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The Worst Designed Feature in InDesign

Everyone gets frustrated with InDesign sooner or later… even us! (And you know I truly love InDesign.) But a few features in this program go beyond just frustrating and enter a realm called “bang your head on the desk trying to figure out why Adobe did it this way.”

Don’t get me wrong—I know no one on the InDesign team designed these features maliciously in order to make our lives miserable. On the contrary, I know that those folks work long and hard to make the best product they can. And I’m sure they had the best of intentions. I suspect the engineers look back at some of these features and think, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

But whatever the case, Adobe did ship these features and we’re stuck with using them. Or, more likely, not using them. And because they’re rarely used, few people complain about them, and so there’s little incentive for the InDesign team to improve them.

So perhaps we should have a contest for “The Worst Designed Feature in InDesign,” and the winner (the feature, not the person who suggests it) gets worked on in the next version of the product.

Here’s a list of some of the features that I would submit:

  • Edit > Place and Link. At first this feature appears so promising, but the whole process of linking and the confusing presentation in the Links panel makes this feature really hard to get excited about. I actually wrote a rather upbeat tutorial on how to use it a few years ago, but I have to be honest: I’ve never once used it in a real job since then.
  • Alternate Layouts. I know my friend and colleague Erica Gamet likes Alternate Layouts, and I don’t deny that they could be useful. But the actual design of this feature—how we’re supposed to use it—is so tortured. This is a feature you have to forcibly convince people to use.
  • Add Fonts from Typekit. I love fonts and I love Typekit, but the way this feature was implemented leaves a lot to be desired. First of all, the primary feature (right at the top of the Type menu) does nothing in InDesign. It is literally just a link to launch a web browser and take you to a web page. Really? Why can’t I do this inside InDesign? Second, about 40% of the time when I open a document that uses Typekit for Desktop fonts that are not currently installed, InDesign can’t figure out what to do, or it claims Typekit isn’t running (when it obviously is), or it doesn’t know that this font is part of Typekit, and so on. Come on, Adobe, I know you can do better than this.
  • Gap Tool. Oh my gosh, where to begin? It’s bad enough that this is the only tool that requires people to read the manual or the Tool Hints panel every time they use it. (Did you even know InDesign has a Tool Hints panel? It’s really hidden.) But the fact that you can’t use this tool to specify a numeric gap (e.g. “I want exactly 10mm between these objects”) is, in a word, bizarre.
  • Indexing. No one likes indexing a document. And many people today think indexing is passé because people can use electronic search. (If you think that, consider yourself slapped with a wet noodle. Indexing is more than just search. Indexing is about helping your audience find what they’re looking for, even when they don’t know how to ask the right question.) Anyway, creating a good index is hard enough, but InDesign makes it torture.

I’m not even going to touch XML (because… well, just because).

There are plenty of other features that could be made a little bit better, but what InDesign features can you think of beyond this list that could use a massive makeover?

(Yes, we all know want features that aren’t in InDesign yet… let’s focus on what is there already, but just need to be made better.)

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at Lynda.com are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at 63p.com.
David Blatner

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107 Comments on “The Worst Designed Feature in InDesign

  1. In a perfect world the features in InDesign and Illustrator would resemble each other at least somewhat across both programs. For instance, if I want to draw a stroke box and turn it into a guide in InDesign like I do in Illustrator I should be able to perform that same function the same way in both programs. Little things like that…

  2. I just remembered another one:

    Quick Apply is a great shortcut to many things. But for something that is meant to be a really quick and efficient shortcut, it’s got this maddening ~0.5 second delay until the item is selectable. And if you invoke it and hit enter too soon, usually something wrong happens.

    Quick Apply could really use some optimizing to make it instantaneous.

  3. I work in a healthcare-based office and we aren’t allowed to save anything to our desktop – everything is on a server including my InDesign files. Up until the CC version I never had an issue with InDesign crashing but once I went to that version, anytime InDesign “lost” connection with the server it would automatically close (i.e., crash) the program. Sometimes I recovered my work. Sometimes I didn’t.

    Everything published by Adobe indicated this was a “feature”. Feature, my a$$. It was a horrible inconvenience. Happily someone posted a workaround on one of the Adobe forums that finally helped me work without crashes. I would really like it if they removed this “feature” from future versions.

  4. MY ADOBE CC WISHLIST (or just a few things)

    1. Please try to make similar features between applications, well, SIMILAR.
    Example: Why doesn’t Illustrator have a 0pt option in the STROKE dropdown like InDesign has?

    2. Can’t we have all Adobe CC applications pick the color swatches THE SAME WAY?

    3. Why doesn’t Illustrator have a ‘Center Horizontally to Frame’ like InDesign?

    Consistency and Familiarity among programs sure would help us users

  5. It’s not the worst feature, but it would be nice if the superscript preferences had a preview option so you could see if the percentage you are entering is what you need.

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