Choosing layout and design software

Are your designers eager for an upgrade? Does your workflow need a better cross-platform publishing solution? Could your newsletter use some flare? This article discusses key considerations to keep in mind when picking or upgrading layout and design software.

Basic need to know
Although it could be argued that the market for layout and design software is maturing and that the offerings are already well known, there is still strong innovation happening among the key players. These innovations promise to improve your efficiency and results, and maybe even help you realize new types of service offerings for your business.

The features in layout and design software can be broken down into two sets: design basics and workflow capabilities. Design basics include typography, image effects, graphics, and layout. Workflow capabilities include asset management, content publishing, and collaboration. For the most part, the design basics mentioned here are included in all of the major layout design software solutions. Tools and options like vector shapes, text wrap, object effects, and snap-to alignment are considered standard. It’s the workflow capabilities that are the differentiators. They should be the basis for your decision to buy—especially if you’re looking to expand your digital service offerings.

Meet the cloud
One of the most significant new workflow features for layout and design software involves cloud computing. The cloud promotes collaboration between designers, project staff, and even clients. With cloud collaboration, your team can quickly share project files, gather comments and approvals from stakeholders, and publish files across multiple platforms. They can also have access to the same font and asset libraries. The project file itself can be synced to the cloud, so no matter where you or your team members are, everyone can access the most up-to-date version as long as they have an internet connection.
There are some caveats for using the cloud, though. Working remotely, away from your trusty office network, may be an issue if you’re using a slow or unstable internet connection; the process of syncing or sharing high-resolution assets may be a cause for concern. The cloud also pulls away from the traditional file server workflow and software licensing used in production environments; archiving files and keeping tabs on login credentials could become a challenge for your IT department.

Don’t just design brochures, design apps!
A new trend for layout and design software being initiated by Adobe is app design—that is, the designing of the visual components required for tablet apps alongside the development of traditional print or other digital materials. It’s an exciting new feature that can help you and your clients streamline the development of cross-platform marketing materials. It integrates the designing of content for iPad and Android tablets with the familiarity of InDesign. Imagine being able to seamlessly produce a print brochure, a digital flip book, and a tablet app, all with the same project files. You can learn more about Adobe’s App Builder here: adobe.ly/LJrc3I.

Keep linked-in
Another new feature worth noting is the URL tool within InDesign CC. These days, you’ll be hard pressed to find a commercial print piece or digital publication that doesn’t have a URL within a call to action. This new tool automatically creates URL character styles for use across your documents. It also helps you manage the validity of all of your URLs in a palette similar to the InDesign Preflight palette; if a web page is down or if a link is spelled incorrectly, a red status indicator will let you know.

Resources to get you going
Regardless of the type of software you pick, the majority of them have the basic tools needed to create engaging content. Often what’s needed is just a little bit of inspiration. One of the favourite spots to look for the designers I work with is designspiration.net. It has a massive collection of modern layout designs and imagery that will stimulate your creative juices.

If you’re interested in getting your feet wet in digital publishing, there are lots of resources available, too. Check out the showcase gallery for digital publishing from Adobe at adobe.ly/1ePUI01. You can also play around with the different types of interactivity in digital publications in the Digital Publishing Suite Tips app from Bringhurst Publishing House. Download it to your iPad from http://bit.ly/1kOictp.

So, what are my options?
Most will probably already know about the major market players—those being Adobe InDesign, QuarkXPress—so I thought I’d highlight some of the lesser known solutions. PagePlus from Sarif is a fully-featured solution for Windows, with a clean and organized user interface. It provides a number of templates to get you started, and is priced very economically. FrameMaker from Adobe is a solution that focuses on structured and relational content. It’s best for bringing consistency to text-rich documents like product manuals and documentation. Fatpaint is an online open source solution that combines both layout design and image manipulation. It has a neat tool that allows you to create a number of template-driven promotional materials for your business within the applet, and allows to you save and share your project files locally.

You can compare the features and price points for layout and design software even further by checking out the reviews on toptenreviews.com.

The bottom line
There’s an important statement to keep in mind before making a move to purchasing: content is king. Clever headlines, compelling copy, rich design, and stunning imagery are what will engage your target audience. Depending on the software you chose, though, it can help you get there more efficiently and inspire you to create in new ways.

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