InDesign Summer School

Just as the kids are getting close to their summer vacation, I’m going back to school. InDesign school, that is.

I’m spending a chunk of my summer digging through every last shred of the official Adobe documentation to study for the certification exam to regain my ACE (Adobe Certified Expert) status.

I foolishly let my certification expire, so instead of gliding through the open book re-certification exam, I’m going in like a first-timer. Fork over $150 and show up at the testing center with a full brain and empty pockets. Security will give me the hairy eyeball. They’ll make me toss my water bottle in case I had keyboard shortcuts etched behind the Poland Spring label. The mouse will be sticky and my chair will squeak. My one allowance–the little dry erase doodle board will be no help. I’ll hold it up to the light and see if I can make out any clues left from the last person. Hmmm, the answer to question 31 looks like command-shift…Snoopy. OK, seems unlikely, but I’ll go with it.

Aside from these complaints, having to re-take the exam is a blessing in disguise. It’s forcing me to look at tools and features of InDesign CS3, that I have ignored, forgotten, glossed over, or flat out avoided. And there’s plenty to have igforglossvoided. 32 tools, 11 menus, 41 panels, and probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 unique commands (I counted 500 in the menus plus 8 panels before I realized, I’m not THAT crazy, and quit. Hey, I count them so you don’t have to. Enjoy the madness.

It is humbling to go back to page 1 of the manual, and read every word like a newbie. I am no longer Jedi master of the page. Take the batteries out of the lightsaber, Adobe-Wan Kenobi. You’re going back to school. Every menu, every palette (er, panel) now stares back at me from my screen, posing the question, “Do you REALLY know me?” Everything becomes a potential question. Given the test makers’ fondness for trivia, no detail is too small. Quick, without peeking: is Index in the Window menu or the Type & Tables submenu? Could be on the test.

The more I study, the more I start to nitpick. Do Notes really deserve their own menu? Couldn’t Show Hidden Characters be in the View menu instead of Type? Why is the Edit menu an unholy brew of text and frame commands, InCopy functions, and application- and document-level preferences? If Einstein was right and time travel is possible, why do we STILL not have a History panel? Why the hell is it even called InDesign? What am I doing with my life? What is the cat eating now? Some things are better left mysteries.

When it comes to InDesign I’m pretty much home schooled. I’ve taken plenty of classes, read books, and haunted websites, forums, and blogs. But IMHO there is no way to truly learn the program unless you use it regularly. As in, more days than not. Case in point: hyperlinks. The only time I’ve ever used hyperlinks in InDesign was studying for the ACE, and about 10 seconds after I passed the test, all knowledge of hyperlinks passed straight out of my brain.

What I really want is to know the InDesign commands more in my hands than in my brain. That is, when you use a command every day, your hands are usually one step ahead of your head, instinctually going to the right spot in the right menu or panel, even as your brain is wondering stuff like what Peter Tork is doing at this very moment.

For study aids, I’ll refer to the ACE guide, the Classroom in a Book, and the Help menu. But I also like to make my own. Here’s one that I cooked up to serve like a set of flash cards for learning a set of keyboard shortcuts. I specifically wanted to learn all the command-option shortcuts (for a future post here). I took the text file from Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts > Show Set… and placed it into a layout.

I created a Character Style with strikethrough to simulate a highlighter.

Did a Find/Change to Find a text string that would grab all the command-option shortcuts, and no other ones. So I included the colon and space, Opt, +, Cmd, wildcard, and end of paragraph.

And wherever this string was found, I told InDesign to apply the highlighter character style. Later, for good measure, I did a similar FInd/Change with a paragraph style to number the shortcuts I found. This made it easy to select and delete the other shortcuts I wasn’t interested in. Which left me with a nice numbered list of just the command-option family.

By default, the answers are hidden. To show them, just toggle Overprint Preview on (cmd-shift-option-y).

Not a bad first day of class. We’ve made an InDesign annoyance (onscreen strikethrough knockout) serve our study needs. Our hands and our brains are learning. And somewhere, Peter Tork is smiling.


One Response

  1. I love the highlighter idea. Mike, you are a gee-nee-us.

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