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Careful planning at the start of a project can put you on the path to success. So, let's spend a few minutes considering some of the questions you might want to ask and answer before you create your first InDesign document. And first of all, let's acknowledge that every project is unique, there are unique requirements and everyone has their unique way of working. My general recommendation is that you start with the end in mind, start with what you're trying to build and then figure out how to build it. Start with the top issues and then drill down to the details. The time you spent at the start of your project thinking about your workflow, identifying important issues and planning for them can be the most important time spent of all.
First of all let's talk about deliverables. What are your deliverables? What are you trying to make and what are you trying to get out of InDesign? It could be a print PDF, interactive PDF, an eBook of some kind, or maybe you're packaging up the InDesign files with their assets and delivering those too. Next, are you making just a single product or there're going to be multiple versions of it, and if you have to produce versions, how are you going to do that? There are several ways to make versions in InDesign. Also, what's your preflighting strategy? How are you going to ensure that these files come out correct on press? Do you have a printer contact? Can they give you resources to work with? The next major set of issues is process.
Once you've figured out what you're going to make, it's time to figure out how you're going to do it. First and most important, what is the schedule? Who gets what and when? This is the most important thing to get clear to everyone involved. Also, what are the software requirements? Is everyone going to be using the same version of InDesign? They should be, because it's not very easy to move back and forth between one version and another. Next, what's your manuscript process? Are you going to be receiving complete text files, or they going to be developed along with the layout and is Word, or InCopy going to be your editorial tool? What about the design process? Is it pretty straightforward or is there going to have to be reviews of the pages to revise them? What about file storage? Where are you going to keep your files, how you're going to back them up and how are you going to make sure that everyone has access to them? It's also worth thinking about potential problems in your workflow.
Think about the most difficult or tedious things you're going to have to do, and ask if they can be scripted in some way to take some of the time out of your schedule. Also ask yourself, what's the worst thing that could happen and try to plan for it. This isn't to be grim or pessimistic, but just to try to anticipate things and be ready with a response for just about anything. Then once you have a handle on all the workflow issues, focus in on the details of document construction. First of all, what kind of page numbering do you have to manage? Are you going to have mixed numbering styles; some Arabic, some Roman, some prefix, some letters? Next, do you need font management? Are you licensed for everyone in your workflow to use all the fonts that are in your project? What about color issues? Are you going to try to color manage your InDesign files? Do you have to manage spot colors and how are you going to Proof, and if you're going to proof, how are you going to ensure that these are color accurate proofs that you can trust? Next, what is the design source that you're working from? Are you going from a previous edition or a fresh Prototype, and do you have written specs that you can rely on, or some combination of all of the above? You're also going to have to figure out what's your ideal InDesign document length.
How many pages long should each file be? Are you going to try to put the entire book in one InDesign document, or split it up into several smaller ones, and if so, how long should they be? A section length, the chapter length or individual pages even. Also, what's your file naming convention? It's very important to be able to find all your assets quickly and know what you're looking at when you're looking at a file. Make sure you have a cross- platform compatible naming convention too, if you have to move files back and forth. Then what elements do you need to build into your InDesign document? Think about master pages, layers, styles, swatches and all those sort of things.
What are the limitations that you might run up against inside InDesign, things that InDesign isn't especially good at doing, things like footnotes or endnotes, special kind of indexing, even running heads might cause you a little bit of grief. That's my list of general long document workflow issues to consider at the start of a new project, and even though that list is pretty wide-ranging, it's really just a starting point. I encourage you tailor it to your own projects. The time you spent at the start of a project, thinking about your workflow, identifying all the important issues and planning for them, can be the most valuable time spent of all.
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