Category : Adobe

InDesign for the rest of us: the power of document model abstraction

InDesign for the rest of us: the power of document model abstraction

Meeting the beast

I tried Adobe InDesign 1.0 roughly 18 years ago. I felt like I was in the cockpit of a spaceship, as I had felt before, when working with “professional” design tools: FrameMaker, Xyvision, QuarkXPress had been similar experiences. Working for one of the largest print conglomerates in the world, I knew that such a tool could produce flawless output worthy of the finest publications and the largest productions runs. I also knew how unlikely it was that I would ever produce documents with it by myself. Perhaps in collaboration with a professional designer or typesetter, but life was (and still is) too short for someone with my attention span to master such a thing without a compelling reason.

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Adobe InDesign and Linked Text Assets

Adobe InDesign and Linked Text Assets


Adobe InDesign is the tool of choice for page layout, yet it is a relatively old piece of software, originating in the late 1990s. While InDesign has a concept of “links”, its initial approach to graphic references was fundamentally that of desktop software prior to the age of the world wide web. Concepts of linked text in InDesign have evolved slowly over the past 15 years.

A link in InDesign is not, by default, a URL, as one might expect of today’s programs. Instead, InDesign links are pointers to assets that are local (on the physical drive of the computer running InDesign) or available across the local network (via a network share). A simple plug-in (our Silicon Connector) can bring InDesign into the modern age, where true URLs enable cloud-based workflows, but we’ll get to that later.

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Seven Trends in Multi-channel Communications

Seven Trends in Multi-Channel Communications

Historically, Silicon Publishing has delivered publishing solutions across a gamut of communications channels. In the first place, our Silicon Paginator product (first released in 2005 as the “XML Formatting Engine”), is a platform for flowing data through InDesign templates. As in traditional XML publishing, Paginator generates web, email, print and mobile app output from a single rendition-agnostic content source (or from diverse, orchestrated, content sources).

Multi-channel rendition, connectivity and interfacing are persistent themes in our practice, ever since the late 1990s when “multi-channel” became a buzzword to deer-in-the-headlights printers faced with the need to generalize into “communications” from the too-physical, too-easily-commoditized, craft of print.

I remember a channel called “CD-ROM” and now face channels such as “WebVR”, “IoT”, and “geolocated social” – the only constant is change.

Based on my experience in this space over the past 2 decades, I see seven major trends in multi-channel publishing as we approach Graph Expo this September of 2016. (Visit us in Booth 2383!) Here goes:

1. APIs as a metaphor for – and reality of – business

Some have argued that companies are defined by their Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs. Real APIs are a buzzword and a growing phenomena in the software industry, and now that the concept has so permeated the general business community, even brick and mortar organizations are being analyzed in terms of “points of interface” as if traditional services are now web services. The API concept has completely invaded our world.

In our work connecting Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator to DAM systems, we have learned the ins and outs of diverse APIs serving a common use case. The 20+ different systems we’ve connected to the Creative Cloud have had 20+ different APIs, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Integration and ease of interface is very valuable, as we see with forward-thinking companies like Zapier. Organizations scale best when they clearly define their points of interface.


It is not a given that you want to expose your whole application to the entire web for the lifetime of your company. It is also not great to base your business on top of someone else’s APIs. Twitter, for example, started out with amazing APIs yet backed right out of openness in the face of commercial opportunity. Third parties, including numerous startups based entirely on Twitter APIs, were left holding the bag.

APIs evolve over time. We have seen our DAM partners, for example, update their APIs, requiring adaptation from any products we have that need to interface. With multi-channel publishing it is prudent to accept that connection points will invariably change. It is also important to stay abreast of the inevitable evolution of APIs, both to make sure things still connect, as well as to understand the new depths of potentially available functionality.

2. Virtual/Augmented Reality

VR/AR is the most uncharted territory in communication, but clearly is a huge thing whichever way it goes. See Pokemon Go. VR and AR may be popularized by gaming, yet publishing possibilities are extended — for example publishing into a virtual world, or distributing print pieces that support an augmented reality experience from a companion mobile app. Beyond the new output channels/formats, the core rendition functionality provided by WebGL (now ubiquitous across all modern browsers and devices, and increasingly available on more and more servers) opens new avenues of graphic and interactive functionality never before possible.

Visionaries such as Tony Parisi have finally seen their dreams become feasible, if not yet fulfilled. There is no end in sight to the evolution of this space, and as Tony will tell you there are many things still to be defined today (such as, importantly, “how do virtual worlds cross-reference each other?” as well as “what will be the ‘mouse’ of VR?”). No doubt this is the future, but there is much less clarity about where it will end up. One dimension of this new technology is expressed in the comparison of “walled garden” vs. “open web” and we at Silicon Publishing are particularly interested in what is known as “Web VR”. Yet it remains to be seen just how far this goes vs. the closed systems from companies like Apple and Facebook.

3. Artificial Intelligence

Electronic communications should be efficient, and print even more so. There are strategies for achieving great response rates, and the tools to predict and influence improve with each passing day. “Deep learning” and other advances in AI, coupled with ever more powerful computing capability and continued growth in the number of data points available, mean that communications can be personalized and targeted as never before.

Someone once lamented that the best minds of our generation are being squandered on figuring out how to make humans click on a particular button on a web page. Artificial minds are already spending a similar proportion of their time tackling the same problem.

Artificial Intelligence

GPUs are proliferating, they are now standard on phones and computers, and starting to appear more and more on servers (the last remaining computing devices that are typically CPU-only). As GPU stands for “Graphics Processing Unit” and is often associated with CAD or high-end graphics, it may be surprising to learn that on servers, GPUs are much more commonly used for big data analytics. Their cheap processing power offers an ever-increasing capability to identify who to target for a marketing campaign, and which messages will make sense, across which channels.

4. On-demand 3D Printing

Companies like ShapeWays and others have brought on-demand 3D printing into the state of commercially viable technology.  The fact that a kid can create something in Minecraft and order a physical rendition of it represents a very cool advance, yet that is just scratching the surface.

In parallel with the production advances, software tools are evolving quite rapidly. We are finding our work in 2D editing blossoming rapidly into the third dimension: initially it was mainly projecting 2D graphics (created online with Silicon Designer) onto 3D surfaces, but we’ve already built tools that let users create and visualize personalized 3D products, and our document model has been extended accordingly.

5. Mature Social Media

As Social Media seems to calm its pace of disruption, the surviving big players are now evolving at a slower pace, and organizations are better able to plan and maintain their communications, anticipating a finite degree of disruption. Certainly there will still be changes, and policies of the leading social media channels can and will change overnight from time to time, but today social media has been around long enough that there are increasingly codified best practices in publishing to — and enhancing publishing through — social media.

After Facebook killed Friendster, there have not been many contenders to take its place. SnapChat is probably the most disruptive contender left, yet it is a quite different experience destined to exist in parallel. If Google itself couldn’t disrupt Facebook, it is clearly non-trivial to do so. Certainly new social networks will arise, but most organizations are getting used to the familiar players and refining practices rather than inventing them.

Facebook has faced quite legitimate criticism from luminaries such as Dave Winer that they are becoming a walled garden, and I hope they take note and evolve to make publishing more powerful through their platform.

6. Responsive Rendition

As screens evolve in both directions – into bigger monitors with even more pixels in one direction and onto ever smaller devices in the other (I can’t wait for the Apple Ring) – the art of creating content is becoming “multi-channel” with a vengeance. Try making a responsive page that looks great on both a tiny phone and a large monitor: “mobile first” is great for mobile but ideally a site will also offer a good experience to those with big monitors and plenty of pixels.

Beyond basic rendition, there are now countless devices (the majority) that don’t have a mouse, so there is the additional complexity of detecting and managing touch interface for users without a mouse. Finally, the world of mobile apps has to be considered, so device detection may include guiding users into the walled garden by suggesting or insisting that the users experience content through an app instead of a mobile browser.

These days, maintaining a “web site” is far more involved than it once was, as sites are served up to mobile browsers, laptops, and big screens. The fine art of design is intimately connected to development, and the “designer/developer workflow” is behind most successful responsive sites – only very rarely will you find a single person capable of mastering both code and design. Fortunately content management systems such as WordPress have evolved to be quite robust, and well-built templates save the day for mere mortals.

7. The Internet of Things

You can publish to more and more, ever stranger and stranger things, over time. Publishing today can include dispersing communications channels themselves, for example: you might distribute chips capable of receiving and processing subsequent communications. This means that “tracking responses” can take on entirely new meanings, as items purchased or distributed have such wonderful (or frightening) capabilities to “call home.”

Advances in MEMS and sensors enable wearable devices that can both publish (as when people tweet their jogging route) and be published to (as the environment can serve up content to a nearby device). It would seem the number of data points is going to explode: the Internet of Things will provide so much additional information that the advances in parallel processing and data analysis will have to continue in order to simply keep pace.

With all of these exciting new channels and functionality, there is a far less obvious and more of a one-size-fits-all approach to publishing. While once the targets were perhaps just “web” and “print” (and even that old dichotomy remains a challenge for the majority of organizations), now the possibilities are so limitless that publishers and marketers need to pick their battles and plan carefully. It is no longer a game of checking off the expected main channels, but a more creative adventure of defining a unique multi-channel vision.

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Silicon Connector Overview

Silicon Connector Overview

It started with a naive InDesign user

Silicon Connector first saw the light of day in 2010, when we at Silicon Publishing were building a large-scale online editing solution for a major client. Our solution was based on Adobe InDesign and Adobe InDesign Server, which were brand-new to this tech-savvy and ambitious organization we were working with. Although the client instantly understood the superiority of InDesign for page rendition and output quality, they looked at InDesign with very fresh eyes and came up with a big feature request.

“These links are barbaric!” said their brilliant technology lead. “They go to the file system, not to URLs as a real link should in this day and age.”

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How to Try Adobe InDesign Server

How to Try Adobe InDesign Server

As leading resellers of the product, we are asked time and time again to help people to try Adobe InDesign Server, and how to install the trial or licensed versions of the product. We have distilled simple instructions here for trying the latest version, and installing the licensed version once you’re certain you wish to buy it. We love this product and want others to enjoy it.

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Interview with Silicon Publishing Co-Founder

Silicon Designer

Silicon Publishing co-founder and CEO talks of Silicon Publishing’s origins, where they are today, and where they are headed in the future in this interview with Superb Crew.

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Flowing Data through Templates: the Art of Silicon Paginator

Flowing Data through Templates – the Art of Silicon Paginator

For 16 years we at Silicon Publishing have carried on a tradition we first encountered from our former life at Bertelsmann Industry Services (a now defunct company with its own 20-year history): database publishing. We automate the flow of data through templates, producing the entire spectrum of documents that can be generated from data:

  • Catalogs
  • Directories
  • Financial statements
  • Insurance documents
  • Report cards
  • One-to-one marketing pieces
  • Practically anything you can think of…


Paginator Documents

The diversity of “data-generated documents” has surprised me ever since I started working in this business. 20 years ago, we were still producing internal phone directories for companies such as Chevron and Mobile, large organizations that spewed forth paper to communicate information before the web took over.

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The Fall and Rise of SVG

The Fall and Rise of SVG

SVG certainly crashed and burned before it rose like a phoenix from the ashes…

Sometime in 1998, a former co-worker who had gone to work at Adobe came by my office at Bertlesmann to inform me of a brand new technology that she knew would excite me: PGML, or “Precision Graphics Markup Language.” This was the Adobe flavor of XML for Vector Graphics. As Jon Warnock put it at the time:

“The PGML proposal solves a growing need for a precise specification that enables members of the Web community to readily and reliably post, control and interact with graphics on the Web.”

I fell for it, hook, line and sinker, and ever since that time, I have followed the standards for XML-based vector graphics closely. PGML (mainly from Adobe) and VML (mainly from Microsoft), as well as a few other similar efforts (Web Schematics, Hyper Graphics Markup Language, WebCGM, and DrawML) soon merged into a “real” W3C standard, called Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). This promised to serve as a format for rendering interactive vector graphics in Web browsers, which at that time (the era of Netscape Navigator 4.7 and Internet Explorer 5) was only possible with Macromedia Flash.

Completely obvious in the year 2000

What made SVG so cool? It could almost be considered “PostScript for the Web,” so it certainly made sense for Adobe to sponsor and support it in its infancy: with SVG (as with PostScript), art was primarily described via vectors, a method far more efficient (and more naturally “scalable”) than using raster images.

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Adobe Stock: the History

Adobe Stock: the History

With the CC2015 launch, Adobe finally announced the inevitable, which many of us expected from the moment they acquired Fotolia, and some of us imagined much earlier: Adobe Stock. This has been a very long time in coming, and it completes an initiative from many years ago, one that we have witnessed from the beginning and participated in. There is nothing new about the concept of Adobe Stock, but the technology underpinnings and business model have both gone through some changes.

2005: Adobe Stock Photos is Launched

If you have been around a long time, you may remember the Creative Suite 2 launch, of April 2005. The announcement is not so different:

Adobe Stock Photos is a new service introduced with Adobe Creative Suite 2 software. Offering one- stop shopping from within your favorite Adobe applications, Adobe Stock Photos is an efficient and convenient way for creative professionals to search, try, manage, and buy high-quality, royalty-free stock images. Adobe Stock Photos provides access to over 230,000 photos and illustrations from some of the world’s leading stock image libraries including Photodisc® by Getty Images, Comstock Images® by Jupitermedia®, Digital Vision®, imageshopTM royalty free by zefaimagesTM, and amana®.

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Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign: After a Decade of Dominance, What Next?

Silicon Publishing was out in force at PePcon 2015 in Philadelphia, and as usual it was a true joy to meet pretty much all of the brilliant and talented InDesign developers from around the world: Gabe Harbs (In-Tools) came from Israel, Kris Coppieters (Rorohiko) represented New Zealand, Ferdinand Schwoerer (Movemen) from Germany; our own Olav Kvern joined us from Seattle, and three Adobe InDesign engineers travelled all the way from Noida, India. It seemed that all of the serious InDesign-related companies were represented: MEI, Typefi, Teacup Software, you name it. The cool thing about the InDesign ecosystem is that knowledge is shared freely among InDesign developers, without competitiveness.

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