HvA Open Publishing — Sprint III

In this blogpost I want to talk about three things: the state of the publications, the InDesign workflow, and the future of the Sausage Machine. Similar to the previous two sprint blogposts, I will finish it off with a description of what I think the next sprint (IV) will be about.

State of the publications

As of this writing six publications for the HvA Open series have been finished. Some were more successful than others – which is Ok since it is a pilot project and it is to be expected that not everything is perfect and we have a short amount of time to work with – especially if you want room for experimentation with topics such as:

  • turning powerpoint presentations into publications;
  • wrestling with tables in .epubs;
  • turning a piece of software, in this case the Sausage Machine, into a publication;
  • working with publications that have content that is not in the .docx guide.

As it turns out the last point is a deal-breaker, .epubs have terrible support for tables, and it simply looks ridiculous to create a publication that is basically a ton of source code (though I believe it can look pretty cool and become an experimental publishing series on its own: .epub’s filled with tons of source-code  could be something interesting, aesthetically).

The .pdf and .epub templates have been finished completely. The focus right now will be on stepping up the game of the .html template by improving upon the .css, and, hopefully, adding javascript to enhance it further.

InDesign workflow

Here are some examples of how the InDesign has been designed, the full instructions won’t be made available as of yet because it is still in development, but I’ll relay some of the thoughts behind it here.

The main interface is divided in four sections:

  • Top left: Styles;
  • Bottom left:Colours;
  • Top right: Pages and Masters;
  • Bottom right: Layers.

Everything else is hidden because these are all the elements needed to adjust a publication when something went wrong after the .icml was put in (which is usually a problem with something being structured incorrectly in the .docx. Most problems can be traced back towards the .docx that gets converted to .icml via Pandoc – luckily you are still free to solve these problems here and don’t need to start at the source.)

The styles contain all the elements that can possibly be generated via a .docx that is structured in accordance with the HvA Open Publishing template.

The ‘Layers’ and ‘Colours’ (‘Swatches’) section are not that interesting. In most cases nothing needs to be edited in either of them. The cool thing (I think) about the ‘Swatches’ is that if you edit ‘THEME COLOUR’, everything in the document is styled accordingly with the change.

The pages and masters are the most important part of the interface. There are 6 masters in total each labeled with a letter. When you initially open the template you’ll see that the ‘a’, ‘d’ and ‘e’ master have already been added to pages – that is because these are necessary for placing the .icml correctly. The letters should always be applied alphabetically to the pages. So if, for example, a table of contents needs to be added the ‘c’ master should be placed before the ‘d’ and ‘e’ master and after the ‘a’ and ‘b’ master.  Pre-content is for content should appear before the table of contents such as a foreword or abstract.

Everything in the styles that I didn’t cover is just there for the conversion to .html and .epub so it can be targeted via the .css.

The files will be made available for download at the end of the final sprint.

Future of the Sausage Machine

After pretty much killing off the Sausage Machine in the previous sprint and hopping onto the InDesign train, I now believe there is still hope for this tool within the context of a publishing series like HvA Open. After a talk with Gottfried Haider, Silvio Lorusso and Lucia Dossin, I took a dive into the Pandoc documentation and experimented with its conversion to .html, .epub, and .pdf (through LaTeX and ConTeXt). As it turns out, InDesign was definitely the right choice of software to switch to given the timeframe of this pilot – but the automation that can be reached with Pandoc, and therefore the Sausage Machine, is way better. It only takes quite some time to develop. But there is a lot of potential in that.

Next steps

The final sprint will be  the conclusion of the pilot. During this sprint two more publications from knowledge centres will be put through the HvA Open Publishing workflow. The review/verdict of the pilot and the .docx & InDesign guide will also be turned into publications. Most time of sprint IV will be spent on programming the final version of the .html output and adding Javascript to upgrade it into a more worthwhile file-format for the series. As it turned out, the repository of the HvA currently doesn’t support the .html format. Though is a possibility that this might be implemented somewhere in the future. And, I suppose, the cooler the .html publications are – less convincing is needed to introduce .html as a publishing format in the repository.