An Important Warning About Switching to InDesign

An Important Warning About Switching to InDesign

The story below is from Rob Underwood, who spends his days helping organizations learn how to use InDesign. In this story, he speaks out against blindly adopting an InDesign workflow, when keeping a QuarkXPress workflow would make much more sense — and save tons of money and time. I have personally seen quite a lot of this thoughtless adoption, and witnessed the regrets and suffering of the victims of those who made these decisions. So, I’m happy to see Rob share his real-world experiences and offer his meaningful suggestions to hardworking professionals.

InDesign is the better tool for many users — but not all users. It seems to me that Quark’s 10+ year monopoly of the desktop publishing space has created an “all or nothing” mentality around using a desktop publishing application: we expect everyone to use the same application, so when there are two viable options, some of us get lazy and adopt the one that’s begin shouted about the loudest. A symptom of our times, I suppose. (Does anyone else find it ironic that although we’re players in an industry that specializes in knowing the tricks to convince people to buy things that aren’t appropriate for them, we ourselves don’t see when we’re being fooled into buying the emperor’s new clothes?)

—Jay Nelson

If you’re using MediaSpan’s NewsEditPro with QuarkXPress, do yourself a favor — don’t switch to InDesign.

After years of using the NewsEditPro system, and doing countless so-called “upgrades” teaching many newspapers InDesign and InCopy, I have come to the conclusion that NewsEditPro does not work well in InDesign. Let me tell you why…

About NewsEditPro and QuarkXPress

NewsEditPro is a great little database system for newspapers. Writers write stories in NewsEditPro, and they are stored in the database. Upon saving they can add data to their story, such as the writer’s name and department. Every time the story is edited, a new version is saved allowing you to go back in time and see each revision. When writers need to find their stories they can run queries to find the stories they wrote based on author, or the stage of the life of the story, ie: whether the story has been edited or already run.

Meanwhile, the designers can search the database for stories related to the section they are currently building. For example, they may search Sports for all the Sports stories. Here is where the ease of use comes in: the designer can simply drag and drop the story from a list that appears, and the story with a separate headline box appears on the QuarkXPress page. In Quark you can simply use the item tool to manipulate the geometry of both the story and the headline box seperately. Once dropped, it knows it has been placed onto a Quark page and the status of the story changes. This is how the story can then know that in, say, 24 hours from being placed, it will go into the Websend folder, where it will be tagged with html tags so that the Web department can easily place the story on the website.

But in InDesign…

In InDesign, the process is similar but aggravatingly different. You write stories and save them to the database, but when you drag and drop a story onto the InDesign page, InDesign groups the headline and the body of the story together. This makes it extremely difficult to move the headline separate from the body. There are workarounds I have discovered, but they are workarounds, and none of them are as intuitive or fluid as the ease of use in Quark.

In Quark, you drag in a story with a headline attached and you can work on each box individually to control the size. In InDesign they come in grouped so you if you try to control the size with the Selection tool, both boxes get scaled. So you are then forced to use the Direct Select tool. What ends up happening is that if you don’t deselect the object and then select directly into the middle of the box, you end up changing the structure and geometry of the headline box.

Even worse, if you mistakenly click on the “in” port of a story instead of its corner point, that story will be loaded into your cursor. At this point, you better hope you worked in PageMaker long enough to understand what is happening to you. If not, the safer approach is to use only the text tool (never the selection tools) and learn how to master the use of the Command key (Win: Control key) at the correct times to be able to work with each box separately.

So the question is: why are they grouped? Why can’t I just ungroup them? The simple answer is that if you were to ungroup the boxes, the headline would no longer be related to the story. So, when the story is uploaded to the Web, or saved in the archive folder for later viewing, it will have no headline. This creates extra work for the Web department, and it also makes it hard to search the story based on its headline. (This negates a major advantage of using NewsEditPro, which is that it keeps saving the latest version of the story back to the database.)

Other Nasty Workarounds

I have seen workarounds that are much worse than the one I described above. For example, I’ve seen publications that put the headline, story, pull quote, and caption in one box, and then drag that into InDesign and then create new boxes for each part. Then they manually link the boxes together so that the parts stay connected. Could you imagine trying to work like this! I’ve seen it and it isn’t pretty. You edit a few words in the body and you mess up the location of the pull quote, caption and whatever else is linked. Stick with Quark…

The sad scenario I’ve seen too often is that someone hears that InDesign and InCopy are a great editorial workflow, and they surmise that these two programs alone could replace their current NewsEditPro system. Wrongo. They decide to scrap NewsEditPro and buy InCopy for the editors and InDesign for the designers. The first problem that arises is: Where do we store the stories? They set up a folder structure that resembles the “status” levels in News Edit. (See my earlier entry: “How to Start a Publication”.) The only problem is that if the story is placed into InDesign, it cannot be moved into the next folder without the link breaking. And you cannot change the filename, or the link breaks. Then to top it off, you cannot save versions of InCopy stories — not easily anyway. You could use Version Que, but once the stories come back for editing as assignments, the versions are gone.

Unexpected Costs

It is usually at this point that companies realize they should have stayed with Quark, but they are now invested in InDesign, and realize they need to sink more money into a database solution like Woodwing’s Smart Enterprise or Softcare’s K4 to get all the things they had in NewsEditPro.

Another $20K later and they may be somewhat satisfied, even though they have to spend at least another $10K for training, and all the while the whole staff is complaining: “Why did we switch?” I have also worked with many companies that have switched to K4. Then their number one gripe is that K4 is not drag-and-drop from the database — it’s clunky, requiring too many steps to use an item from the database. You first have to tell an InDesign frame that it’s a K4 object before you can even place an article into the frame. No thanks.

My Advice

So here is my advice: if you’re using QuarkXPress and NewsEditPro, you know that they work beautifully together. Don’t waste your money on InDesign. Instead, save some money: upgrade Quark, upgrade NewsEditPro. With the considerable money left over from what it would have cost to switch to InDesign, get one of your IT staff properly trained in NewsEditPro so you can use it to its fullest potential and streamline your newspaper and Web publication. Or, buy your page layout people a newer version of Photoshop and some training, so they can be more creative. Or send me the money, because I just saved you the cost of making a mistake. Just whatever you do, don’t jump into an InDesign conversion and dump NewsEditPro because you heard it was what everyone else was doing. They jumped off a bridge… are you next?

(Editor’s note: for a related in-depth comparison of QuarkXPress and InDesign, see “Report on Editorial Workflow Systems” and also “QuarkXPress 7 vs. InDesign CS3: Analysis of efficiency, workflow, workgroup support, and productivity.”)