Is 20-year-old InDesign still the tool of choice for digital publishers?

The answer is still ‘Yes’… but it may require a bit of tuning to make it work for you. Kal Starkis discusses one of InDesign’s shortcomings (hyperlink management), and how it pushed him from designer to developer in search of better tools.

This month, InDesign turns twenty. Yes, way back in August 1999, little 1.0 came screaming into the world, and into the warm and welcoming arms of early adopters like myself. While it seems like only yesterday, I know it can’t have been yesterday when I look at all the wonderful things we’ve created together, InDesign and I. InDesign has grown and matured quite a lot since then—and I confess, I’ve grown a little too—but really, we’re still the same old pair, happily creating brochures, books and birthday invitations, much as we always have.

Zzzzzrrrrrrp!! That’s the sound of the needle of nostalgia sliding off the vinyl for just a moment! I really should be honest and say it’s been a mostly happy ride. You see, over those years, the world started to change. One by one, many of my clients stopped asking for print quotes and started asking for digital publications. Many of those publications had hyperlinks in them. Some of them had a LOT of hyperlinks in fact. InDesign helped me find some of these, but I could tell his heart just wasn’t in it.

‘Why aren’t you making this easier?’, I would say. ‘There’s something screwy with these shared destinations. Hyperlink 148? What does that even link to? Look this is a hyperlink too, but you just completely ignored it! InDesign! Are you even listening to me?!’

It’s probably fair to say that any ‘digital publishing’ tool ought to, at the very least, get hyperlink creation right, right? When Tim Berners-Lee imagined the World Wide Web, a decade before InDesign came along, he imagined that it would finally put digital publishing within reach of everyone. The key concept behind the Web was hypertext (it’s the ‘H’ in both HTTP and HTML after all), and the big idea with hypertext was to extend text with one simple but powerful feature… the humble hyperlink. But here is where InDesign stumbled.

It’s hardly surprising really. InDesign was originally conceived as a design and layout tool for print, and while two decades have brought plenty of improvements, some of those digital publishing features still feel like they were tacked on as a bit of an afterthought.

The good news is that modern, first-rate tools for creating and managing hyperlinks are available, and you don’t need to learn new page-layout software, because you can run these tools (or scripts) from within InDesign itself. There are scripts to find URLs in your text and convert them to hyperlinks, scripts to find email addresses, and even one script (called Gryperlink) that (with a bit of code tweaking) allows you to build custom hyperlinks using InDesign’s GREP engine.

But if you’re after just one script that does all of these things, check out Inkwire Hyperlinker. I couldn’t find a script that did everything I wanted, so I went ahead and made one. It covers the basics of course, finding complete URLs and turning them into hyperlinks. It also finds those not-so-complete URLs too if you want it to, correcting them as it goes, and converts email addresses and phone numbers too if you choose. Hyperlinker’s settings give you full control over the features and formatting of all your hyperlinks.

For slightly more advanced users, who for years wished they could harness the power of GREP to create hyperlinks out of ordinary text, Hyperlinker does that too, and all from within the same user-friendly interface. Even if you’ve never worked with regular expressions before, a drop-down menu contains some common seach patterns to get you started.

You might say it’s a one-stop shop for creating and managing hyperlinks in InDesign, but don’t take my word for it… Give it a go! It’s completely free for you to download and use, even for commercial projects, for documents up to 3000 words in length.

InDesign might be 20 years old, but with the help of scripts like Hyperlinker, you can make your copy feel like the first-class digital publishing software you always wanted it to be.

Kal Starkis
Designer and software developer at Inkwire, Australia.

August 2019

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