Tag Archives: Adobe DPS

Workflow-go-go: Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ Verso magazine

This article was co-written by Kris Thayer and Diane Richard of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

No blue lines. No red pens. In this digital landscape, your best tool is a willingness to embrace colorful chaos.

When we first launched Verso (iPad link, web viewer link) the digital magazine of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, our workflow road map was about as useful as your iPhone’s: we spent hours circling cul-de-sacs, looking for road signs and pancaked on ruts.

a typical print workflow

a typical print workflow

With five issues now on Verso’s iPad library, the numerous ways in which our digital workflow differs from a traditional print workflow are becoming clear. We hope what follows will help you navigate your own efforts at digital-first publishing.

the workflow for Verso

the workflow for Verso

Here, we focus on three distinctions: dimensional storytelling, cross-departmental content gathering and the iterative process.

Bells and whistles are the content

The first, a quality we call “dimensional storytelling,” reflects the strength of this dynamic medium to cross sensory boundaries. With Verso, each issue is native digital, conceived and built from the ground up to exploit interactivity for an audience—untethered by geographic boundaries—that desires a more immersive experience with art. We’re not taking a print publication and “making it interactive,” turning it into a PDF and adding clips and links. It is interactive by design.

That means a story lacking audio or video content, hi-res images for pinch-and-zoomability, animated elements or layered images (great for before and afters) doesn’t often win a place on Verso’s digital “pages.” Because, basically, it doesn’t offer more than print.

Upshot: Build in time for experimentation and the production of multimedia assets. Ask yourself, what content would grab and hold the user?

Everyone has a story

In the museum’s former magazine for members, Arts, most content descended from the heavens—that is, came from curators. It was then edited and handed to a print designer, who placed it on the page and made it fit. That’s a workflow you already know.

cover for latest issue of Verso

cover for latest issue of Verso

With Verso, content ideas bubble up from multiple sources. Visual Resources, the museum’s repository of digital assets, is a key collaborator; its tech-savvy staff alerts us to diagnostic tools—like Reflectance Transformation Imaging and forensic UV/X-rays—being used to examine artworks, which we then demo in Verso. The department also tips us off to fresh photographs of newly accessioned objects and responds to requests for special treatments, such as 360-degree imaging of works.

Other content partners aren’t as obvious: departments of Registration, Learning & Innovation (education), and Visitor & Member Services all have spots at the story-generation table. Their eyes and ears provide loads of good recon.

You never know where a good idea will originate. In one example, a serendipitous conversation with a woodshop worker yielded a surprising behind-the-scenes feature on the museum’s fine-art packer. His trove of exhaustive documentation gave us superb visuals with which to illustrate his work.

This article focuses on an MIA staffer, Shawn McCann, an acclaimed sidewalk artist. This type of story gives users a behind-the-scenes look at the museum; such stories were rarely if ever possible with the economics of print.

This article focuses on an MIA staffer, Shawn McCann, an acclaimed sidewalk artist. This type of story gives users a behind-the-scenes look at the museum; such stories were rarely if ever possible with the economics of print.

Of course, curators and curatorial continue to supply Verso with ideas and expertise. The important point here, though, is that content draws from a broader well than before. The result? Verso has catalyzed a new spirit of cross-departmental collaboration to yield unexpected stories. It’s got people talking to one another, with new faces at the table.

Talk to people outside your immediate work circles, and seek out people willing to collaborate, experiment and play.


A third difference is an emphasis on iteration. Because of the primacy of visuals in Verso, content originates most often from images. That means copy often comes second, and that a traditional narrative might get exploded to support or supplement an article’s visual content.

Sotto voce:

Diane:  As a writer/editor trained in print and audio storytelling, I hold my breath while my copy is Ginsu-ed to respond to the visuals. Sometimes I must press to maintain a logical copy flow; most times, though, I agree that Kris’s multimedia techniques better serve the Show/Don’t Tell medium.

Kris: As a designer trained in print, I’m frustrated when I receive monolithic blocks of text; it’s simply the wrong approach for digital. Diane now tries to write in chunks, which I pull apart to relate to the visual techniques and flow; some copy gets jettisoned in the process. Don’t tell her.

an article in the current issue of Verso

an article in the current issue of Verso

Throughout this exchange, we get in our 10,000 daily steps tussling over copy and images in service of story while we challenge each other to deliver a more engaging experience. So, if you look at the workflow illustration, what looks like dizzying rounds of corrections is in fact a fertile phase of content development. Corrections and proofing come later and—guess what?—they, too, require a special workflow.

Choose work partners with a robust sense of humor, a willingness to change course midstride and a we-not-me ego. It’ll make the ride a lot more scenic.

As we assemble our sixth issue [now available for iPad and web viewer] we acknowledge the experimental nature of the beast and its ability to excite and exhaust its makers. Nevertheless, our aim is to make that behind-the-scenes drama invisible for Verso readers; we want them to enjoy a seamless, spontaneous experience.

Do we have the optimal digital workflow? Not likely. Does it work for us? Mostly. Is someone doing it better, on similarly limited means? Quite possibly. Do we welcome conversation about it? Absolutely.

—Kris Thayer is an audience engagement strategist and senior designer at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; kthayer@artsmia.org

—Diane Richard is an audience engagement strategist and writer at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; drichard@artsmia.org

Read a story from Mpls/St Paul magazine about Verso here.

To Flow or Not to Flow: Why Is That the Question?

More than a year ago I wrote about options for creating digital art books. A key consideration when choosing a format is whether to let go of control over the layout and create a reflowable ebook, or to retain control with a fixed-layout, non-reflowable ebook. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. But with Apple’s free iBooks Author app, you can create Multi-Touch iBooks that contain both reflowable text and a fixed layout. I’ll explain below.

First, in case it wasn’t clear in my previous post, I am an epub enthusiast, as well as an epub developer. An open standard compatible with the majority of ereaders, epub is the most widely accepted and distributed format for digital books. Beautiful epubs have been, and continue to be, produced by people who care enough to spend time making them so. As much as I’d love to produce museum publications as reflowable epubs, I’ve yet to get beyond the samples stage, usually because there’s not enough control over layout. Fixed-layout epubs can provide that control, but the format is best suited for photo books or children’s books and just doesn’t work well with text-heavy books. Letting go of some control over layout is essential if you want to produce widely read ebooks.

But this post is not about open-standard epub; it’s about dual-orientation Multi-Touch iBooks (a mouthful, I know). The one major drawback of these ebooks is that they can currently only be viewed on iPads or Macs running the latest operating system. However, these dual-orientation ebooks are unique in that they provide the best of both ebook worlds: reflowable text (portrait orientation) and fixed layout (landscape orientation), allowing the reader to easily switch between the two as desired.

Recently, some beautiful Multi-Touch iBooks have been produced in landscape orientation, including Graphite (Indianapolis Museum of Art) and 90° (Andrew Kim). These ebooks push the boundaries of the format, using the available tools in unique ways. However, as much as I appreciate the creativity behind these innovative ebooks, it is still iBooks Author’s dual-orientation option that most intrigues me and leads me to believe that this format is a great option for digital art books.

I’ve produced a few of these myself, but let’s examine Getty Publications’ Looking East: Rubens’s Encounter with Asia (edited by Ruth Evans Lane and designed by Jim Drobka). When Looking East was released, I was excited to see the combination of gorgeous imagery, expert typography, and well-thought-out interactivity.

The design of the ebook follows that of the print version. Here’s a lovely chapter opener in both landscape and portrait orientations.



Most figures are shown both in their entirety (zoomable to full screen) and as an Interactive Image (see “Open to Explore”).


The Interactive Image contains the entire figure at a much larger size, allowing the viewer to scroll around and explore the image in close detail.


Here is the same content in portrait orientation, which iBooks Author automatically creates while the designer constructs the ebook in landscape orientation. Figures are moved into the margin and the text becomes scrollable; page numbers from the landscape layout are shown at the bottom right.


The landscape orientation remains fixed, while, in portrait orientation, the reader can adjust the text size, allowing the text to reflow.


Looking East is a lovely example of the dual-orientation Multi-Touch iBook. The interactivity makes sense for the content and the layout is clean and open. My one criticism is that they could have improved this ebook by linking the footnotes to their respective in-text references, although I know from experience that linking in iBooks Author is an arduous task.

A small book like Looking East (128 paperback pages) is an ideal size for a Multi-Touch iBook. Trying to recreate a 400-page exhibition catalogue as a Multi-Touch iBook is quite an endeavor and could result in a file too large for the iBookstore. One idea is to use just a few sections of the print catalogue, as we did with African Cosmos, but perhaps a better idea is to rethink the content, reducing the overall size but adding interactive elements that make sense. For example, in an upcoming Multi-Touch iBook for MFA Boston (Jim Dine Printmaker: Leaving My Tracks, shown below), we replaced transcripts of artist interviews from the print book with videos of the interviews. Other books might benefit from interactive maps, links to online content, or 360-degree object views.


For other important considerations before publishing with iBooks Author (or Adobe’s DPS), see Greg Albers’ post here. (And, if you are considering a DPS book app, see the tips I’ve collected here for getting your app approved by Apple.)

Beautiful, logical layouts created by the designer in addition to reflowable text for easier, more immersive reading fuses the best aspects of both ebook worlds. So, with the caveat that they can only be viewed on the iPad or a Mac running the latest operating system, the dual-orientation Multi-Touch iBook is the format I recommend for text-heavy digital art books.

If you insist on publishing with Adobe DPS or iBooks Author …

I continue to be critical of Adobe DPS and iBooks Author as routes to digital publishing, but I readily acknowledge their utility for, and growing popularity among, artists and visual art publishers. Even as little as six months ago, there were so few of these things out that you could get attention for your digital publication simply for having done it. The novelty of the format was a story in itself. No longer. There are now enough being done that these e-books are going back to being judged for what they are—books. Books that, just like their print counterparts, must capture interest and engage their readers on the merits of their content and design. Unfortunately, many of the Adobe DPS and iBooks Author publications I’ve been asked to look at don’t do this, but I think I can offer a few tips. I hope you’ll find them useful.

  • Don’t add in fancy multimedia features just because you can. Make sure they make sense for what you’re trying to say.
  • Avoid giving written directions on what a reader should do, or how they should read. This is often a result of having too many different multimedia features (see above note), or odd navigation structures (see below note), but there are also some design things that can be done to prompt a reader’s action without sentence after sentence of written instruction. More than page layout design, consider digital publishing an exercise in user experience design (UX). Read up on this.
  • Consider limiting the scope of the content in order to make a more immersive and cohesive reading experience. It’s much easier to get lost in a digital book (not lost as in immersed, but lost as in misguided), especially with navigation systems like the ones Adobe DPS and iBooks Author provides. Allow for this by making sure that each random path through the book feels like a satisfying one. 
  • Avoid page layouts, think about screen layouts instead. The longer vertically scrolling sections of an Adobe DPS book, and to a lesser extent the horizontal sections of iBooks Author, are essentially created with individual pages stitched together, but that doesn’t mean each section should be in a page-like layout, they need to flow.
  • Remember that publishing with these tools limits your audience to owners of essentially a single device, beautiful though that device is. How will you share it with others? Consider making a secondary version to give your book/app a life and purpose beyond the one screen. Perhaps a web version, even if only with limited functionality, or a PDF version for that matter. 

Webinar: ePublishing – What You Need To Know

We’ve got a great line-up for next week’s online MCN Pro Workshop: ePublishing – What You Need To Know. Stephen Hoban is the Associate Director for Publishing at the Solomon R. Guggenheim, NY. In consultation with multiple museum departments, Stephen has overseen the Guggenheim’s initiatives into digital publishing, launching the first exhibition catalogue e-book for Maurizio Cattelan: All in 2011. Tina Henderson is a freelance designer/production artist of books, ebooks, and book apps. She writes about tips and eProduction trends for her blog, on twitter and has even contributed to the Bliki.

We’re going to cover a lot of ground in this 2 ½ hour workshop—museum publishing strategy, the vocabulary of ePublication, a detailed rundown of the popular formats and authoring environments such as iBooks Author and Adobe DPS, distribution strategy, and trends to watch.

Join us!

MCN Pro Workshop 2: What You Need To Know Workshop

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

11:30 am to 2:00 pm EST


Practical Matters: Digital Publishing Tools for Art Book Publishers

With the increasing popularity of ebooks and the proliferation of ereaders and tablets, it has become routine to say that the past few years have been disruptive to the publishing industry. Though many publishers have been hesitant to jump into “the digital space,” art book publishers and museum publication departments have been among the slowest to embrace ebooks and digital publications.

Many digital formats cannot meet the high design and production standards for which art books are known. The most common forms of digital books are reflowable epub (viewable on Nook, iBooks, Sony, Kobo, and others) and Kindle format (mobi/KF8). Usually viewed on small, sometimes grayscale, screens, these formats do not allow the designer much control over basic specifications such as font choice, text size, and layout. In addition, images must often be scaled down due to file size limitations and the restricted screen sizes.

On the other hand, epub and Kindle formats have undeniable benefits for both publishers and consumers. They are relatively inexpensive to produce and distribute, and readers appreciate that they can search, highlight, and comment on the text, as well as adjust the text size to their individual specifications. Epub has gained wide acceptance by publishers and distributors, and Kindle format is the only digital format that can be viewed on Amazon’s highly popular Kindle.

An epub viewed on the iPad (top) and Nook Color (bottom center) and, after conversion to mobi, on Kindle Fire (left) and Kindle Keyboard (right).

Despite the many benefits of epub/Kindle, art book publishers are understandably reluctant to relinquish so much control over the design and layout of their publications. So, what are some other options for creating digital publications?

One option is fixed layout (fixed-layout epub or KF8 fixed layout). This print replica format benefits the publisher by providing greater control over layout, and the ability to define fonts and precisely position text. The text is live and can be magnified in a pop-up in the KF8 format. The downsides are that the text generally cannot be resized by the reader and, since these ebooks are typically viewed on small screens, they often require excessive zooming in order to read the text. Fixed layout production can be difficult, and requires hand-coding and taking precise measurements to position text. This format seems best suited for comics, children’s books, or photo books, in which each screen contains more image than text.

Another option is the book app. Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite (DPS), Aquafadas, Mag+, and other systems allow designers to repurpose InDesign print layouts, add a great deal of interactivity, and produce apps for the iPad (and in some cases, iPhone, Android tablets and phones, and Kindle Fire). The advantages of the app include complete control over the layout, the ability to use same fonts and art as with print, and the option to produce both horizontal and vertical layouts. The downsides include discoverability problems in the app store, text that usually cannot be searched or resized by the reader, and incompatibility with ereaders (Kindle, Nook, etc.). Perhaps the biggest negative is that Apple has been known to reject apps that contain no more functionality than an epub (which can contain audio and video, though not all ereaders will play them). It’s sobering to consider how much time and money could go into the creation of an app that may eventually have to be discarded. (See Greg Albers’ “Sitting in Pictures of Chairs” for more on Adobe’s DPS.)

Screenshots from a DPS app that uses both horizontal and vertical orientation.

A third option, something of a hybrid between the reflowable epub and the book app, is the Multi-Touch iBooks format created with iBooks Author. iBooks Author is a free WYSIWYG layout tool based on Apple’s Pages software. Originally created for the production of textbooks, it has also been used to produce digital cookbooks, travel books, and occasionally art books. Multi-Touch iBooks can only be sold and viewed via the iBooks app on the iPad. However, if an iBook is offered for free, it can also be distributed from a website. (Here is one example available directly from the publisher.) While only being available on the iPad limits the distribution of the publication, the retina display on the newest iPads provides a resolution superiority that cannot be matched by ereaders.

iBooks Author is clearly in its infancy. The software is sluggish and does not provide the amount of control that InDesign allows (for example, hyphenation can be turned on or off, but there are no other hyphenation controls). The interface is clunky and all elements are pre-styled, though adjustable. InDesign layouts cannot be repurposed for Multi-Touch iBooks, and font choice is limited to those that are available on the iPad. However, these iBooks have one key advantage over other digital formats: the automatically created portrait orientation, which is ideal for intensive reading.

Screenshots showing the landscape (left) and portrait (right) orientations of the Multi-Touch iBook, AFRICAN COSMOS, which is expected to be available for free in the iBookstore by mid-October.

iBooks Author contains editable templates which a designer can use to create a landscape-oriented layout. Text can be dragged in, pasted in, or imported from Word. Images can be dragged onto pages and precisely positioned. Additionally, interactive widgets are available for importing audio, video, slideshows, 3D images, and more. While the designer creates the landscape layout (which will be fixed, like an app), iBooks Author automatically creates a corresponding portrait orientation. This portrait orientation relies on the text styling of the landscape orientation but is a long, scrolling page with figures shown at thumbnail size in the left margin. Tapping a figure brings up a full-screen image that can be viewed with or without overlaying figure number, title, and caption. The reader can adjust the text size, search, highlight, make notes, and use the dictionary or glossary.

The designer has the option to turn off the portrait orientation, and many Multi-Touch iBooks do not take advantage of it, but the dual-layout nature of these iBooks makes the format an interesting option for art books. Apple highlights Multi-Touch iBooks in the iBookstore and appears to be pushing the format. If the iBooks Author software continues to improve and gives designers more control, this digital format could prove to be the best choice for art books, as long as the iPad is the target.