December 22, 2000 / Winter 2000

New Kid on the Block

Written by David Stone

Adobe’s InDesign 1.0 worth a look, but not ready for prime time

Outside, it was one of those great gifts to humanity – a brisk, colorful, blue-skied fall day in Montana. But inside our stuffy, fluorescent-lit classroom, it felt positively spring-like.

“Wow!” I can’t believe this!”

“Come here, man! You’ve gotta check this out!”

These excited words were not coming from teachers who would regularly speak in exclamation points. Art teacher and graphic designer Roy Carpenter and I – two pretty calm guys, really – were using our two days of teacher in-service to preview the new professional-grade, desktop publishing program, InDesign 1.0, by Adobe Systems.

Our reservations about learning a new layout program vanished as we explored InDesign. Nearly every irritating or cumbersome task in Adobe PageMaker, such as creating drop caps or checking linked graphics, has been streamlined in the new program. And, in addition, many of the useful features found in Adobe’s popular drawing program, Illustrator, have been wrapped into InDesign.

Roy and I like the program so much, in fact, that we decided not to wait for the program to be formally designated as “award-winning” in the software industry. Instead, we decided to give InDesign our own award – a bunch of them, in fact – in recognition of how darned entertaining it is to learn. We are calling these first-time awards the “Wallys” in honor of our favorite yearbook company. (Regretfully, Walsworth will not be receiving any monetary compensation.)

Adobe will continue to sell PageMaker, and the program will continue to be a reliable workhorse for yearbook layout. Walsworth expects that most of its schools will continue to use PageMaker. But, if you love layout, and have a decent, respectful relationship with your computer, we encourage you to check out some of InDesign’s innovative new features.

And don’t forget your sunglasses!

The Blair Witch Project Award for the best, but least publicized, new feature

The Bill Clinton Award for the creation of intriguing new gray areas

The Clint Eastwood “Go Ahead, Make My Day” Award for flexibility under fire

The Woody Allen “Geek And Proud Of It” Award for advanced typography

The Cool Hand Luke Award for conformity in the face of chaos

The Stephen Hawking Award for time compression

The Milli Vanilli Award for best Photoshop rip-off

The Forrest Gump Award for (almost) foolproof pre-flighting

The James Bond “007” Award for consistently great beginnings

The Sophia Loren Award for great curves

The Fred Astaire Award for stylish entrances

InDesign is far from perfect. For yearbook staffs and advisers trained in PageMaker, in fact, the new program carries a prodigious number of drawbacks:

  • InDesign does not have a story editor, a feature that makes it easy to edit stories and captions on a simple text-editing screen away from the laid-out page, which often is cluttered with multiple text frames and graphics.
  • It is a memory hog, and is recommended for use only on the latest and fastest Macs and PCs loaded with RAM.
  • Even with lots of RAM, InDesign can be frustratingly sluggish. On my 400-megahertz G-3 Powerbook with 192 Megs of RAM, simply scrolling across the page is a lurchy experience reminiscent of the early personal computers, when we were thrilled to have a whole 8 Megs of RAM to run PageMaker 4.0.
  • There are no built-in indexing or book-building functions, which obviously will be a huge drawback when it comes to putting together a yearbook’s index.
  • Because InDesign is a new program, you cannot expect Walsworth – or any publisher or service bureau, for that matter – to provide the levels of service and support now provided to PageMaker or QuarkXPress users. Everybody, Adobe Systems included, is still figuring out InDesign’s quirks and peccadilloes. For example, on my yearbook’s staff’s GCC 20/600 printer, as well as some popular Hewlett-Packard printers that use PostScript emulation, rather than true PostScript – InDesign prints simple gray object fills as solid black. The suggested solution from Adobe? Create a custom gray-to-gray gradient, and use that as a gray fill. On another occasion, we found InDesign did not support Illustrator-generated gradients when exporting an InDesign document as a PDF -and InDesign, Illustrator and Acrobat are all Adobe programs!

So is InDesign simple? No.

Speedy? No.

Predictable? No.

Is it fun to learn? Yes. that is, if you enjoy a challenge and see technical snafus as a fun learning opportunity rather than a maddening setback. Desktop artists whose main goal in a layout program is predictability might want to wait for the first revision or two to InDesign 1.0.

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David Stone