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InDesign Nightmares

Terrifying tales of the evil that lurks in some InDesign files, and how to survive it

InDesign Magazine Issue 90: InDesign Nightmares
This article appeared in Issue 90 of InDesign Magazine.

Boo! Did we scare you? If not, then maybe this will: “a long document with no paragraph styles applied.”

If you’re an InDesign power user, you probably got chills down your spine when you read that, right?

We have all seen scary InDesign documents—pages that were created by well-meaning but not-well-versed InDesign users… files built by designers who don’t understand production techniques… or publications pieced together by a large committee of people who each have a different way of working. It’s not pretty, and it’s certainly not fun when one of those files gets dropped on your virtual desktop.

So this article is for everyone who makes InDesign files, in hopes that it will help you avoid these pitfalls. And it’s also for all the InDesign users who receive these kinds of files, to help you fix those problems and turn those nightmares into sweet dreams.

Here are some of the scariest InDesign scenarios we’ve seen. You have been warned!

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David Blatner and Anne-Marie Concepción are the co-hosts of InDesignSecrets.com, publishers of InDesign Magazine, and producers of The InDesign Conference.
  • Eugene Tyson says:

    I once spent weeks setting up a 3,200 page technical book that had 4 different running heads per spread, using the running head variables, hours of grep searches to apply the correct style to be picked up by the variables, to outsource the book for changes, then get it all back with all the running heads inserted manually, for the entire 3,200 page book.

    Weeks of work down the drain. Onward and upwards!

    • Christine Rivela says:

      Hi Eugene,

      Speaking of running heads and variables…..may i ask how you were able to automate the running heads using a GREP?

      My problem: we have autonumbered heads that need to appear in the running head (different ears for recto/verso pages….2 levels of heads: verso, 1st on page; recto, last on page) but i have not been able to find a way for the autonumbering to be picked up in the variable. The only possible solution i was able to find was a plug-in called powerheaders but i have been having trouble utilizing that as well.

      Is there any way to do this in CS6 without a plugin?

      Thank you!!!!!!

  • Eugene Tyson says:

    And I think one that missed the cut this time around! Tables! When you receive a document that has lots of tables. You think that’s great! Then open the artwork file (indesign file) only to find some chutzpah has created a table by inserting lines, frames and text frames manually to construct a table, rather than use the Table feature!

    • Eugene, it’s funny you should mention that… just this morning I opened a file that someone sent me and they had used a table… but the vertical strokes between the columns were created using lines sitting on top of the table. Wow.

      BTW, I think auto-correct may have changed some other word to “chutzpah”? If we’re looking for yiddish words, sounds like that person was a shlemiel or a shmendrik. :-)

    • Jim Leonardson says:

      I’ve had a similar experience. I was working for a studio that got a series of ads from an internationally renowned ad agency and having to rebuild a table made of rules with cell content was made of individual frames.

  • Whoa Eugene! That’s a nightmare story for sure.

    And yes … I have seen the horror of faux tables.

  • Scott Falkner says:

    Didn’t read (cheapskate), but I home you included my most hated InDesign “feature” introduced in, I think, CS2. Basic Paragraph. That’s just a trap waiting to pounce on the experienced and the novice alike. I fantasize it will disappear in CC2017, but it’s in the beta, so I guess I have to keep sacrificing thumbdrives to my local volcano.

  • Ha! Scott. What would you prefer instead of Basic Paragraph? I think it just used to be [None} or similar.

  • Jon. Hersh says:

    I notice that there is some difficulty with the formatting of this article. It looks like quite a few of the paragraphs have lead-in sentences with no punctuation! I imagine that they should have been BOLD FACED to make them stand out as a kind of in-paragraph header. It would have been simple with Character Styles but they don’t cross over to HTML, do they? :-)

    • Mike Rankin says:

      Hi Jon- Thanks for pointing that out. It was due to a tagging error on my part and a quirk in WordPress where it looks like bold is applied in the backend but it doesn’t come across in the published article.

  • Marshall Ostrow says:

    Terrifying tales do not lurks, but they do lurk.

    Even though I’m a retired technical writer and editor, I still cannot overlook such errors in print.

    Marshall Ostrow

  • Mike Rankin says:

    Haha, no worries! We do make mistakes from time to time. Thanks for being a subscriber!

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