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Michael Ninness Answers InDesign CS5 Critics

Michael Ninness has held a number of different jobs since I met him fresh out of college in the early 90s — UI design at Adobe (he designed much of the current Creative Suite look and feel), product manager at Microsoft (on what later turned into a key app in the Microsoft Expression family), and a popular presenter/trainer at conferences globally. But it was as senior product manager on Adobe InDesign that he has influenced the largest number of designers around the world. He arrived on the InDesign team as CS4 was being completed, but quickly shifted to helping shape and build InDesign CS5.

Ninness very recently left Adobe to work as vice president of content at Lynda.com. However, he has so much time, energy, and sweat invested in CS5, he has taken time to respond personally to people’s concerns about this upgrade. I sent him a few questions, indicative of the type I’ve been hearing and reading since Adobe announced CS5 last week. His (rather extensive) answers are below.


David Blatner: I think many InDesign users are surprised about how many interactive features there are in CS5. Why did you head down that road?

Michael Ninness: The answer to that question is quite simple actually: Our customers told us to. Let me explain, in three parts I?ll call ?The Process,? ?The Customers,? and ?The Pitch.?

Part 1: The Process

When we started planning the feature set for the CS5 release, the InDesign team adopted a research process called Sync Dev. It is called Sync Dev because key members of the product team all travel together as a ?core team? on an intense round of customer visits over a very short period of time. The core team consists of a representative from product management, engineering, quality engineering, user experience, and product marketing. By traveling together as a core team, everyone hears the same feedback from customers at the same time. This ensures that all throughout the development cycle, the entire team is aligned and knows what it is we are adding to the release and why.

Rather than going on somewhat arbitrary customer visits and asking them what they want us to add to the product, we instead present to them what we plan on building upfront, before we?ve written a single line of code. We show them mock-ups and prototypes and explain what the features do. We then ask them a very simple but important question: If the product we just showed them were available tomorrow, would they buy it (or upgrade)? If their answer is no, we ask them what we would need to remove or add to the feature list to change their minds.

The point of the exercise is to end up with a list of features that add up to a balanced product release that provides value to all the key stakeholders that make up the purchase decision.

No one on the team likes cutting features during a development cycle, especially if we?ve been working on a given feature for several months or longer. But how can we know in advance that we are making the right feature decisions? After all, we only have a certain amount of Engineering and QE resources, so we have to prioritize so that our customers will get the best return on our and their investment.

Sync Dev makes it so much more efficient because we end up cutting features our customers don?t really care about before we make any development and testing investments. Trust me, there is no shortage of new feature ideas. The team maintains a long running list of requests we hear directly from our users, from attending conferences and participating in online communities such as InDesignSecrets.com. And just about everyone on the team has their own ?pet feature? they?d love to see added to the product. Sync Dev makes sure that we don?t make decisions randomly, or blindly. It forces us to pre-validate the feature ideas so that when the product ships, we already know our customers are going to love the release, find it valuable and that it solves their business problems.

Here is an analogy I shared often with the team to help them understand the benefits of adopting this approach to product development. Before Sync Dev, imagine the team had twenty darts to throw at a dartboard. (In this analogy, the darts are features and the dartboard is the product release.) Now, some of the darts thrown would hit the bull?s-eye. However, some wouldn?t quite hit the center and in fact, some darts wouldn?t even hit the board at all! (Those darts would be called feature cuts.) But, as long as ten of those twenty darts hit the mark or pretty close to it by the time we had to ship, we hoped we?d end up with a compelling release. With Sync Dev, you don?t start with twenty darts ? you only start with ten. And you want to know before you even throw the darts that all ten of them are going to hit the bull?s-eye.

Sync Dev allows our customers to tell us what darts to throw, before we throw them. At the end of the process, we have what we refer to as ?the MVP?, Minimal Viable Product. Meaning, what must be in the release to ensure that our customers will be willing to pay for the upgrade. The best part about getting to the MVP is that it unites the team and provides them clarity about what we are chasing. During any product development cycle, there is always a risk that ?feature creep? or ?noise? will distract the team and our darts will miss their target. Whether it comes from a well-intentioned senior vice president, or a developer who?s come up with some interesting technology looking for a problem, all we had to do anytime these distractions came up was to ask this simple question ? ?Is it part of the MVP?? If the answer was ?no?, we would decide with confidence that we didn?t need to be distracted and move on.

I am extremely proud of the fact that for InDesign CS5, we didn?t cut a single MVP feature from the final shipping product. Every ?dart? our Sync Dev customers told us to throw made it ?in the box?, or, er, onto the dartboard. And along the way — because we didn?t waste resources by spending time on features that then had to get cut — we had time make a lot of those little tweaks that every user can appreciate. (Like ?sticky? preview checkboxes!)

Part 2: The Customers

Something that is both a privilege and a challenge for the team is the fact that InDesign has a very broad set of users, each with their own particular workflows, needs, and wants. It was important that when we planned our Sync Dev customer visits that we made sure we met with the entire range of our user base instead of just focusing on one particular type of customer.

To that end, we met with ad agencies, large magazine publishers, regional magazine publishers, digital magazine publishers, book publishers, newspapers, design studios, corporate design groups, prepress & production service providers, media companies, interactive agencies, government agencies, and freelance designers. In total, we visited over 30 companies in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, London, Hamburg, as well as customers in Eastern Europe and India.

One key aspect of the customer visits is that whenever possible, when we visited a particular customer site that all the key decision makers were in the room. For those of you who don?t work for yourselves, you can probably relate to the fact that you as the end-user of InDesign are not always the one that gets to decide if you will be able to upgrade.

Often times, that decision is impacted by the opinions of owners, managers, art directors, IT staff, trainers, etc.
These visits were completed within a six-week period, making it a very grueling (but invigorating) schedule. We met with two customers a day, for three hours each. The first hour we did as little talking as possible. That was the customers? opportunity to talk freely about their business challenges, what they liked and didn?t like about Adobe and the products they used, show us the types of projects they worked on, etc. It was our job to simply listen, take lots of notes, and see if they talked about any of the issues we would be addressing with the features we were there to pitch them about.

During the second hour, we would walk them through the feature explanations and mock-ups. We avoided explaining why we were pitching the features, allowing them to form there own opinions about whether or not what we were pitching was relevant and meaningful to them.

The third hour was probably the most fun. That is when we asked them what features we had just showed them stood out, and then asked them why. After that, we asked them to prioritize the list of features we had just walked them through. We did this via the ?$100 Test?. Each attendee was told they had (an imaginary) $100 to spend on the features that matterend most to them. There were only three rules:

  1. They were not allowed to spend the same amount on every feature, as that doesn?t tell us anything.
  2. They didn?t have to spend any money on any features they didn?t care about.
  3. They could add any other feature that we didn?t pitch but that they wanted to add to the list. However, if they did so, they still only had the $100 to spend.

We captured how every individual spent their $100, and noted their role (Designer, Art Director, Production Artist, Account Manager, etc.). After all of our customer visits were completed, we had a rich set of data that allowed us to see how each different stakeholder valued the features. Finally, the last exercise was to show them a list of features we said we were not going to be working on. We then gave them one more opportunity to move features from the ?not doing? list. If they chose to do that though, they had to take something off the list they?d already prioritized.

For InDesign CS5, the results of all this customer engagement and direct feedback were fascinating, in some cases very surprising, and, most of all, inspiring.

Part 3: The Pitch

In no particular order, here is the list of features we pitched during all of the customer visits:

  • Simplified Transformations
  • The Gap Tool
  • Live Corner Effects
  • Copyfitting
  • A Layers panel like Illustrator?s
  • Paragraphs that Span Columns
  • Multiple Page Sizes
  • Interactive Documents & Presentations
  • Handoff to Flash Professional
  • HTML authoring
  • CS Review
  • Track text changes
  • Synchronized settings
  • Table improvements

In no particular order, here is the list of features we indicated we were not proposing to be part of CS5, giving them the opportunity to tell us we had our priorities wrong:

  • Kern Pair Editor
  • Camera Raw Import
  • Footnote improvements
  • Endnotes
  • Non-destructive image enhancement (Curves, Levels, Hue/Sat, etc.)
  • Content aware scaling of placed images
  • Layer groups
  • Paragraph shading
  • Linked (external) style sheets
  • Soft-Bottom text frames
  • Color swatch groups

A side benefit of the Sync Dev process is that because you perform so many visits in such a condensed timeframe, you start seeing patterns emerge and commonalities across user types that you might normally miss. For us, the most surprising thing we learned during the visits was how InDesign was being used to create presentations by every customer/company we visited. Right away, in the very first two visits, within the first ten minutes of the meetings, someone would mention how they wished InDesign would export a PowerPoint file. At first, we just kind of laughed it off and dismissed the comment. But it came up every time, and after a while, it became clear what they were actually asking about.

They weren?t talking about the standard bullet-point type presentations that first come to mind when you think of PowerPoint. In many cases, they were using InDesign to layout their project proposals and mood boards. Of course, they were actually creating their content in Photoshop and Illustrator, and then laying out the presentation in InDesign to present to their clients. At the last stage, they wanted their presentations to be more engaging. They wanted to incorporate animation, slide transitions as well as audio and video content. The problem was that they had no elegant way to go from InDesign to PowerPoint. They certainly didn?t want to begin in PowerPoint because then they would be giving up the most critical aspect of why they wanted to use InDesign ? typographical control. Quality type and layout was so important that they were exporting their spreads as JPEGs and importing them into PowerPoint to complete the presentation.

It became clear very quickly how little InDesign users know about the capabilities of interactive PDFs, and using full screen PDFs as a presentation format. But even if they were aware of interactive PDFs, that format wouldn?t support the additional capabilities they were hoping to take advantage of.

And as you might imagine, it isn?t that big of a leap to go from authoring interactive presentations with InDesign to full-on rich interactive documents. Given the pressures and competition facing traditional print media, almost every customer we visited told us how difficult it was for their designers to learn how to use tools like Flash for authoring interactive content. Over and over again they told us that they wished they could use their favorite design and layout application (InDesign) to create interactive documents in addition to print documents.

When all customer visits were completed and the dust settled, here is how the individual features we pitched (and those we didn?t) ended up being prioritized by the participants:

  1. Interactive Documents & Presentations
  2. CS Review
  3. Multiple Page Sizes
  4. Simplified Transformations
  5. Live Corner Effects
  6. Handoff to Flash Professional
  7. The Gap Tool
  8. Layers Panel like Illustrator
  9. Track Text Changes
  10. Paragraphs that Span Columns

What was even more amazing to us was that the interactive feature set was ranked in the top 3 by eight of the nine roles we collected data from ? Freelance Designers, Art Directors, Designers, Production, Editorial, IT, Training and Support and Management. The only group that didn?t include the interactive features in their top 3 was the Interactive Designers — in other words, the people in the room who were already using Flash Professional. But even for them, it was still ranked number 5.

So, what did this whole experience tell us? Our customers not only gave us permission to evolve InDesign into a layout and design tool for more media than just Print, they outright pleaded for us to do so.

DB: There are some InDesign users who say that InDesign should only focus on being a tool for Print, that adding features for authoring Flash content is just a bunch of hype and is a sign that Adobe doesn?t care much about Print anymore. How do you respond to those thoughts?

MN: Yes, it is true that Adobe did a lot of work to enhance the interactive design capabilities of InDesign CS5. That said though, we also made sure (via the Sync Dev process I described above) that InDesign CS5 would turn out to be a balanced release, with something of value to all our user types, including those users who do not yet have a need to author content for any medium other than Print. Long requested features such as Multiple Page Sizes and Paragraphs that Span (and Split!) Columns are two great examples of that. And then there are the new innovative features such as the Gap Tool, Live Captions, Live Corner Effects, Live Distribute, Auto-Fit, Mini Bridge, Document Installed Fonts, and many more.  Quite frankly, the interactive feature set was the minority investment for this release, not the majority.

But, now that I have your attention, I?d like to take this opportunity to ask you this provocative question in return?What is a document? I ask this and write the following in response to your original question, which is basically a variant of ?I know other people like it, but I hate the idea of InDesign becoming a production tool for anything other than Print. There are other products out there for that??

Hmm? Let?s talk about this a bit. I spend a lot of time surveying the publishing landscape. Here are some recent entries to the running list I?ve keep of how the ?Print? industry is evolving.

US News & Weekly Report is now selling a subscription to a digital version. This is unique content, separate from their Print version, and Print subscribers get it as part of their paid subscription. This digital version is delivered as a PDF. That pretty much rules out Flash as their authoring tool.

Christian Science Monitor does not offer a print version any more! Their publication is digital only, and delivered as PDF. Again, what product do you think they are creating this publication in? Or put another way, what product do you think their staff (who would love to stay employed) know how to use? Here?s a hint: it isn?t Flash.

My point is we should be talking about what the word ?document? means today. Does it always explicitly mean that a document isn?t a ?document? unless it is printed? If the answer to the above question is no, than what implications should that have on a product like InDesign?

Is the message the medium, or is the medium the message?

The two examples I listed above chose to deliver their message as a PDF document. While these could be printed by the reader, it is likely that they won?t be.

Does PDF offer publishers a chance to extend the value of their content? Does it provide an opportunity to enhance the experience the reader has when consuming their content?

Now, from this perspective, is it much of a leap to consider delivering the message as a SWF instead of a PDF, or in addition to a PDF? Or how about this ? a hybrid PDF? What?s a hybrid PDF you ask? A single ?document? that has both a high quality ?interactive? experience AND a high quality ?print? experience?

Regardless of file format choice, or even choice of medium, what do all of these scenarios have in common? They all need to be well designed. Layout matters. Typography matters. They all need to be differentiated from their competition. They all need to engage the reader.

Which community already understands the nuances of typography, composition, and effective communication design? The ?print? designers. Which tool do they already know how to use? InDesign. Which tool has the best feature set for layout and typography? InDesign.

My job as the InDesign product manager was to ensure that InDesign continues to be the best tool on the market for print design. But if that is all Adobe optimizes it for, it won?t be enough to stay relevant in the long term. Publishers and consumers now have a wide spectrum of media choices to deliver their content. Print will always continue to be one of those choices. But it isn?t the only choice.

What about the emergence of publications that never had a print version? Take a look at iMotor, FLYP or VIVmag. These are digital publications that do not have a print version. When you look at them, squint a bit so that you don?t see the edges of the web browser chrome the ?document? is housed in. These publications look every bit as compelling and well designed as the best print magazines. And guess what? Every spread you see started life in InDesign.

Humor me for a few more minutes and take a look at these URLs:

What do you see? Do you see a web site? Do you see a Flash application? I see an interactive document that happens to be deployed in a browser running the Flash Player. I see pages with buttons that you can click on to jump to other pages. I see beautiful typography and pleasing layout. I see a compelling presentation that tells an effective story in an engaging manner ? which should be the end goal of any document.

This could easily have been deployed as an interactive PDF. Or perhaps in HTML5. Or as some other file format yet to be developed in the future. My point is that available file formats should enhance and extend our understanding of what a ?document? can be, not limit it.

So, do you think a designer should be able to create ?documents? like this with InDesign, without having to write a single line of code?

I do.

DB: Long-document publishers are bemoaning the fact that InDesign’s footnotes are still somewhat limited (some would say crippled). In fact, there don’t seem to be many new long-doc improvements in CS5 at all. Why not?

MN: With the exception of Paragraphs that Span or Split Columns (which is very relevant and useful for long-document publishers), no other long-document feature was ranked high enough during the Sync Dev customer visits. Now that CS5 has been announced and is almost available, now is a good time for long-document publishers to let the InDesign team know what feature investments should be made for the next version of InDesign. You can submit your feature requests here (and yes, the team does actually receive and read the submissions!):
https://www.adobe.com/cfusion/mmform/index.cfm?name=wishform

What do you think? Write back to Michael (and the folks at Adobe) below.

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88 Comments on “Michael Ninness Answers InDesign CS5 Critics

  1. @Michael Ninness: I’m really glad to hear you guys did visit freelancers as well as large corporations. It didn’t sound like that from the post itself, at least not to me, so that’s why I brought up the self-employed.

    Would you consider sending out questionnaires to a percentage of users (around the world) to find out which features they think need improvements? You guys could make a shortlist of items your team could work on considering the time-restraints and take the top X most picked to improve in CS6 and/or re-write for CS7.
    Of course such a questionnaire shouldn’t be sent until at least 9 months after CS5′s release, and ideally be repeated several months later to take into account later adopters.

    My crystal ball broke a long time ago, so I don’t know how well those interactive magazines will work, not to mention if iPads and their Android & Windows cousins will be widely adopted by the public.
    But should it all take off like some predict, then you’re absolutely right; it’ll be a blessing to have a program we’re all familiar with be able to re-purpose our existing files with (relative) ease.

  2. This is by far one of the coolest new features of InDesign – I mean it really does rock http://layersmagazine.com/indesign-cs5-interactive.html

    I don’t really know what the flash looks like on the other end – but it looks promising at least. The only problem is it’s going to be hard for SEO and things like that. But if you’re not hosting on websites and just doing flash presentations for display it seems to be pretty cool.

    It seems to work quite well and seems relatively easy to use. So I have to hand it to the Adobe team on a fine job with that.

    But I can’t really give it all the thumbs up until it’s used in real world application. But I can’t wait to find out.

  3. News this morning on various websites indicate that Adobe has given up trying to get Flash on iPhones and iPads, as Apple is going to lock it down.

    Where does that leave all the iPhone and iPad users regards to Flash export from InDesign? I’m not sure everyone will have the resources to repurpose their content in HTML5, CSS, Javascript or H.264.

    Is this the new betamax v VHS or HD DVD vs Blu Ray?

    Interested to know how this effects the latest release of InDesign Cs5 in regards to Flash and authoring to the web.

  4. AMC said :

    Of course, indeed and so on?
    BUT so, you loose the fold marks it creates automatically when printing/PDFing by spread. :-|

    (by the way, I saw all your movies on Lynda’s site, listening to your soft voice) ;-)

  5. Sorry, for the “white” quote
    AMC said :
    In the meantime remember you could just increase the width of the page with the flap ? so no new page is added. I show this method (along with the ?add a page? method) in the ID CS5 New Features videos I did on Lynda.com.
    Of course, indeed and so on?
    BUT so, you loose the fold marks it creates automatically when printing/PDFing by spread.

    (by the way, I saw all your movies on Lynda?s site, listening to your soft voice)

  6. Just to show that I’m not all anti: Now that beta-testing is over and it’s back to CS4, I’m already missing that little feature upgrade where you can set the “patient mode” delay to zero. Definitely addictive!

  7. The 800 lb gorilla in the room is the fact that the coolest interactive device best suited for the new publishing paradigm, doesn’t and won’t support Flash.

  8. @Bob

    The device you obliquely reference is only the “coolest interactive device” of the moment because it was first to market. By the end of the year it will no longer have that distinction. Four years from now people will be saying, “hey, didn’t Apple make an early, failed prototype similar to the HP, Android, Palm, Windows, and BlackBerry tablet devices?”

  9. Heh. @ Pariah, get back to me when HP, Android, Palm, Windows and Blackberry are actually shipping their tablet devices. BTW, Sister Lola called, she wants her crystal back.

  10. @David: You wrote: ‘ePub is great for novels, but it?s a terrible format for non-linear design. There is no doubt that Adobe should have done more for ePub in CS5′.

    I agree with your assessment of ePub but I’m not sure that much more can be done with it in ID at the moment (page breaks without needing to export separate files will be a great help). The main limitations are in the spec., which belongs to the IDPF, not Adobe. The IDPF is aware of the limitations but, since it is a standards body, its decisions come slowly.

  11. Well, I for one, am absolutely thrilled with ID CS5 – I’ve been up all weekend since the download and hate to sleep! I’ve been designing multimedia ebooks since the early 90s (used PageMaker and caveman Acrobat) – but it worked. This latest offering has cut my workload down by 75% – cheers to the folks at Adobe. (the developers, at least, I’m still not in love with tech support)

    That said – does anyone have a source for information how to get the HTML 5 video or animation into the .epub document? There is a book (I think it’s Alice in Wonderland) – that’s being displayed on the iPad with animation. How did they do it?

  12. Hmmm I can still click button on the panel in the black screen. Then when I hold down the mouse on the title bar I can see what I clicked… so the panel is working, but it’s Blank screen is all I see.

  13. Actually going to copy this to the forum – if you want to remove these posts that’s ok – or leave a link to the Forum posting

    Thanks

  14. You do ask “Do you like bananas”. And I answer “Yes, of course” (because I do). Then you try to sell me bananas. You didn’t ask if I want bananas. Why? Because it is not what YOU wanted to sell. So this Sync Dev process is in fact a way to justify what YOU want, not what the customer wants. So please, cut the crap.

  15. @Ion: Actually, to use your analogy, we didn’t ask them if they liked or wanted bananas. We asked them if they’d buy bananas.

    In other words, the entire process is about changing the conversation from their “likes” and “wants” and getting down to their “needs”. A bummer to hear that you think that goal is a bunch of crap.

    As others have suggested here already, use the 30-day trial version. If after trying it you think the end result is crap, then don’t give Adobe your money.

  16. Yeh but footnotes are like spinach. If you ask someone if they want spinach or steak they’re going to say steak. But spinach is much better for you.

  17. Thank you to Michael for talking about the process of developing CS5. I for one would probably not upgrade based on what I’ve seen so far. Some of the new features sound impressive, but I couldn’t care less about interactive PDFs and have never used InDesign to make a PowerPoint presentation. Give me better footnotes, endnotes, and a Word import that is actually usable and I’ll be happy. Unfortunately it seems as if none of those things made it in to the release.

    Actually, I wasn’t really sure what “interactive PDF” meant, either, so I checked out the link Michael suggested earlier: : http://www.pdfpictures.com/ebrochures.html. I have to admit, I think I laughed out loud at some of those. The ones I opened made me feel like I had slipped back into the late 90s. This is what Adobe spent their time working on?! I guess it’s a moot point anyway since Flash seems to be slowly dying, but it’s still annoying to be told that this sort of design work is more important than, say, printed books.

    Nonetheless, thanks for the insight into the development of CS5!

  18. Well I am sick of taking my InDesign designs and repurposing them in Flash. Now I don’t have to. I can make an interactive PDF or I can export to flash and do more complex things there.

  19. I have downloaded the trial and I think it is so nice.
    I love the new masking features in PhotoShop and the interactive features in InDesign, no matter how the Flash struggle ends up.
    Zero, do you really think that e-bookreaders will take no advantage of rich pdf publications? I think that it will be an obvious advantage to create directly using InDesign and launch for e-bookreaders.
    If it is old-fashioned or not depends on the design/content.
    I really hope that rich or enchanced pdfs will be a success for tablet reading. I would like reading this way myself.
    If footnotes were the greatest news in CS5 I could live without it.

    :-) Nina Storm

  20. I have to say – I uninstalled the trial of CS5 because the full version is arriving soon (don’t ask why it’s a long and boring story). Anyway, back in CS3 now and I already miss the content grabber. And I only used CS5 for less than a week. I’m also missing on or two other things and really can’t wait for the full version to arrive and start using it.

  21. Ventura, Ventura, and VENTURA! All others are several steps bellow.

    Multi column, balanced columns, page/column/line breaking, horizontal/vertical justification, rules, text flow, TOTAL CONTROL of everything (except some bugs, lol) ah, yes – Corel SCRIPT, amazing!!!!

    I can’t understand what are Corel teams waiting???

  22. I think I find ID CS 5 and the other CS 5 Master Collection to be more responsive and am very pleased with it even though I found a couple of things did not work the way I thought they should, but once corrected i am extremely pleased.

    But, I want to comment on the focus groups.

    Many of the users who participate in the focus groups are not certain what is expected of them and the group supervisors do not want to influence them that way.

    The dynamics of these groups easygoing but the tension is very hidden but it is definitely there and it might make some of the consensus that they make seem odd.

    Very good things come out of the meetings.

    Especially how features might work in the work space in the world we live. Because you see how the people who direct people work with people who might be in the position to follow direction.

    So though the person doing most of the work might know things say the art director does not know it still has to work so that the art director can tell the user what to do.

    So what might not seemingly make sense actually can make sense.

    So what you see in the new version is often a response to very real conditions.

    I agree that some features need to be updated, I also know from experience that rushing to do this might not be the best way of going about it.

    You users may not even tell you all that they need with this upgrade as they might not know themselves as would be evident to you in a focus group.

  23. Excellent and insightful commentary, Michael. Thank you for taking the time to explain the process so carefully. I can see where things came from much more clearly, and the market-driven decision making makes sense.

    My experience suggests that the focus group/sync dev process has serious flaws, but I can see why it would be used. If it’s a consolation, Microsoft’s approach (telemeter everything, then design to the lowest common denominator) is far worse, and Apple listens only to consumers, apparently.

    Henry Ford once remarked, “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have asked for a better horse.” It’s a tricky situation nobody’s really solved yet, and you can’t possibly please everyone.

    On the interactive front, ironically, about 3 years ago I took on a project (a kiosk-type touch-screen interactive display, with slide shows and videos) that looked tailor-made for InDesign-to-PDF.

    A few days into it I realized that a) the PDF would be enormous and would introduce delays that would not be acceptable, b) the time involved creating it in ID would make the project seriously overdue, and c) CS3′s interactive PDF production was broken (i.e., the program crashed frequently when it tried to export the PDF) and tech support could offer little more than sympathy.

    So (having accepted the contract I was now obligated) I learned Flash, which up to that point I’d never used, and ActionScript and wrote the entire thing in Flash. I hit a gnarly bug in Flash Player 9 along the way that forced a last-minute rewrite of some of the code, but the project came in on deadline, roughly one tenth the size of an equivalent PDF, and — even taking the 5 days of intensive study into account — faster to produce. It was 10 times the speed at runtime that a PDF would have been. Even in CS5 this project would not be possible for InDesign alone, although export-to-Flash (CS4) would have allowed some of the layout work to be done in ID.

    The point? Not all interactive/multimedia documents are for the web. If I make a presentation to a client, it’s full screen and high res. Yes, I’d love to do them in ID, but so far the production time has been excessive for anything smarter than a slide show, and there’s not much need for more than that in most cases. SWF export looks promising for quick production web banners, though — a nice addition to the arsenal.

    In CS4, I tried creating multimedia PDFs: massive files that, even in a 64-bit environment with lots of RAM, ran too slowly to be usable. The last such, a 3-screen 1080p multimedia thing, started out in ID CS4 because I keep hoping. I ended up using Photoshop, Audacity, (yecch) iMovie and (double-yecch) PowerPoint, because Flash would have been too tedious, a 350MB PDF (that couldn’t trim audio to a slide duration) was ridiculous, and PowerPoint 2010 has built-in transitions that were perfect for what I needed. Now I have the CS5 Master Collection I’ve real video tools to play with, so that would be a very different animal today.

    So I’d possibly have been in that vocal group pushing for better interactive/multimedia output (and faster interactive creation) from InDesign. That said, experience so far is that the added functionality is just good enough to be tempting, just not-good-enough to be frustrating — what you might call “the Swiss Army knife effect.”

    In my not particularly humble opinion, PDF is not the future of e-publishing. It suffices for simple projects like InDesign Mag (I use PDFs that way myself. Like ID Mag the files are enormous.), but the PDF format is becoming dated. It’s too darned big. My jury is still out on the swf animation thing (and very much out on the iPad, the “why bother” device of the decade imo, although I’ll design for it if a client asks).

    Unintended consequences of the new content selector include: with a background object selected, it’s impossible to select an object that overlays it even when said object is on a higher layer; dragging an image from Bridge (or MB) into an existing frame fails if the object is dropped in the middle of the existing frame; and with small objects one has to now be very careful NOT to grab the content if one wants to move the frame — all quite annoying misfeatures that vitiate the usefulness of the new functionality. Great idea, though, at base.

    Meanwhile, I love the sticky preview checkboxes, the transform improvements, the layers panel, cross-column headlines and the gap tool.

    Perhaps we’ll get a “Close All” command on the File menu and “Open All Book Documents” in the book panel (as opposed to a clumsy double-click) next time around. With luck, the ID team will nag the Bridge team to add a “Place” command to the Bridge context menu. And it would be nice to have footnotes/endnotes, TOC and Indexing (Word integration!) really fixed once and for all.

    From prerelease website conversations and what made it into the various point products, I feel the weakest link in the development cycle is still suite integration. (There is no feature request category for “Suite Integration.” That omission tells its own tale.)

    Workflow speed rules. When I look closely, all the must-buy improvements for me in Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash, Dreamweaver and After Effects are workflow speeder-uppers. All the rest are things I could happily live without, even though I might use them from time to time.

  24. Alan: A really good post! Real world examples plus arguments for when to use and not to use ID.

    Perhaps we?ll get a ?Close All? command on the File menu …

    It has its own hotkey combo (just about all modifiers, plus the ‘W’ key) but there is no straightforward way to modify menus to simply add it …

  25. Hey, thanks for that! I’d tried various combos (like the Photoshop shortcut, for instance! — suite integration again), but never found it and didn’t have the time to dig around. My several recent book design & typesetting projects (they seem to come in herds, like antelope) brought the omission to my attention.

  26. And here we have exactly what is wrong with adobe as a development company. Absolutely no vision. Design by committee.. and worse… design by input from the masses.

    In design started as a great concept. I was there before it was even a product. Instead of creating a high-end publishing tool, we got a re-created page maker.

    Adobe then lets FrameMaker languish because nobody there has a clue what do to with. They drop support for the Mac platform (which was the most complete FrameMaker implementation) and then proceed to completely trash what was left of the program. FM 9 is and interface disaster.

    In the mean time, here we are 6, 7, 8, 9 years later and InDesign is still a marginal tool for anything other than poster layout.

    The book functionality is bolted on. The character level style sheets are broken, because there isn’t an AS IS setting for all parameters (ie color cannot be set to as is, it has to be a color).

    Index building on long documents is a joke. Something that should take seconds takes 10, 20, 30 minutes+

    FrameMaker can generate an index of hundreds or even thousands of pages in a few minutes. The code base for this was created 20 years ago. Are your current crop of programmers so inept that they can’t duplicate code that has been around for decades.

    And don’t even get me started on interactive documents. How about automatically creating hypertext links for generated lists (TOC, Indexes) (Take a clue from the other program you own FrameMaker).

    A swiss army knife sure sounds like a great idea. An all in one device that can do everything. Only its just not very good at any of them.

    Adobe, the new microsoft. Microsoft Word was a great word processing program, until somebody said.. hey we can do desktop publishing with it. lets add some features, and it has grown into one of the most hated POS products every created.

  27. @Phliip: There are free indexing scripts (see indesignsecrets.com/free) if you want something quick and dirty. Not sure what you mean by “don’t even get me started,” because ID has created hyperlinked indexes and TOCs for many years.

  28. Philip: I think I agree with the general gest, although every ID user will have his/her own list of personal gripes, could-be-done-betters and dont-really-cares. It goes to show people are using ID for lots of different things. “Anything other than a poster layout” :) — I’m well into a decade of typesetting high-quality scientific books ID …

    And on some points, you are plain wrong.

    [In character styles] color cannot be set to as is, it has to be a color …

    To reset a color to ‘do not change’, Ctrl+click the selected color. (Presmbl Cmd+click on a Mac.)

  29. je t’aimé que Michael Ninness pour bon professionel Photoshop CS5 Essenting training
    Merci Michael Ninness! Bye!

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