Software that allows printed templates with 'editable areas'
September 2, 2011 4:43 AM   Subscribe

Software solution for designers to create layout templates, and then give to non-technical people to populate with text and images.

I work as the marketing manager for a firm of real estate agents, and I'm trying to solve a specific problem.

I'm a big fan of InDesign and use it to design much of our printed material. However, much of what we print as a company is put together by admin staff using more basic software like MS Publisher.

Unfortunately, they aren't skilled designers and everything ends up looking slightly different (typefaces, alignment, etc).

While I could design some templates in Publisher, it can be quite limiting, and I would like to restrict what changes the users are able to make to the layout.

I'm wondering if there is a good software solution to allow templates to be designed by an admin user, and then another program used to populate the "editable areas" of those templates with text and images.
posted by oxide to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can do this with InDesign and InCopy - you make layouts in InDesign with text and graphic frames where you want them (including all colors, fonts, etc.) and then someone with InCopy can add the text or images. The person working from InCopy cannot make layout or style changes and can only add information where you have specified, so the idea is that both the designer and editor have maximum control over their output.

I haven't used it much yet, but I will say that it is kind of a complex, fussy process. If you're dealing with lots of non-technical people, they may get confused by the InCopy interface and the assignments/checkins. But it does do exactly what you want and might be worth getting over the initial learning curve. (There's a 30-day trial.)

Another alternative, InDesign can also work with XML which may have some promise for your purposes.
posted by ella wren at 5:58 AM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

You can print your design to a PDF, and use Acrobat author to create user-editable form fields. The advantage is that the end users don't need to install special software - they probably already have Acrobat reader. Also, it's a pretty simple interface on the user side. Any of the hard parts will likely be done on your side of things.
posted by Citrus at 6:13 AM on September 2, 2011

I wasn't the designer on this, so I'm not sure how it was done... I once had a series of print ads that required different copy on each. Our designer built out the files in InDesign and then linked it to an Excel file I made. When I updated the Excel file, it updated the InDesign file.
posted by dripdripdrop at 8:29 AM on September 2, 2011

What follows is my fairly jaundiced response to your problem, based on decades of being in very similar situations...

For starters, I hope you a.) Have an excellent working relationship with the admin staff, and b.) Have floated the idea of you creating templates for everyone past them first.

I've worked as the art person in a marketing/sales office, and have had to endure sales people winging their own materials using Publisher, Word, Powerpoint, etc. One thing I know for certain is that those people lover, love, LOVE the pieces they create themselves, because they hit all the notes they absolutely know work infallibly. I also know that they will take it as a personal affront if the art guy just ups and hands them templates to use instead of their own creations, without first talking it over with them and getting an ok.

So, let's say you've talked with them about the importance of an effective and unified theme (or words to that effect)...We come to the question of software and templates. Currently, they all are playing Dr. Frankenstein with Publisher. Why? 'Cause it came on their PCs, of course. It's free. They love the wysiwyg nature of it. They get instant results. It makes them feel creative. It's relatively simple to use, too. They are not going to enjoy filling-in form fields in Acrobat, or dorking-about with boring Excel files. And they aren't going to be friendly to buying new software like InCopy, when they already have free Publisher.

They are not going to give-up using Publisher. Honest. Even if they agree to going down some alternate route, I guarantee you, they will eventually migrate back to Publisher, as long as they are allowed to create materials on their own. It will start with a "I really needed this done immediately and I was working at home" type of excuse for doing a Publisher job, and it will expand from there until they're all back to doing their own thing in Publisher.

Unfortunately, the best you are ever going to be able to do is to create awesome templates for Publisher, and pray that they use them 50% of the time. Sorry.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:35 PM on September 2, 2011

I use Filemaker Pro for this situation. I am the artist for a grocery store and departments like produce and the deli change signs constantly on the fly using the templates I made for them.

I set up the fields in the correct positions, assign a font and font size, and have fields for pictures.
Uneditable areas like logos can be set in the layout mode and can't be moved by the user.

Data can be imported from excel spreadsheets easily.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 1:58 PM on September 3, 2011

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