Discovering InDesign

by Nick Jensen on September 17, 2014

During my time at Cal. State Long Beach, I never had the luxury of desktop publishing software. I almost always used word processors such as Microsoft Word to create my content. And I like Word, don’t get me wrong. It’s a well-rounded product that can fulfill multiple roles in content creation. Still, Word has limitations which can hinder the quality of your documentation, and drain much-needed time from your schedule. If you need to create a document with impressive content within a reasonable schedule, look no further than Adobe InDesign.

InDesign takes a streamlined approach towards content creation and management. You can set or create predefined styles, make your own, then change them whenever you feel like it. For the past week, I’ve been using InDesign to improve one of my manuals. Inserting text boxes and illustrations have become a snap. I no longer have to stress over aligning images and the rest of my content. Let’s say I want to line up three images in a column. Once I place the first image, all I need to do is take the second image and line it up under the first until I see a translucent green line on each side of the image. When I let go of the mouse button, the image will fix into place. Then I can repeat the same step for the third image. Once I have all three images in position, I can move them up or down until they’re at equidistant positions.

For technical writers with strict deadlines, the ability to control and automate the layout of your content becomes exceptionally important. In this regard, InDesign is an amazing time saver. If you want to create a document with a specific layout for certain pages, InDesign can help you accomplish the task through master pages. Master pages are basically pages that exist outside your document. You simply set lines or other markers to show where each object must go, whether it be a textbox, an image file, or even an illustration made from Adobe Illustrator. Let’s imagine you want to make a document with two different layouts: one for the beginning of each section, and another for the content within each section. All you need to do is create a master page for both of the layouts, then assign each page to one of the two master page styles. Using this method, you can create an entire document without having to rely on ruler guides or other similar tools. One of my favorite features of InDesign is its Table of Contents tool. It can automatically create a table of contents and update itself as you add or alter your content. How’s that for automation?

For those of you who use Photoshop or Illustrator on a regular basis, InDesign will make an excellent addition to any content you create. InDesign will recognize and keep any properties that exist within both Illustrator and Photoshop files. Learning this program has provided me an exceptional boost of confidence, because now I know that I can save a great deal of time whenever I choose to convert my documents from Word.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

jay maechtlen March 3, 2015 at 9:13 am

For visual layout, InDesign is pretty cool. It does give you lots of feedback and tools for aligning things. For layout-heavy work, it may be the best tool available. And it works pretty well for longer docs, too.
I’ve finally moved to the current versions of MS Office, and MS has added some nice layout features to Word. (“added” sometime since Office 2003, that is)
Graphics can be aligned relative to margin, column, and whatever else. Yay!
And the Ribbon, once customized, works ok.

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S. McBride March 9, 2015 at 2:32 am

What version of Adobe InDesign do you recommend to start with, in the case of a beginning user?

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Jay Maechtlen July 17, 2015 at 9:47 am

I agree, InDesign is pretty nifty. Obviously, Word does text boxes with flows and alignment.
But InDesign is much more oriented to making things pretty. The aids for spacing and aligning elements are really handy. For space-constrained layouts or output that needs to look really nice, it’s a great tool.

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