Traditionally, stylized DITA output has been clunky and code-editor driven. But it doesn't have to be that way. See how one tool is taking features from other user experiences and bringing them in to a world that has been neglected.
You can create styling libraries like you create content libraries. Change it once and change it everywhere. Design faster. Implement faster. Save yourself time and bring value to your company.
In this TC Dojo, get a look at Styler and learn how you can make appealing DITA output in minutes.
TC Dojo Expert-In-Residence
Liz Fraley, Single-Sourcing Solutions, is a serial entrepreneur. She’s founded two companies, sits on the boards of three non-profits, and is constantly coming up with new ways to share knowledge in the technical communications and content industries. She has worked in high-tech and government sectors, at companies of all different sizes (from startups to huge enterprises). She advocates approaches that directly improve organizational efficiency, productivity, and interoperability. If you ask her, she’ll say she’s happiest when those around her are successful.
Watch the Video
Recorded: 10 September 2018
Transcript (Expand to View)
[00:00:00.060] - Liz Fraley
Welcome to the TC Dojo from single-sourcing solutions, the TC Dojo is a techcom community that is driven by you. Tell us what you want to learn. You choose the topics and we find the experts. I'm Liz Fraley and in the TC Dojo open session today, I'm your Dojo master. I'm talking about the layout of DITA content. There's an aesthetic to well-balanced spaces, some geometries are more pleasing than others. Since it's just me today, I'm going to ask that you hold your questions until the end. Be sure to type them in when you think of them so you don't forget what you wanted to ask. I'll look at the chat window when we get to that point. We have a fair amount to cover. Me, some of you know me at this point, most of you do. I'm often found in situations like this. I like to enable the communities I serve. This TC Dojo is just one example, not so frequently Arbortext communities find me talking best practices and ranting when I see someone get a stylesheet that's designed to keep the consultant in business.
[00:00:59.940] - Liz Fraley
So first to set the scene, I want to give you a little bit of history about the tool I'll be showing you at the end of the session. Arbortext has been around for a long time and it's been part of DITA history since DITA began. It's had a long history of being focused on output. Now, one of the milestones in its history is the acquisition of 3B2 in 2004. 3B2 was a typesetting application that by 2004 I had long coveted. Its closest competitor is XPP. If anyone's had experience with that, it's been the main--It's since become the main composition engine underneath Arbortext styler and publishing engine. In addition to standard publishing APP is used for magazine publishing because it can handle non XML as well as XML content. It's only used for legal publishing because it can handle line numbering and synoptic alignment of content from separate language streams. English on the left, Spanish on the right, Vietnamese in the center of, say, a trifold brochure.
[00:01:55.860] - Liz Fraley
It's used for institutional publishing of things like IPO documents, where you have big financial tables of data that span across a page to pages. I don't mean continuing table rows across page boundaries. More that when you've got 20 columns and you want 10 of them on the left page and 10 on the right page, true double page span tables. That's what I'm talking about. But most importantly, it's specialty is automation. For example, say I wanted to automatically fill 20 percent of the page with ad content from a database of possible ads. I can do that and I could automate it as long as I can write the rule, APP can do what I want. The reason I coveted it was the same reason I liked XPP, both also provide you the capability to adjust content mid-publish if really necessary. And by that, I mean, if you want to move the graphic a little bit because it looks better in the right hand column than on the left and there's fifty thousand dollars on the line if you don't get the manual fix and out the door today, then yeah, but most of us don't need to do that, and I'm not showing you all of that, that's far beyond what most of us generally need to do. I mean, I don't think we have any magazine publishers with us on the phone, nope, ok so then why are we talking about style? I think doing this with increasing frequency, see the last couple of years, we used to get it a lot, 10 or 15 years ago, then it went away for a while and now it seems to be back and in part, I'm sure it's because Web publishing has become so much easier with WordPress and themes and responsive design. We know there must have been some advancement in publishing for our techcomm content also, and we're tired of people telling us to compromise. Frame has advanced, Marimo is making waves, arbortext has been around forever. There are a lot of us who never have this question because we have better tools. Now as I was researching this presentation, I asked people to send me their ideas of ugly and I search for anyone who done presentations on the topic and the closest I got was one on YouTube that Sarah O'Keefe did.
[00:04:10.900] - Liz Fraley
She said PDF comes out of the open toolkit, it isn't necessarily ugly, it's ugly by default when you first open it up and a lot of people do not do the work to make it pretty. It really is a significant amount of work and it occurred to me that most people think DITA output is ugly because the open toolkit output is ugly and because, as she has said more than once, it takes more work to make it pretty. There's no lie on that she's right, let me state that up front. We tell people all the time to balance the time spent making something look a certain way or styling combinations of elements that no one will ever use against something the user may not care that much about. Bad page breaks, they happen, you're not going to get them all, but you know what, most people don't notice it, especially online readers. That said, let's take a look. So I found these examples online. There was no way I was installing the open toolkit for this presentation. These are output from the open toolkit. It's too much work to install the open toolkit. It takes too long, and that's coming from someone who has a Computer Science degree. Plus, I have better tools anyway, installation should take minutes, not days. Anyway, these are not really that bad. I mean, there have been old school, check out that outdented heading and I'll come back to that in a minute. The header is bad too, but--you know, it's a running head if the page numbers are right and the cross-references look like the way we expect links to look. What else, the figure is below the graphic, that's kind of old school, in my opinion, especially since table titles are always on top. But, you know, all in all, it's really not that bad. I mean, you know, this output isn't DITAs fault.
[00:05:50.500] - Liz Fraley
These are examples of stylesheets that come with the open toolkit. And now it's true, there is no business case for pretty, well, for most of us anyway, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't do things that are good for the reader, for comprehension, and we all know marketing is going to come along periodically and get us to modernize our look and feel. So what does that mean to us? Do we tell marketing to stuff it, tell them we can't because our tool isn't that great? How do we respond to the cry of user focus when we're hiding from design problems? Well, let's talk a little bit about page design and page layout. All right, a lot of people forget that, you know, there are geometries that are more pleasing than others and some general rules of thumb, and we--you know, we forget that there are canons of page construction. They are illustrative and mathematical models of page layout that multiple designers have worked out. You know, they come to it on their own. It was often considered a trade secret, but everybody came to the same conclusion. They come to it over and over again and it's a natural sense of the mathematics behind it. When you divide a page mathematically, always looking at the intersections of lines that are implicit on the page, you get the Van de Graaf. The first line is corner to corner of the double page layout. I know we're talking looking at a two-page spread and we're talking print layout, but that's a lot of what we have. And just go for me with a moment there's some key stuff here, and it isn't just in print, right? So the first page is corner to corner. The second one is corner to mid spread center right. The third and fourth bisect the angle at the intersection and come to the back to the intersection of the other lines.
[00:07:41.930] - Liz Fraley
The spatial relationships that come out of these lines show us how to balance spacing from blocks on the page to the lettering between the lines, there's a mathematical relationship for all those designs we do, and so many of us have forgotten the origins. If you look at the right-hand side, you'll see the nine by nine grid. As it turns out, no matter what page size you have, you will always end up with a nine by nine grid. Once you identify the block where the text should go, that's the red one. The other thing to notice about the right-hand drawing is that circle. Notice that the circle shows the height of the red box turns out to be the width of the page. Here's another way to look at it. This is an animated gif that will circle around, starting with the Van de Graaf, you can further subdivide the page to get bigger boxes. Notice, however, that the method for making the division is based around the same process of bisecting angles. You can see how the box can grow but notice, too, that the proportions always stay the same, right? So now let's take a look at two examples in reality. First, this is obviously a magazine layout. Notice how the island is centered on the diagonal. The main diagonal, the island, is centered on the diagonal and set at the bottom of the text box.
[00:09:08.040] - Liz Fraley
This is not by accident, it's balanced, it's pretty and really not that complicated. In fact, it looks a lot like our kind of page layout. There are margins, inner and outer, top and bottom, the page number is in the footer, just as we'd expect and there are blocks inside the text box, two headers subdivision headings right, unless you think this is all about magazine layout? Here's another example from corporate docs. The regions are the same headers, footers, page numbering, body text, the regions right, the heads are either inside or outside the box. Remember that old school outdent head? I told you I'd get back to it. Notice how the supplemental scannable information is obvious by placement outside the box right, and before you go thinking this is only for print, web designers are talking about it too, this is about visual design. We have the same Van de Graaf drawing and notice how it changes when the orientation changes. What was above the fold in portrait and how the box is constructed is different when you're in landscape now, pretty gets a bad rap and these are generally the points in the discussion where it does, it's hard, costly, you have to sacrifice pretty for automation, you can't do pretty at high volume or with high frequency.
[00:10:26.830] - Liz Fraley
The thing is, the assumption to all of these arguments pretty much means that pretty is hand tweaking and while that's true, it is often attempt also to hide tool limitations, not always, but often and that said, we do talk about cost to implement even with our tools, but we ever felt a rule of thumb about it and it's never just an abstract dodge. Generally, we tell people to give any feature 30 minutes, 30 minutes isn't that much time to spend or to waste. And it's a good indicator that you've had a rabbit hole. At that point, if you can't figure it out, you might want to consult an expert to get an estimate on cost to implement. They should either be able to (a) tell you how to do it, an expert can provide insight that a first-timer might not know, like where in the UID you set that or (b) at the very least, they should be able to give you an estimate to implement that particular feature. And at that point you can decide whether it's worth it because you have a definitive cost to pretty valuation. The way to tell that you're hearing one of these kinds of arguments, they fall into two sorts of categories. The ones on the left are all about the people, the users, the design, the information itself, like the IPO publishers, with all that financial data, the two-page wide table is a requirement, not a nice to have. Massaging the data to make it fit into our single page layout tool limitation, that's our problem, not the businesses and it really shouldn't be that much of a problem.
[00:12:00.210] - Liz Fraley
Once you get beyond those business requirements, you can talk design. Does the customer really care about the typography choice? Does your design promote comprehension that much better right, the ones on the right, those are all about the tool you've chosen or the tool you're about to choose. Do you want to automate? Which usually means stop doing so much handwork. Are you publishing frequently? How tactical are your people? How many pages are you pushing, right, but the ones on the left, we ask them of our customers and we give guidelines on the cost design choice ballots put every feature in those terms because pretty will always meet budget, the ones on the right, we've had that stuff forever. It's part of what we expect. Remember that brief history I gave you at the beginning? We've had tools that have been handling problems like that for twenty years. In fact, solving those problems are the focus of Simon Taylor, the PM for all things publishing for Arbortext products. He hates it whenever he hears me talk about compromise, even when he accepts that for most cases good enough is good enough. Like Adobe, the products he works on have solved the good enough problem.
[00:13:08.430] - Liz Fraley
They solved the automation problem a decade ago, so he gets to focus on the hard problems, like making it so styling doesn't require technical ability, like performance. He's always challenging me to host a composition drag race, but I can never get anyone else to put their hat in the ring and I understand no one wants to look bad. He wants to make styling easy both for the easy stuff and for the hard stuff. You should be able to design quality documents without a lot of hassle or a lot of work. Save that programming for the really hard stuff. When I looked around for the biggest complaints of OT output, this is the list I got, it sort of falls into three categories. First, there's the Unique to you type of request. These are not defects as such because they're almost always specific to your content, your look and feel, your company, your business requirements. So it's always basic layout from the provided out of the box stylesheets, whether it's Arbortext or open toolkit. Right, because everyone knows it's going to change. So headers and footers, those are easier to visualize when you think of everything as a region on the page and you can put anything in that region, understanding what regions you have access to and how others--how to add other regions, this is the key. Common changes, by that I mean using reuse in your stylesheet so you don't have to make 300 changes to the font, for example, all over your stylesheet switching to a layout model.
[00:14:36.390] - Liz Fraley
This is for example, like turning a definition list from a table to a list. It's usually one or the other. So it's again, not a defect as such most out of the box stylesheets go with the more popular table option. Covers, we may see them first, but design them last so you get 80 percent of your stylesheet done before tackling that last 20 percent. I mean, we all want to show progress, right? And I'll show you a couple of covers to show you how Regions and Automation works covers front, back, inside front, inside back and some other pages can be wholly created from book metta or other content in your map. Think of these as just another generated page. Admonitions like covers are highly personal to an organization, very few do it the same way. Graphics change sometimes there's colors, font sizes, frames and on and on.
[00:15:27.390] - Liz Fraley
So that stuff is all sort of the things that everybody's going to do anyway. So you're out of the box stylesheet rarely has your ideal version of it. The less supported stuff also not necessarily a defect, but this is where commercial products take over, because in many cases these are the harder problems in cases--in some cases these are finesse features, either one of those kinds of things that's going to require commercial support parts I understand are not well supported in the open toolkit. I honestly don't know why or if that's changed in the last couple of years. Indexes, however, are not highly supported, in fact most people recommend that you swap out the default rendering engine to a commercial one. If you want professional indexes, deep content splitting is when you have a long table cell that breaks or fails to break across page boundaries. This was an issue for Arbortext ten to twelve years ago, but hasn't been since then. You'll see this one keeps are set badly or when you have a badly constructed cell, and that's what most people will tell you to fix the table and make it tabular data, not whatever it is it's trying to be. But when business needs rule, you want to know you can handle it. It is a specialty case, though, and you may never care.
[00:16:43.660] - Liz Fraley
Repeating table titles, we've had this forever in desktop publishing framework, etc. So I don't know why it's an issue for the open toolkit, for us, it's a simple click widows, orphans and keeps. This is complex, mostly because it's hard to codify what you know. You know when you see it, but how do you make the computer see it? I always say write the rules up first then coding them is easy and to figure out when it's OK to break them. Change tracking this kind of belongs in the Unique to you section in some ways, but, you know, it's one of those things that sometimes is less or more supported, depending on the rendering engine you've chosen. All told, though, the hardest thing about open toolkit output is that it's a long involved, highly technical process to customize or change the stylesheets, some best practices go so far as to say that you should create an open toolkit plug in.
[00:17:44.120] - Liz Fraley
I don't really understand that much effort to do simple things like these things in this list, especially when you're going to have to do some of them by design. That's just me and I've got a better tool anyway. Arbortext is not a single application, it is a suite. The pricing is not public, but with their switch to subscription licensing, there are so many new licensing options that they're well within the reach of not only small teams but individual contractors. Their pricing is competitive with all the major DITA players out there don't let anyone tell you different. Not all PTC partners know all the pricing options. Remember, they're there for their bottom line, not necessarily for yours and people who are not partners definitely do not know pricing and haven't known it for at least 10 years.
[00:18:34.200] - Liz Fraley
[00:20:16.250] - Liz Fraley
So we've got paragraphs, we've got a couple of profile paragraphs, we've got a simple list we've got--here it is definition, this is table, you know that's kind of what we expect we've got to figure with a title and its numbering by chapter numbering and first figure table is getting chapter number first figure and this is a basic table breaking across a page take a minute here to look at the headers, here I've got bookhead on the left-hand page and on the right-hand page, we've got the most recent header running ahead. In this case, it's a chapter but in other chapters that have more than one topic, it'll be whatever the running head is. So what else have we got? Here's our table. This is a long table with big columns and you can see here that the table--the cell is breaking across the page break here we've got an extra space and if we turn, we get another cell that actually breaks across the page again.
[00:21:14.330] - Liz Fraley
So you might ask, why is there space here? Well, that has to do with the way my rules are set up. I would like you to try to keep us all together right, we know that the next cell coming is going to fill the page at least it is going to have to break, right, so that means it's not going to try and squeeze it in here because it knows it can't keep it together. It's going to try to keep it together first. So it bumps into the next page and tries to keep it together, but ends up having to break anyway, right, the rules can be different, but my priority is to try to keep it together first, but deep content has no problem splitting the cell and doing the right thing with it. It never runs off the bottom of the page. This is what I mean by the keeps being a hard problem, keep together, keep with next, keep with previous figuring out what these rules are and when you are allowed to break them. That's a hard thing anyway, how much of that is supported? That's a tool dependent question. So I've got also all the types of notes here. Danger is red bold, warning is not implemented, warning actually is a highly customizable type, as it turns out, caution ann danger almost everybody has bold there, those are at least basically done, here we've got a regular list and another list. This is a section, not a subtopic. That's why it was not--there was no mini table of contents in the beginning because it wasn't. This is not significant enough content to be the topic level right, it is a section. In this case, we're going to show what a landscape page looks like, and this is a landscape page. A landscape page is a portrait page, notice our header is at the top in portrait orientation. The page number is at the bottom. Still in portrait orientation. It's just the body of the content that has been rotated to landscape. That's a landscape page. It's different from a fold-out page where the entire page is rotated, including the header and footer so your header would be along this edge of the page, the long side of the page and the page number would be in the lower bottom corner of the rotated page. That's the difference between landscape and fold-out and we'll come back to fold-out because while I have the code ready here, the default out of the box Stylesheet does not support that.
[00:23:27.640] - Liz Fraley
This is the section and I'm going to have this section break into two columns because I want to show that you can switch number of columns midstream within the same page set. So that's the end of our page, here's the chapter which has a subtopic because it has an actual subtopic. It's labeled as a subtopic and there's a mini TOC that indicates the subtopics. The lower heads don't typically have those, you can add that if you want, you usually don't see below the chapter level, though. Let's go down here and look at glossary. So glossary, if you look at our DITA map, those are actually glossary topics. They are not treated the same way that the other topics are, where they've got a header and they look like a topic right, this is a topic, right, but they look like a table layout. It's another way of modeling the DITA and we're going to talk about this like the definition list to a list rather than as a table. It's just a different layout styling model. And here's our index down here, it's combining entries into one, right? You're getting sequences, it's doing all--its alphabetizing all up and down and for Arbortext because it supports multiple languages, it will alphabetize based on those language characteristics. It doesn't just alphabetize based on English in the index. This is what it looks like, this is you know, it's not great, it's not terrible, It's pretty much expected the things that you want it to do. So now I'm going to show you a couple of things for us to create a new style sheet, there's no plugin, there's no big coding. I create a new empty style sheet and then I import a module and that's what I've done here. I've got a style sheet that includes the out of the box style sheet as a module.
[00:25:15.460] - Liz Fraley
So now I get all of that formatting, I get the basic layout automatically and if there's something I want to change, there's a process for doing that. You find the thing that you want to modify and in this case, we're going to do the definition lists right, and I have already imported these because it takes a little bit of time. You copy those rules to your module there's no module name here that means it's in my top level. You verify your context, like, for example, title in table. Title is not a title, right, a title exists in context that a chapter title can look different from a part title--from a third level head. So your title always exists in context. You make sure you're doing what output format you want. So in print PDF, we're going to make the table continuation before and after the table. That's pretty much all there is to it. Let's see what happens when we do that, we get table number--table label, so it'll say table one, space, element content and it's going to put the word continued at the end. Great. The bottom one says the same, but let's put to be continued, sometimes people put their table titles underneath. So this is why you have the option for either one or both.
[00:26:31.030] - Liz Fraley
We're going to do a couple of more changes and then we're going to do a publish. Let's do the definition list as list. Start with what we want it to look like. One line, it has the term and it's bold and then the next line it has the paragraph. This is very similar in style model to a head with a paragraph. So since we know what that model is, we're going to change the definition list from a list to a series of formal blocks. So that means our deal, our list is going to be a block. This is the wrapper. Then we're going to take the head in the entry, right, these are the wrappers, determine definition and we're going to turn that into a formal block. A formal block has a title and a block of content. So our head, our term and our term head are both going to be titles and then our definitions and head definitions are both going to be paragraphs and that's pretty much all I have to do as I come in here and I change its style from a definition list, item to paragraph.
[00:27:33.590] - Liz Fraley
We want our terms, these are our titles, let's make them we're going to add purple color to them and just so that we can see that they've changed so we're going to add purple to that one and here's our head. I already added purple to that one, now both of our terms will be purple. They already have title alignment, they have title keeps, which is keep with next, you always want to keep your term attached to your definition, so we get that for free and it's got--so it's got the keeps, we got some spacing that we'll play with later, but let's at least make sure that it's doing the right thing. We're going to make it purple so that when in the running text, if we're looking for examples to see if it worked so we can spot them really easily. Now, let's look at the figure because we wanted fold-out, landscape comes with, I will add another attribute value for fold-out and I'm going to change it to the fold-out page set. I'm not going to change it to landscape for the duration of the element and the reason is because of the way the page set is set up. So let's go look at the page set, here's our fold-out page set. Fold-out page set has a Ledger tabloid, 11 by 17 page, it is already rotated, so we don't need to re-rotate the text. Our page is top to bottom. It will print it top to bottom. Remember our previous landscape page, the header and page number footer were portrait-oriented and the body was rotated.
[00:28:58.470] - Liz Fraley
We want the header and footer and the body to all be the same direction. So we're going to rotate the page here through the page set and then we don't have to do anything last, let's do section. Remember, we wanted to make it two column so we added attribute 2 'col' and then I'm going to do is change the columns to two. Let's produce the PDF and see what we get, here's our newly updated we didn't do anything with the cover. So we're not expecting any changes there. Let's take a look at our part, we didn't touch that either, but look, I now have some changes. I have changed mark-up active. I deleted some text, I inserted some text, and it looks like that's part of Arbortext changed tracking.
[00:29:41.980] - Liz Fraley
Here's our term and definition list. Those purple heads are the ones that we change to make purple. And it looks like a head and a paragraph, oh, look at my figure. I now have this around the figurehead. I forgot to tell you I did that. Let's take a look at the figure title. We have Block border set, we don't have anything on the left, so there's no boundary on the left, but we have all the other sides and we have a twenty five pixel radius. That's why it's surrounded and it's sort of wiggly, you can see it's actually wiggly. You just dial it here that's as easy as it gets. Here's our table to be continued and then on the next page table continued table to be continued. Here's our section. Let's go back and look at section again, what happened here in section, section everywhere. Our property sets in print PDF may change some page section to blue. So now the text in the landscape page section is blue.
[00:30:41.050] - Liz Fraley
Here's our landscape page and our figure title, got it, same layout, and this is a foldout page. The page is entirely rotated, this is a left-hand page, we could make it start on the right-hand page. Notice our header and footer are rotated as well as the body content. All right, and here's our next section. That was two column and it's two columns is a section so it's also blue, it inherits that, but it also inherits the two column layout. That's because styling is hierarchical. We told it that every section is blue and then we said that two column, which will inherit the blue, is now two column right, so that's why this other section was not two column, and this one is and yet both are blue. So that's pretty much what we were looking at and what we wanted to see and that's pretty easy changes. It didn't take a lot of work. The simple stuff is simple as it should be, no coding involved. Now, let's take a look at something more complex like covers.
[00:31:40.130] - Liz Fraley
So now going to stylesheet, that is cover experiments and my sample content has better bookmeta. I added a graphic for the product image that's book metadata, I added some other data that's trademarks that we're going to add to our cover page. I also added a short description, this is going to go on our cover page, I added a contact number and a URL that in one case It'll show and the other case it won't, the bunch of chapters that are alphabetical so that I can show you bleed tabs while we're here. So notice first that the module approach is the same. I got a new empty stylesheet, I added a cover module and a bleed tab module also includes the out of the box styler sheet at the bottom so that the stuff that I don't care about, I get for free. Now let's take a look at what we implemented. I want to hide bookmeta, I don't want to show it. I'm going to take its content pieces and construct the cover.
[00:32:38.810] - Liz Fraley
Our book page set, I'm going to show you one thing, we have an option of two covers, a red cover and a gray cover. Let's start with the red cover. Our default page set is doing bleed tabs, we're doing a horizontal bleed tab. Let's take a look at what the cover looks like, because this is where it really, really gets exciting. This is the red cover. If you look at what I've got here, I've got the product image being pulled from the bookmeta, right. That's this DITA image. We've got a red square bleeding off the page, midpage on the right-hand side, over here I've got a red square bleeding that way and I've got a white one on top of it. So I'll get a little white triangle right here. All I did was sort of duplicate that and scoot it over. We've got a place where we're going to put the logo, here's the title that's coming from the book map, also, it's pulling the main book title. Here's our footer and it's going to pull some stuff we'll go take a look at both of those in our description. These are different regions on the page. So here's our description it is generated text, it is using a generated content region and that region says we're going to put out some trademarks and we're going to put some other stuff. Let's go take a look and see what it looks like and voila, here's our PDF. You've got the red with the white on top, you've got this one over here, you get the logo, you've got the title from the bookmeta, you've got the picture from the bookmeta, you get the description and trademarks from the bookmeta as well as the phone number and the URL. Now let's take a look at the bleed tabs. We've got a right-hand tab matching the left-hand tab at the same height, then we go down to B and it moves down a little and our B tabs are lower and our C tabs are lower still, D down E, F, G, H starts up again a little higher. So we're rotating all the tabs and these are the horizontal tabs.
[00:34:34.120] - Liz Fraley
So now let's do--let's switch to the grey cover. Our grey cover is using a different structure. Instead, I've got a background sort of watermark or like a letterhead image underneath the cover layout. So all I have on top is the description, the photo, the logo and the title. We're not pulling a product image from it, but the rest of the stuff we'll pull because we can. In addition, let's change our book page set to the grey cover and then in our default page let's set these to the vertical tab and let's take a look at what we get.
[00:35:05.560] - Liz Fraley
All right, this looks different and yet the same, right? All I did was move things around. Here's our photo region it's on the left right, I took out the phone number here, put it over there, got rid of the URL because I wanted this. Hey, call for service, and here's our description, you can see our background is underneath all of it, here's our title and a different logo because I changed it. What about the rest? Contents look the same. We have the vertical bleed tabs, so our text is rotated our tabs a little bigger and we can push it all the way down the page just like we did before. Let's look at the page tab and I'll show you that it's the same way. So here's our horizontal bleed tab, right? And here's our vertical bleed tab. Look, it's the same thing. All it is is a region that is then defined and you get content to put in there. Pretty straightforward and pretty simple, right? It's not that hard to do. Leave the hard stuff for the hard stuff and do all of the easy stuff the easy way, right, regions are useful and when you've got a tool that is focused on other things, you can make this stuff easier. Let's go back and wrap up. All of these links will be on the event page with the slides and video are posted. So you don't have to copy these down now, but if you want to learn the basics of good design, start with the cannons and work forward.
[00:36:17.950] - Liz Fraley
I've included a link to the Sigma-Aldrich case study. This is one of the most complex and non-magazine layouts that I know of, and it is extremely automated. It is not exceptionally pretty from an aesthetic point of view, but it is--well it has everything the audience, chemical engineers and scientists need at a glance. If you've never seen their catalog hit up a local university chemistry library, there's likely one in there. You'll be surprised at what's there and now that you know, it's all automated.
[00:36:46.840] - Liz Fraley
OK, everyone, it's time to type in those questions if you haven't already, and while you do, here's a look at what's coming up. The TC Dojo mastermind group is a monthly member driven discussion group where attendees present their specific challenges on the topics on their mind in a confidential, supportive environment. We have two going on right now, one is everything techcomm, so it includes DITA, best practices, top of best writing, specifics of cross references and graphics. The others product focused on Arbortext and windchill and that's because we're an Arbortex partner. The mastermind is a collaborative peer to peer environment where everyone can lend their experience to each other. It's been amazing to participate in and a lot of fun too. Mastermind sessions are not free. It's a way of guaranteeing the dedication and commitment between the participants, you can sign up at the TC Dojo Mastermind website.
[00:37:37.170] - Liz Fraley
Coming up next month, easyDITA is coming back to talk about DITA reuse. I love it when they come to the Dojo. Their CEO, Patrick Bozek, did the best explanation of DITA keys that I've ever seen. This time Gosla Radymlak is coming and she's going to talk about strategies for reuse. You won't want to miss it. How do you sign up? Go to the website www.tcdojo.org, it's a shorthand link that will take you to this page. Scroll to the bottom and you can register for anything that's coming up. Let's get to the questions.
[00:38:05.940] - Liz Fraley
Can styler do 2 page layout as shown in the old example?
[00:38:10.540] - Liz Fraley
First, it's up to us as page designers to figure out the layout of the single and page spread second, yes, APP can handle page spread layouts in styler, it's done through an attached APP template because that lets you control how the content splits on one side or the other. APP gives you the ability to have more complex layout capability and you can attach any APP tablet to a style or stylesheet they can do it, it just, it's one of those things that is not commonly needed but when it's needed, it's not that hard to attach and do. As a page layout designer, you want to be able to tell it how to split those things rather than it guessing. You see whenever you want that fine level of control that requires an APP tablet attachment but it's straightforward to do that sort of attachment anymore.
[00:38:58.850] - Liz Fraley
OK, is there a market for consultants in this area?
[00:39:02.650] - Liz Fraley
We like to think so. That's why we wrote the two books. We have a book about Arbortext styler that shows the basics of how to do what we're talking about here. Some of what we talked about today is a little bit advanced, like cover stuff requires some basic knowledge of regions and page layout and a piece of graph paper and a nice ruler with different size markings on it, but if you want to see the books, you can find them on Amazon, all you got to do is search for Arbortext, they're the only two books out there and I wrote them both. There's still a lot of Arbortexts out there, we're an Arbortext partner.
[00:39:34.610] - Liz Fraley
All right, thanks for the dense information and greetings from Germany. Thank you, friend, Joseph, that's really nice to say and there is a lot of stuff here I agree, and it's just the service right,
[00:39:46.030] - Liz Fraley
All right, great presentation, thank you. Great. Thanks. Another one here's another great one. This is a great comment. I'll write this and put it on the website.
[00:39:54.240] - Liz Fraley
Does your design promote comprehension that much better than before? This is a good mantra to break out during style discussions. I totally agree. We don't worry about PDF we're mainly concerned with HTML output. We find that DL entry output using the OT plus Oxygen web help looks horrid. So much so that we stopped using the tags because we simply couldn't get the CSS to do the work for us and the output was not just bad but confusing and dare I say, unreadable. We are fascinated that it ever passed any sort of usability test or user satisfaction.
[00:40:27.730] - Liz Fraley
Yeah. What am I going to tell you? There are better tools. OK, so here's the last part of it, not so much a question I'll be curious as to whether Oxygen offers such a styler, our choices of Oxygen over Arbortext were largely cost-based and this may be an example as to why the price difference. They're actually competitive, they're really not that far apart. Oxygen is currently using the open toolkit and there will always be limitations on whatever production environment you pick.
[00:40:57.910] - Liz Fraley
That's what makes Antenna House the leader for open toolkit, XSL for Publishing and they're actually the underpinning for XPPs implementation of actually Arbortext hit it all straight up their own technology, they've been doing it. It's really funny if you want to create history, APP would run on a Commodore 64 if you want a great part of history, Arbortext APP right, will run on a Commodore 64. That's how long they have been in the typesetting business and how attuned they are to performance and delivery. Not so much of a question, they'll be curious as to whether Oxygen offers such a styler or traces of Oxygen over Arbortext are largely cost-based? And this may be example as to why the price difference. As far as I know, Oxygen uses the open toolkit or other publishing rendering tools, so it's hard to say.
[00:41:56.440] - Liz Fraley
And when we're talking cost, remember, it's not editor only. Oxygen editor versus Arbortext editor. It's Oxygen editor or whatever editor plus the open toolkit and all the costs that go along with that versus editor and styler and the editor-styler package is far less expensive than anything paired with the open toolkit and the editors are competitive.
[00:42:20.050] - Liz Fraley
The pricing of free make or the pricing of oxygen, X metal, all that stuff you can't just say, hey, it's this to that, it's this plus, you got to look at the whole picture.
[00:42:30.990] - Liz Fraley
All right, excellent. Thanks, everybody, for coming to the TC dojo where it's all about you. What you want to learn, subscribe to our mailing list so you can get the link to the session once the video is posted, as well as the announcements for future sessions and the link to the survey, so you can vote on what you want to learn. Every month we look at that list, go out and find experts willing to share their expertise. Why should we tell you what to learn? You should tell us. So be sure to sign up at that URL short link right there. The TC Dojo is our pleasure to host, and as always, if you need more personal help, just reach out using the communication method of your choice. See you next time.
View the slides
These links are either directly mentioned during the webinar or related to topics that were.
- The Secret Law of Page Harmony (retinart)
- Canons of page construction: The perfect proportions (eksith)
- In search of the perfect web layout (all-sorts)
- Canons of Layout (51elliot)
- New Layout Standard for the Web: CSS Grid, Flexbox and Box Alignment (Smashing Magazine)
- Case Study
Questions and Feedback
These questions and comments were received during the webinar:
- Q: Can Styler do 2 page layout as shown in the Tschichold examples?
- A: First, it's up to us, as page designers, to figure out the layout - of the single page and the page spread. Second, yes, APP can handle page-spread layouts. In Styler, it's done through an attached APP template - because you want to control how the content splits and that's highly unique and requires the more complex layout capability of APP.
- Q: Is there a market for consultants in this arena? What is the title? I will check it out on Amazon.
- A: We like to think so. The book about Styler is Arbortext 102.
- Q: I appreciate the compromise comment, and specifically this tip: "Does your design promote comprehension that much better than before?" A good mantra to break out during our style discussions.
- A: I totally agree!
- Q: We don't worry about PDF, we are mainly concerned with HTML output. We find that output (using DITA-OT plus oXygen WebHelp) looks horrid, so much so that we stopped using the tags because we simply couldn't get the CSS to do the work for us. And the output was not just bad, but confusing and dare I say unreadable. We are fascinated that it *ever* passed any sort of usability test or user satisfaction.
- A: I didn't cover web output but that's because I ran out of time. But in Styler it's no different. Web (chunked and single-page) output is supported OOTB, and overriding/changing styling works the same way as it does for Print.
- Q: Not so much a question, but I'll be curious as to whether oXygen offers such a styler. Our choice of oXygen over Arbortext was largely cost-based, and this may be an example as to why the price difference.
- A: I can't say what they will do, right now they depend on the OT for publishing (as so many other vendors do). APP has been publishing content for decades, so they can focus on performance and user experience rather than basic features.
- A: As far as pricing goes, the tool-cost of Arbortext is competitive with everyone else. (Don't let anyone tell you different!) In addition, Arbortext's time-effort cost is lower than the OT. Don't just compare apples to apples. Be sure to also compare oranges to oranges. In fact, compare the full fruit salad. There's the Tool cost, the Rendering Cost, and Implementation Cost. Scriptorium has said that an OT implementation costs over $150K (circa 2010) (slide #13) not including tool cost. That free tool has hidden costs attached to it.
- Q: Thanks for that dense information and Greetings from Germany!
- Q: Great presentation. Thank you!
- Q: Thanks!
- You're welcome!
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