How to advance ad production and increase creativity in Adobe InDesign

As every InDesign user is aware, it takes a lot of effort to produce high-quality advertising pieces. It’s partly about the tools we use. Since its introduction over twenty-two years ago, Adobe has made its flagship page layout application more powerful. Even with InDesign’s built-in potential for automation, not every design team can keep up with the ever-increasing demands of high-volume production.

You’ll notice we emphasized the word “potential.” Under the hood, InDesign is remarkably open to automatic interaction with various other systems – including product information (PIM) and digital asset management (DAM) systems. But having that ability and using it are two very different things. They require a robust, smart connection between the data and the InDesign workflow.

Take the creation of a “simple” ad, for example. The process involves many different components, even for a single, featured product.  First, there are product images and descriptive text to select and modify. Next are essential brand elements, campaign-specific copy and directives, relevant specifications (sizes, colors, etc.), and pricing details. Finally, the designer must gather all of these, ensure they are the latest and most accurate versions of the data, and then apply their creative abilities to synthesize it into a compelling advertisement.

This manual process has been a challenge for creative teams since the early days of modern advertising. But things have not gotten easier. Add to the above list the need to produce multiple ads for both print and online channels – not only for single products but for an array of products in each campaign. Our data sources have become more extensive and detailed, so the need for custom versions of everything has expanded exponentially. Different versions are required for different parts of the country, different languages or age demographics, and even different individuals! Adobe InDesign has the power to do most of the individual, creative tasks of an ad campaign. But what InDesign cannot do by itself is increase the one thing in short supply for every design and production team on the planet – the time to get everything done.

Solving the Time Problem

Of course, the answer is to automate the ad production process but to do so without damaging the creative heart of the team. In today’s crowded, multichannel media environment, being visually innovative is more important than ever. Ads must not only be accurate, but they must also stand out from the crowd and influence potential customers. Unfortunately, with the pressure of doing so many ads on so many platforms, without losing the essential creative “spark,” many production and creative services managers may feel a bit like Sisyphus – forever rolling bounders uphill just to keep their campaigns going.

Workflow automation must do more than simplify a handful of repetitive tasks to be effective and recover all that lost time. For ad workflows, in particular, automation must take a holistic approach, from the initial campaign planning stages through InDesign production, proofing, print output, and repurposing for digital channels. In effect, ad design and production teams must become agile. It all begins with tight integration a company’s DAM and PIM data sources and InDesign.

Working With Adobe

Decades ago, Comosoft became an Adobe development partner in what is now known as the Adobe Exchange Program, a long-standing effort to work with third parties to create extensions or “plugins” for Adobe software. The program takes advantage of the inherently open software model to solve complex problems facing marketing production teams. In this case, the two companies co-developed the LAGO Layout plugin for InDesign.

LAGO Layout adds a new set of controls to each InDesign installation. One of these controls connects the designer directly to the company’s PIM, DAM, and other data sources, allowing the user to access all the data and images for a particular SKU, eliminating the need to search for elements to complete an ad. The connection is also bi-directional. If something in the PIM or DAM changes (such as an updated product photo), the ad layout is automatically updated until the final output.

The link between data and InDesign is only part of the picture. For example, in the planning stage of a campaign, product marketing teams can use LAGO’s whiteboarding function to choose the optimum product mix based on factors such as profit margin and sales history to sketch the basic visual message. LAGO automatically uses this step to create a preliminary InDesign template – with all the requisite PIM and DAM information included by SKU. The designer then automatically receives an error-free starting point for the ad so that they can devote their energy to the creative process.

Going Above and Beyond

The LAGO system also automates the review and approval process, using Adobe InDesign Server to generate proofs automatically for online approval. When a proof is created, the appropriate parties are notified automatically, and their notes and corrections are sent back to the designer immediately.

LAGO can also generate multiple regional or demographic versions, automatically use new “base” templates that allow designers to customize each version easily without re-creating common elements. Each version can be automatically sent to the appropriate printing facility or agency when finished.

Finally, because so many campaigns do not end with a printed piece, the complex data from an ad can be automatically sent to an app, eliminating the need for manual data entry.

By uniting InDesign with critical data systems in a meaningful way, LAGO has given designers the power to exercise their creative skills without the burden of chasing after assets and information. In short, the development partnership between Comosoft and Adobe has created a “best of both worlds” opportunity for production and creative services managers.