Why Adobe InDesign might be costing you more money than you think

Much has been said and written about Adobe’s decision to stop selling perpetual licences for InDesign (and all its other creative apps) back in 2013. As a keen user of InDesign since version 1.0 (and an Adobe customer for some years before that) I was not a fan of their decision to switch to subscription-only pricing. But love it or hate it, the monthly subscription model, at the very least, spreads your payments out evenly over the year and makes it easier to see and predict what the cost is to your business. So if I asked you, what does InDesign cost your business, what would you say? $20.99 USD per month? A little more or less perhaps, depending on your local currency and the kind of plan you’re on?

Well, here’s a second question. What does InDesign actually do? What does it contribute to your business? You might start by saying, ‘It enables our designers to…’, or ‘We use it to…’ See, the thing is, like a carpenter’s hammer, or an artist’s brush, InDesign does nothing at all until you connect a human to it. And the cost of renting a human very much exceeds the cost of renting the software—even relatively expensive professional software like InDesign. It’s quite possible you pay a designer the same amount per hour that you pay for the software over a whole month.

That’s a pretty big deal! If you’re still thinking the cost of InDesign is what you pay Adobe each month, you may not have fully grasped the significance of this. So let’s do a quick thought experiment… Try to imagine the perfect design and page layout tool, in a world unrestricted by technological limitations, where anything was possible. In this world, your designer might simply imagine a layout, and it would appear on the screen! They might then manipulate it further in their mind, and as they do, the changes would happen instantaneously. Of course, that kind of tool is well beyond us in 2019! But it illustrates how the process of taking what’s in a designer’s head and translating that into an actual document is largely determined by the tools that designer uses. The best creative tools therefore are the ones that offer the least resistance to this process.

To put it another way, the best software facilitates this process in the most time-efficient manner. Since your designer’s time is by far the most expensive part of the cost equation, this is where your real costs are determined. If you can improve the tools, by even just the tiniest amount, so that they save your designer three minutes a day, that’s a one hour saving over the month, and as we discussed already, one hour of design time is roughly equivalent to a whole month of software licensing.

That’s not bad—we’ve just paid for your Creative Cloud subscription! But why stop at three minutes a day? Why not ask your designer/typesetter what repetitive tasks are part of their daily workflow? These are usually the best areas to target with efficiency improvements.

I’ve been a graphic designer and typesetter for over 20 years, starting with QuarkXPress in the early nineties, briefly flirting with PageMaker (which I never warmed to) and then switching to InDesign, along with most of the industry, around the turn of the century. I wouldn’t call myself a naturally fast designer (I’m more of a careful and fastidious one), although I certainly got faster with experience. One of the ways I got faster was to progressively add to my collection of keyboard shortcuts, until muscle memory took over. I also taught myself to navigate and select text with the keyboard, which is often faster and more reliable than using the mouse. Small efficiencies like these add up over hours, days, weeks and months.

But sometimes you simply butt up against limitations with the software itself. If only I had a dollar for every time I imagined how to improve the software I was working with. With those dollars, I imagined, I might hire a bunch of developers to make it happen!

With InDesign, I became quite frustrated with Adobe’s tools for creating and managing hyperlinks. While InDesign has long been my favourite tool for design and layout, this aspect of the software always felt like something of an afterthought. Since hyperlinks are kind of like, you know, the cornerstone of the Web itself, I figured they deserved a little more love. More importantly for my business, I knew I could save a lot of time if these tools were improved.

So I started searching for and trialling third-party scripts. When I found that none of them did everything I wanted them to, I set about writing my own. Now, I have quite a bit of programming experience, having dabbled with Commodore 64 BASIC (back in the day!), JavaScript (for web projects), ActionScript (when Flash was all the rage), Ruby, and more recently Swift. But doing battle with Adobe’s ExtendScript and InDesign’s API was something else. If I had anticipated the hours and days that turned into months, would I have begun the project at all? Probably not. But having succumbed to the ‘sunk cost fallacy’, I pushed on to push out a product which I’m now proud to say is the best of its breed.

And you, dear reader, can benefit from all my sweat and tears by downloading Hyperlinker 3000 for the unbeatable price of $NADA! Yep, the script is free and fully featured for documents up to 3000 words. If it saves you even an hour a month, and makes you a little happier in the process, you may want to invest in the unlimited version. It’s available for just $20 USD. Check it out here.

Kal Starkis
Designer and software developer at Inkwire, Australia.

August 2019

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