When it comes to professional layout, there are a lot of factors that come into play: typography, hierarchy, whitespace and graphic placement just to name a few. A common client question is “Can you design it in Microsoft Word?” and the designer’s response, following a deep sigh, will likely be “Well here are all the reasons we shouldn’t”.
The most prominent reason Word shouldn’t be used for layout is simply that it’s not a layout program, it’s a word processing program. Adobe InDesign, on the other hand, is a desktop publishing design program. What exactly does InDesign do that Word can’t? Well, let’s break down the pros and cons of each program.
- More widely known and used
- Commonly pre-installed on computers
- Editable and shareable by those with the program (basically everyone)
- Has some limited design and layout options
- Ideal for simple pages with a straightforward design that require constant editing
- Difficult to control (i.e. placed images will jump around, or off, the page with the slightest change to text or layout and text flow easily gets thrown off)
- Limited font options (only system fonts will translate across computers consistently)
- Version compatibility is lacking (document might look completely different from one version to the next)
- Works in RGB vs CMYK making it difficult to gain control over colors in the professional printing process
- It’s not set up for professional print production (no bleeds, no control over spreads, no option for packaging files)
- The outcome is a less polished end product
- Design software created for the exact purpose of designing professional, attractive layout
- Endless layout, color and font (if you install custom fonts) options; packaging your file allows you to share your file along with all the fonts and images used
- Quality control and output for both print and web
- Paragraph styles are accurate and more easily controlled so that you don’t have to go back and manually adjust things
- Typography control (fine tuning of line and letter spacing)
- Placed images stay put!
- The outcome is a highly refined, professional looking end product ready for digital or offset printing
- Ideal for brochure, book and annual report design
- Fewer people are experienced in using this software, therefore it is less shareable and not convenient for multiple editors
- It’s expensive
- There’s a steep learning curve and it takes time to learn all of the different features of the program; once learned, however, your layout process is much more streamlined
Something else to mention is the potential to use InDesign to create a highly polished final product while allowing the content editors to have access to editing the text; there are a couple options for this route. First option, the editors need to purchase a license for InDesign and get basic training so that they’re able to simply edit the text. The other option is to purchase Adobe InCopy. InCopy allows editors to style bits of text (i.e. bold, italic, etc.) and make content edits to the same document the designers work on in InDesign. InCopy is the preferable option as it allows the editor and designer to work simultaneously without overwriting each other’s work. Again, it’s going to cost more in order to purchase these pieces of software but it’s an investment that’s worth making, especially if you’re publishing material regularly.
Having worked on 100+ page documents in both Word and InDesign, I have to say, InDesign is the way to go if a highly designed and professional end product is the priority. It saves time and frustration and leaves you with the design you envisioned.