so, too, given that they have killed the Single Edition version of DPS (Digital Publishing Suite), encouraging many users to take a look at FXL ePubs.

Peachpit: What are some considerations designers need to keep in mind when adding animation to their publications?

Diane: InDesign’s animation feature is really well designed. Ironically, it’s been in the program since CS5 was introduced in 2010. The feature was originally developed for SWF (Flash) output, since Flash was really hot at the time. However, when Apple decided that Flash would not be supported, or even allowed on the iOS, that really changed the future of Flash, and those wonderful animation features just sat quietly all these years, largely unused. They weren’t even supported by Adobe’s DPS, which was a huge disappointment to many users. But now that they are supported, and supported very well in FXL ePubs, animation will be used more and more. 

Sandee: We write about many considerations in Chapter 3, “Animations [PDF].” But the most important one is that “Timing is everything.” Start animations a moment after the page is shown so the user gets accustomed to the page. Then keep the animations speedy. There is nothing more boring that something that plods along across the page. Keep the pace up! Set one animation to end just a moment before another one starts.

Diane: So when it comes to things designers should consider, I would say, first and foremost: Keep it simple. As designers discover animation, it’s going to be like the early days when suddenly hundreds of fonts became available for the desktop. Just because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you should.

When it comes to using the feature, working with animation requires a different way of thinking. There are many attributes that can be manipulated at once, including motion paths, rotation, scaling, and opacity. Understanding how these work together can take some time.

And sometimes things don’t work the way you think they would. For example, if you want a line of type to appear as though it’s being typed on a typewriter, you don’t actually do anything to the type. The easiest way to create the effect is to cover the type with a rectangle, and animate the rectangle to move off the type, revealing each letter one by one.

One of the best tools for learning about how animation works is built right in to InDesign. One script creates a file called “Animation Encyclopedia” that demonstrates almost every attribute you can change and control with the Animation and Timing panels. (To access the Script, go to Window > Utilities > Scripts. Then choose Application > Samples and find the script called “animationencyclopedia” under AppleScript or JavaScript. Running the script will build the file for you.)

Peachpit: What is your favorite part of Digital Publishing with Adobe InDesign CC?

Sandee: My favorite part was creating the word clouds at the beginnings of the chapters. They provide a fun way of looking at the topics. But if I have to pick a chapter, it’s Chapter 1, “Introduction.” I really like the overview nature of that chapter.

Diane: We both enjoyed writing up samples of different effects you can achieve. We’ve included step-by-step instructions of special uses of buttons, object states, and animations. That was a lot of fun.

But I think the most important thing about the book overall is that it really fills a need out there. Designers and creative professionals are really struggling to understand what digital publishing really means, and what kind of skills they need to obtain, to move forward. And I think our book addresses that need. We think it will help readers understand where they need to go next.

Peachpit: How should one’s approach to digital/web typography differ from print typography?

Sandee: Most likely the type sizes for tablets need to be larger than print. If the book is 10-point type, the ePub will most likely need a larger point size.

Peachpit: Usability is a whole new area that designers moving from print to web design need to think about. What advice do you have for designers who need to get up to speed here?

Sandee: One thing to recognize is that a website or an interactive document is actually like a piece of software. As a designer, you know how frustrated you can get when you can’t find the menu for a certain feature in your software program? Well that’s what you’re responsible for when you have buttons and other interactive elements on the page. So don’t get cute with cryptic icons that may look cool but are hard to understand.

Peachpit: Who are some of your favorite designers and/or favorite designs (in any medium)?

Sandee: My favorite illustrator is Jules Feiffer. He has a style that is extremely simple with very few lines creating a total character. As someone who loves Broadway, I also loved the characters of theatre people created by Al Hirshfeld. My total favorite designer is Milton Glaser. His “I Love NY” design has become iconic with variations all over the world. He shows the power of even the most simple design.

Diane: Some of my favorite designers are among the greats, who continue to influence work today. This would include Erik Spiekermann, Neville Brody, and Rudy VanderLans, all of whom are known for their work with fonts. For publication design, one of my favorites is the Polish designer Jacek Utko, who has done many redesigns of newspapers, and who really opened my eyes to the power of print. I also like the work of graphic designers for Morisawa, the Japanese font company.

One of my favorite websites currently is the Noun Project, which is also, by the way, a great resource for icon art. I also like The Medium. It’s a simple, effective site, with great storytelling.

Peachpit: Given the lack of space restrictions and easy access to rich media, do designers need to be aware of going overboard? What’s a good gut check for knowing when you’ve done from “just right” to “too much”?

Sandee: If your client starts to lose interest in the middle of your presentation, you’ve gone way overboard.

Diane: Yes, I think going overboard is a real and present danger. There should be a reason for everything. Avoid adding something just for “the heck of it.” But really, one of the best ways to test if you’ve gone too far is to look at your work on whatever device it’s intended for, and see if you enjoy it or not. Imagine someone else did it, and ask yourself if something adds to, or detracts from, your comprehension and involvement in the material.

Peachpit: Is the collaboration process different for digital design than it is for print?

Sandee: Not really. The only big difference is you may have to work with a code person. This was very important advice when we wrote the CS6 version of the book. Fortunately, there’s less need now. But you shouldn’t try to learn how to write HTML or JavaScript commands. You’re a designer, not a coder!

Peachpit: Is there still room in the world for print-only designers?

Sandee: If a designer is older than 60, she really doesn’t have to learn new skills—especially if she intends to retire shortly. But I see quite a few older designers in my classes. They enjoy learning about interactive and digital documents. It gives them a new energy for their work.

All young designers must have interactive skills. Or, at the very least have an understanding of Chapter 1 in our book. They must understand the choices that are out there and what features are available.

Diane: That’s a good question. I like to paraphrase something Michael Ninness, currently the senior director for design product management at Adobe, once said at a conference: “Print is not dead, and probably never will be. But print-only is dying; print with a digital component is clearly the way of the future.”

So I think print-only designers certainly still have a role, and a very important one. But more and more, the role of a designer will, and must, include a basic understanding and ability to think and produce digitally.