Let’s Talk VDP with Will Eisley

2005
Jun
23

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Variable Data Publishing (VDP) support on the desktop. VDP solutions exist for InDesign–and more are on the way. But what are those solutions? What can InDesign do? Variable Data Publishing (VDP), long the darling technology of direct marketers who bring the “you,   Bob Smith   of   Hoboken, NJ  , […]

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There’s been a lot of talk lately about Variable Data Publishing (VDP) support on the desktop. VDP solutions exist for InDesign–and more are on the way. But what are those solutions? What can InDesign do?

Let's Talk VDP with Will Eisley

Variable Data Publishing (VDP), long the darling technology of direct marketers who bring the “you,   Bob Smith   of   Hoboken, NJ  , might already be a winner” announcements to your mailbox, is maturing into a serious publishing technology with tremendous potential for customization. Publix Supermarkets, the Southeasten United States largest chain, is using VDP to customize each weekly mailed sales flyer with data collected from discount card shoppers. And the technology is having an affect through the graphic communications realm.

Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of Libertarian magazine Reason, said: “What if you received a magazine that only had stories and ads that you were interested in and pertained to you? That would be a magazine that everyone would want to read.”

The cover of each of the 40,000 direct mailed copies of Reason’s June 2004 issue featured a satellite photo of the individual subscriber’s house. In the same issue, the Editor’s Note customized its content to subscribers’ specific commute time, education level, and other data the monthly magazine keeps on file. The goal of the exercise was to prove that if Reason could do it, anyone could.

According to Will Eisley, Adobe’s Group Product Manager for InDesign, InCopy, & GoLive, anyone can.

Quark VS InDesign.com    Let’s talk Variable Data Publishing. Why all the interest in VDP?

Adobe InDesign Server CS2…will enable Adobe partners to provide new levels of automation and efficiency in high-end editorial workflows, collateral creation, Web-based design solutions–and, of course, variable data publishing.

Will Eisley   VDP has been around in various forms for a long time, driven in large part by direct marketers who wanted to create personalized pitches. Now VDP is evolving to place as much emphasis on a rich design experience as on personalized content. In the past, direct marketers were content with entering a name in Courier into a template to achieve personalization. Now they want that personalized content to be set in beautiful type with a live drop shadow and a host of other design touches that make it a more appealing experience.

QvI    Aside from the rudimentary VDP available with InDesign CS2’s (and InDesign CS PageMaker Edition’s) Data Merge, what options are available for full-function VDP in InDesign?

WE    While InDesign supports basic VDP functionality through its Data Merge feature, it does not provide industrial-strength VDP functionality straight out of the box. Instead InDesign provides a robust platform based on open standards for customers and third-party partners to build a wide variety of VDP solutions that meet different VDP needs. For example, XML-savvy customers typically build automated VDP workflows by creating XML-tagged InDesign templates and writing scripts that pull information from their databases to flow into those templates and drive their output.

In addition, third-party partners–including Creo (Creo Darwin VI recently moved from beta to production), Sansui, Em Software, XMPie, and others–have built a wide variety of VDP solutions around InDesign. These solutions:

  • Address different VDP applications (catalogs, direct mail, marketing collateral and more);
  • Support different output types (PDF, VPS, VIPP, PPML, VDX, PostScript);
  • Work on one or more platforms (Mac, Windows);
  • Are often available in different localized versions, and;
  • Output to a variety of devices.

These third-party solutions provide a depth and breadth of choice to meet customer needs.

Adobe is also piloting Adobe InDesign Server CS2, a new technology platform for third-party systems integrators and developers to build design-driven, server-based publishing solutions. It is the Adobe InDesign CS2 engine, with its innovative design and typography features, adapted for server usage. This server technology will enable Adobe partners to provide new levels of automation and efficiency in high-end editorial workflows, collateral creation, Web-based design solutions–and, of course, variable data publishing.

We believe in powering an ecosystem that can provide the solution choices and support customers need.

QVI    How accessible are these solutions to the average creative or production department who would make use of them?

WE    Third-party VDP solutions range in complexity. For example, XMPie creates a range of plug-ins from XMPie uDirect Standard, which is accessible to designers, to XMPie PersonalEffect, which is directed at print service providers who are providing highly customizable VDP services. Some solutions have a simple Web-based interface for setting up variable data and selecting templates, and others have more complex controls over business logic, output, and more. Our goal in providing a platform for third-party VDP solutions is to support our partners in addressing a wide variety of customer needs–including scaling from more accessible solutions to more complex and powerful ones.

QVI    How accessible does it need to be? Should a VDP solution have been built into InDesign, or are creative pros better served by leaving such functions to third-party developers?

WE    We believe that customers are better served through third-party VDP solutions because they get a wider breadth and depth of options to meet their needs. Adobe’s goal is to provide Adobe Creative Suite as a state-of-the-art design platform that supports designers and their clients in achieving their communication goals. That platform also provides rich support for third parties to create more customized design solutions that fit into diverse workflows: For example, InDesign–and other Suite components–is built on open standards, such as XML, as well as de facto standards, such as PostScript, PDF, and XMP; provides a rich API in a C++ SDK; and supports scripting using JavaScript, AppleScript, and VBScript. Using InDesign and the Adobe platform, third parties can dive more deeply into specific customer needs around variable data publishing (and other areas) to define and develop niche solutions.

Customers win in two ways through this approach: They get the benefit of a highly integrated core set of design tools delivered by Adobe. They also get their niche needs met by experienced third parties building on open standards and the Adobe design platform. We believe in powering an ecosystem that can provide the solution choices and support customers need.

QVI    When should we expect to see the first solutions based on InDesign Server?

WE    We can’t release specific information about when partner-deployed InDesign Server CS2 products will be available. However, we can tell you that we have an extensive pilot program underway for InDesign Server CS2 to work with diverse partners interested in solving different workflow issues for our customers.

QVI    Can you tell us what types of solutions are being worked on by the system integrators and developers participating in the pilot program?

WE    We can’t discuss the specific solutions being developed at this time. However, when we move from the pilot phase to the general availability phase for InDesign Server CS2, we expect to provide detailed information.

QVI    Would you lay out for us a hypothetical scenario of InDesign Server in use in a VDP workflow, from start to output?

WE    One simple example would be to build a system that handles variable data binding and print generation on InDesign Server, freeing up a client desktop. So, for example, you might build the template in InDesign, but then use an InDesign Server solution to process the variable data that gets placed into the template and generate PDFs for print production. There are many other such scenarios for building customized collateral and other highly designed, customer-centric materials.

QVI    Any last words on VDP?

WE    Yes, be sure to check out the variable data publishing center on Adobe.com to see the solutions currently available for InDesign.

Additional Resources:

Website: Adobe VDP Resource Center
Article: Putting 40,000 Readers, One by One, on a Cover
Article: Adobe Drives the VDP Bandwagon with New VDP Resource Center

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