Review: Adobe InDesign CS6

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Pros: Huge advances in the ability to resize layouts, alternate layouts can be housed in one document, PDF form tools, auto-sizing text frames, EPUB, HTML, and PDF enhancements.

Cons: Some of the new features are complex and come with a steep learning curve, some need more refinement. No improvements on footnotes and other existing long document features.

Score: 90 out of 100

What is the number one problem facing publication designers today? Crowd-sourcing? Pinterest time-sinks? Misused drop shadows? I would submit that the number one problem is finding a way to efficiently design and deliver content for an ever-increasing number of outputs, both in print and on screen, on time and on budget.

It feels like every week another phone or tablet is announced, with a unique size and/or resolution that you have to account for when designing content. And with each new device, that task of designing publications for multiple screens threatens to become overwhelming. The folks at Adobe agree with this, to the point where they made "Design for Mobile" one of the guiding themes of CS6. When it comes to InDesign, this has led to the creation of several major new tools and features aimed at allowing users to repurpose content efficiently and create designs that look good on a slew of mobile devices.

So did they succeed? Is InDesign CS6 up to the task? While there's always room for improvement, I think yes, Adobe has succeeded in addressing some of the big problems of today, while laying the groundwork for even more impressive leaps in the near future. They also managed to add significant new features for people who may never deliver content to mobile devices. Let's examine the new features of InDesign CS6.

Liquid Layout and Alternate Layout

When you're designing publications for multiple screen sizes and resolutions, you need some degree of automation, or else you're going to find yourself in a nightmare workflow of duplicating files, making manual changes to each one, and then hoping that the content doesn't change afterwards. Prior to CS6, the automation that InDesign could provide for this task came from the Layout Adjustment feature. For very simple, consistent page designs, Layout Adjustment could be useful, and at times, even a life saver. But for more complex designs, the feature yielded inscrutable results, and a frustrating amount of trial and error was necessary to get anything usable (if you didn't just give up and rework the layout manually). Layout Adjustment is still present in CS6, but it has been superseded by a new feature called Liquid Layout.

Liquid Layout is a method used in web design where objects automatically resize along with their container. InDesign CS6 implements the concept of Liquid Layout via Liquid Page Rules. These rules are settings which can be applied to each page in a document, and they guide the size and position of each object when the page size changes. I'll avoid the cliche of saying that Liquid Layout is Layout Adjustment on steroids. Rather, let's call it an evolutionary leap forward.

There are four Liquid Page Rules to choose from: Scale, Recenter, Object-based, and Guide-based.

Scale and Re-center are pretty much self-explanatory, and of limited value. When a page is resized with the Scale rule, objects on the page scale up or down so they always fit inside the page. It's very tidy, but it won't always yield acceptable results. When a page is resized with Re-center, objects don't resize, and they stay centered on the page. Re-center won't stop objects from falling outside the page, so it probably is the least useful of the Liquid Page rules, and only might help in cases where you're going from a smaller page to a larger one.

Object-based and Guide-based are much more powerful and flexible methods for adjusting layouts. Of these two, Guide-based is the easiest to grasp. InDesign CS6 has a new kind of ruler guide called a Liquid Page guide. Objects that are touched by a horizontal liquid guide can resize vertically. Objects that are touched by a vertical liquid guide can resize horizontally. If that sounds odd, it makes much more sense in practice when you're actually using the feature. Liquid guides are really just a way to tell InDesign in which direction you want items to move and resize when the page size changes. This degree of control is a clear step up from the Re-center and Scale rules.

The final Liquid Page Rule, Object-based is at the top of the heap, both in terms of precision and complexity. It allows you to control the size and position of each object individually, by pinning the edges of objects to the edges of the page. When you select a page item with the Object-based rule applied, eight circles appear around the object, four on the inside, and four on the outside.

You can click an outer circle to pin the object in relation to the page edge. You can click an inner circle (or the lines connecting the inner circles) to lock or unlock resizing of the object. If it sounds like a lot of manual work to do this for each page object, well, it is. If you were just doing a single alternate version of a layout, you wouldn't bother with all that pinning. But the genius of Object-based rules becomes apparent when you have multiple versions of a layout to create. In that scenario, you may be able set the rules once and you're good to go for as many alternate sizes as you need, which could yield a huge savings of time and effort.

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