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Manuscript to Layout, in Indesign: A designer’s approach

It’s a process our team goes through on most publishing projects and something that is second nature to us as designers. However page layout is not something many people would consider, outside of a publishing or design environment. So, we thought we’d share the steps our designers go through in taking a project from manuscript to final pages. These steps are not set in stone and the order of some processes, like photo research and asset placement may alter, often dependent on the number of proof stages allocated to the project. There are also areas such as artwork commissioning, which aren’t included in this example. The commissioning and placement of artwork can run concurrently, alongside the proof stages, or independently and sometimes follow their own schedule.

Step 1 – File Creation - Manuscript Assessment

We use Adobe InDesign for much of our page layout and the first step in the process is to make an initial document with essential parameters like size, margins, columns, and bleed output - following the specifications and guidelines given in the design brief. This process will involve setting up a ‘template’ that can be duplicated and used across the project. with the correct margins, gutter, bleed and column arrangement. Also, It is at this stage that master pages are created to help with both the consistency of design and speed of layout - these pages can be used to house page furniture and recurring graphics. Alongside the master pages we will set up Paragraph, Character and Object Styles, as well as ensuring the swatch library contains the required palette for the project.

Step 2 – Flowing-in Content

Again, this depends on how complicated the design is and how the layout needs to be. If the layout is relatively simple and a continuous flow is required, the manuscript can be placed and run on. However, if the layout is more complex and involves lots of feature boxes and the text is split between numerous frames. It’s often prudent to flow the manuscript onto the paste board taking sections from there, be that a specific element/feature at a time, or a whole page.

Step 3 – Application of Master Pages

If the project has limited design features and involves few master pages, they may be applied at this point. The way in which we apply the master pages can vary from project to project. Sometimes, with a project involving multiple, complex master pages, we find it easier to apply them on a page by page basis. Master pages help with speed and consistency of page layout, containing text & graphic elements that will appear on all pages the master is applied to.

Step 4 – Initial styling

Dependent on the step above, initial styling can be done on the pasteboard, or on the pages themselves. At this stage we tend to go through and apply the basic styles to the whole document/unit. Adding shortcuts to the more popular Paragraph and Character styles can help speed up the process. Some of our team like to style as they go, others like to sweep a unit, a style at a time - whatever works for you. More recently there has been a move to tagged manuscripts, where the styles of both the manuscript and InDesign align, bringing much of the document in pre-formatted.

Step 5 – Flow Breaks, Box-outs & Sizing

Within this example the layout is styled per spread, so at this stage, we go about breaking the content into its relevant frames and feature boxes etc. Depending on the requirements of the project some of the content or feature elements are taken out of the flow, but the boxes themselves pasted or anchored for consistency of spacing and to avoid content getting lost, or mixed up should repagination occur. You can also see, from this example, that the designed elements and features are assigned roughly the correct size, shape and layout. Dependent on the resources we have on the project, the role of designing up the features and realia’s may be given to another team member.

Step 6 – Creating Features.

At this stage one of our designers will further style up any features. If the design element is of a consistent design, these may be done as a sweep. It is at this point that the proofs would be supplied to the client as layout pages (1st proofs)

Step 7 – Further Proof Rounds.

The majority of projects are scheduled for 3 proof rounds, the initial layout and 2 further corrective rounds. This stage involves the application any text corrections and editorial amends, potential layout changes, as well as any global changes to design or style etc.

Step 8 – Final touches

Nearing the end of the project the finishing touches will be added to the pages, including; high resolution photos, illustrations and any final editorial amends. It is at this stage where we would clean up the files, deleting any erroneous styles and swatches, ensuring they are ready to handover when signed off.

The steps above give you a brief outline of the process designers go through to masterfully blend text and design in this digital work space. It is a meticulous process, involving a blend of creative vision and technical precision to breath life into the pages of an educational book. There are many other aspects to consider and if there is anything specific you would like us to blog about, then please do drop us a message here.

To view the project this blog was based on, please click here.


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