Wednesday, March 03, 2010

XML and InDesign case studies

I've been asked to work on some real interesting projects lately, all involving working bringing XML data into InDesign, or getting XML out of InDesign. Most of these projects involve automating the production of complex catalogs from product databases.

This sort of thing is kind of hard to get your head around, so I've put together a series of four "case studies" (1 page PDF each) that attempt to explain in a few paragraphs what each project involved, what challenges were faced, and how they were solved.

Case study 1: A company that sells molecules to research scientists asked me to develop a way for them to efficiently produce a massive 975 page catalog from their product database. Read the solution here.

Case study 2: An electronic components distributor asked me to automate production of complex "new product" brochures that are produced several times a year in eight languages each. Find the solution here.

Case study 3: A company that sells cake decorating supplies hired me to create an automated catalog production workflow that doesn't sacrifice designer's creative freedom. Discover the solution here.

Case study 4: A publisher of legal texts asked me to develop a way to extract product name, descripton and price information from hundreds of formatted InDesign files in XML format so they could import the information into their database. Read about it here.


Ray said...

I'm wondering if any of your case studies fit a project I'm currently advising on.

The company I work for is a huge publisher of tax and accounting books. Many of these books had, years ago, been put into one of our software solutions called "Document." Every year most of these books are updated from within Document before they go to a print vendor for publishing. Document does have the ability to export these books in XML format.

Now, we want to turn a number of these books into the ePub format for use on various eReaders. We were going to use a third-party vendor to take care of this because it seemed too cumbersome. After reading your case-studies though, it's starting to look like we may be able to do this in-house and save tens of thousands of dollars.

Anyway, I know I'm not giving much info here, but we basically want to do this kind of workflow:

Document > XML > InDesign > ePub.

Thanks for any tips or insight you might have on this.


Keith Gilbert said...

@Ray, yes, the workflow you describe may certainly be possible. Please contact me at if you'd like to talk about it further. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Why not, Document > XML > ePub?

ePub is just a collection of XHTML files and definition files (also in XML) compressed into a single .epub file.

You can certainly skip the InDesign part and use XSLT to convert the XML from Document into complaint XHTML files.

-- Jeff

Keith Gilbert said...

@Jeff: Good point. Yes, you certainly can go Document > XML > ePub. Depending on the circumstances, it may be simpler to put InDesign in the middle to avoid creating a complex XSLT. Without more information it's hard to know for sure.

Quantum63 said...


We have a unique problem we need to solve. WE are developing an application for online home schooling.

The client has all there content in hundreds of Indesign files. We need a way for those files to populate the app as PDF or properly formatted HTML. We can't find any plugins that will take tagged areas (headings , titles) and generate XML so that these areas can be linked to on the server. Our preference is to have tagged spanned areas saved as blocks so that we could index them on the server. Hope this makes sensee.

Is there a ready solution or can one be customized? I could not find an email address for you. Anyone with an answer is welcome to email me: hkamer at