More Adobe CS5 pain

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
June 3rd, 2011 • 6:07 pm

I’ve been very busy with work lately, hence the relative lack of new posts on this blog.

Among the extra work that I have taken on, there is a series of jobs involving both English-to-French translation and page layout work with InDesign. I don’t mind doing page layout work myself, because I am fairly comfortable with a tool such as InDesign (even though I only use a small subset of its features) and it ensures that I remain in control when it comes to issues involving French typography, conventions, and so on.

Far too often in my line of work, I do an English-to-French translation in a word processor, deliver it to the client, and then the client employs an English-speaking graphic designer who is clueless about French typography and butchers my work with his graphic design tools, resulting in a final product that I have to carefully proof-read and correct because all kinds of things that are essential in French (non-breaking space, superscript, italics, etc.) have been lost in the process.

So by doing the page layout work myself, I can ensure that none of this happens and that there is no extra work required after an English-speaking graphic designer has massacred my translated texts.

On the other hand, doing the page layout work myself often requires that I work, not from scratch (which would be ideal), but from existing files created by these graphic designers for the English originals. And unfortunately, this opens another can of worms. Generally speaking, I am simply astounded by the very poor level of page layout skills demonstrated by these graphic designers in the page layout files that I have to work with.

Then again, given that I am used to having my French texts butchered by graphic designers, I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised. After all, it’s probably the same lack of skills that causes them to butcher my French texts and to produce poorly designed publications in the first place.

Indeed, when I compose French texts in my word processor, I am always careful to use paragraph and character styles (rather than manual formatting), which is supposed to make the work easier for the graphic designer who has to work with these texts. But in actual fact, as far as I can tell, very few graphic designers are aware of the “Place…” command and its import options that enable them to properly preserve the style-based formatting or merge it with their own paragraph- or character-level styles in InDesign.

Instead of using that command, they seem to simply use copy-and-paste between the word processor (usually Microsoft Word) and InDesign, which is the worst thing that they can do as far as I am concerned. It strips the formatting (whether it’s manual or style-based) and it also loses essential characters such as non-breaking spaces. No wonder my French texts end up being butchered!

The same inability to use appropriate features can be seen in the InDesign publications that I have to work with. First of all, in most of the documents created by other graphic designers, I find, at best, a horrible mix of manual and style-based formatting and, at worst, manual formatting exclusively. How do they avoid getting repetitive-stress injuries from all the pointing and clicking that this excessive use of manual formatting implies?

I am also frankly shocked to see that some of today’s graphic designers still appear to be unaware of such basic things as the proper way to compose bullet lists, and still use multiple tab characters and space characters to align things horizontally, and multiple manual paragraph breaks to align things vertically or for vertical spacing. Yuk!

And they don’t seem to know how to use objects with text wrap either. How can you justify, in 2011, using paragraph breaks to break a paragraph into shorter lines so that it does not overlap with a picture floating on the right-hand side of the page? Unbelievable…

All this makes it extra painful for me, of course, because any changes to the text flow (and French translation makes such changes unavoidable) forces me to fix all kinds of things that only work for the page layout in English as long as the text is not modified in any way.

My point here is not to rant about hopeless graphic design work, however. My point is that, the more I have to work with such badly designed InDesign and Illustrator files, the more I have to deal with the flaws in Adobe’s own software, which makes dealing with the issues twice as frustrating and frequently causes me to boil over.

For example, how can Adobe justify, in 2011, the fact that its Illustrator application still has a dialog box with buttons positioned like this:

Save PDF

Can you believe this? How many decades is it going to take them to learn that the default button should always be in the right corner of the dialog, as it is in most other Mac OS X dialog boxes? (And unfortunately, it is far from an isolated case in Adobe applications.)

And what about text selection with keyboard shortcuts in InDesign CS5? It’s bad enough that Adobe still refuses to use the standard Mac OS X shortcuts for this (with the Option key) and tries to force people to try and remember to switch from the Option key to the Command key when they switch from other Mac OS X applications to InDesign — as if Adobe assumed that graphic designers only used Adobe applications and never used text selection shortcuts in other Mac OS X applications.

Thankfully I can use Keyboard Maestro to partially fix such problems, just like I did to fix the fact that InDesign uses a non-standard shortcut for the non-breaking space. (InDesign has built-in options for customizing keyboard shortcuts, but they don’t cover the basic stuff like the non-breaking space and text navigation/selection shortcuts.)

I use KM to intercept, when InDesign is the foreground application, the standard keyboard shortcuts for text selection (option-Left, option-Right, option-shift-Left, option-shift-Right) before InDesign registers them (they have a different meaning in InDesign) and then I get KM to send to InDesign the non-standard shortcuts that it requires instead. In other words, I have a KM macro to changes option-Right to command-Right, another one that changes option-Left to command-Left, and so on — all just for InDesign.

It works well, but it’s not an ideal solution. First of all, it does not work for press-and-hold. If I press-and-hold option-Right, it’s a different shortcut that the KM macro fails to intercept and it still triggers the unwanted default behaviour in InDesign. Ditto for the other shortcuts. (The unwanted default behaviour can be eliminated altogether, but you need to first remove the shortcuts in the “Text and Tables” section of the “Keyboard Shortcuts” feature, and then remove the shortcuts for the “Nudge 10x duplicate” commands in the “Object Editing” section of the of the “Keyboard Shortcuts” feature — and make sure you save all your changes. This at least prevents unwanted behaviours from occurring with press-and-hold, but it does not enable you to use press-and-hold with the KM shortcuts. You still have to use the non-standard shortcuts with the Command key if you need the press-and-hold behaviour.)

The second problem has to do with selection extension behaviours. Here an example:

Text selection

(Let’s not mention the poor font rendering here. It requires its own separate treatment.)

My cursor is before the word “manual.” I then press option-shift-Right, which KM turns into command-shift-Right, and it extends the selection by one word to the right:

Text selection

(Yes, the selection highlighting colour is always black, no matter what your Mac OS X preference setting is, and the font rendering is so bad here that the selection highlighting actually covers one row of pixels that are part of the next letter after the selection ends.)

I press the same shortcut again, and it correctly extends the selection by one word to the right:

Text selection

But now look at what happens when I press option-shift-Left:

Text selection

Instead of essentially undoing the previous step by deselecting the last word I added to the selection, which would be the expected behaviour, it actually adds one word to the left to the selection!

I first thought this was yet another non-standard behaviour in InDesign. But when I tried the same thing with the default non-standard text selection shortcuts, i.e. the ones that InDesign recognizes natively (without KM interception), I don’t get the same problem. If, in the same situation, I press command-shift-Right twice and the command-shift-Left once, InDesign does the correct, expected thing, and removes the last added word from the selection. In other words, the shortcuts are not standard, but the selection behaviour is standard.

So what’s going on here? Well, it turns out that it all depends on whether the modifier keys are released between each step or not. If, in the same situation, I press command-shift-Right twice, then release the modifier keys, then press them again to type command-shift-Left once, then InDesign does the same wrong thing as it does with my KM-controled shortcuts and extends the selection to the left instead of removing one word to the right from the selection.

Needless to say, this different behaviour when the modifier keys are released between two shortcuts is itself non-standard. In other Mac OS X applications, it does not matter whether the modifier keys are released between shortcuts. The text selection behaviour is the same. Even in Adobe’s own Illustrator CS5, you get the expected, standard behaviour with the same shortcuts, regardless of whether you release the modifier keys between shortcuts or not.

So it’s a problem that is unique to InDesign CS5, and yet another bug to add to the interminable list. And because of this bug, since KM intercepts the shortcuts, InDesign interprets each of them as if the modifier keys had been released beforehand, even when they have not been released. There’s no way to work around this, unfortunately.

Is there any sign that Adobe actually cares about such bugs and inconsistencies and about fixing them? Not as far as I can tell. To me, it looks like Adobe’s own engineers are as bad as all these third-rate graphic designers that produce the crappy work that I have to deal with when I modify the files that they created.

In more than a few respects, the situation with InDesign is similar to the one with Microsoft Word. The product is buggy and badly designed, and partly because of that, partly because of bad training, it is badly used and the files created by badly trained designers are an unsightly mess that is a nightmare to edit. InDesign has, perhaps more than Word, the potential to be used “properly,” but even then, one still has to deal with flaws, bugs, and non-standard behaviours such as the ones described above.

I guess what really galls me here is that I feel that graphic designers should be a more demanding bunch than word processor users, that they should have higher standards and demand a better product from Adobe. Unfortunately, the graphic design work that I have encountered in recent years in the form of InDesign files from other graphic designers seems to indicate that they are not particularly well trained and particularly skilled, and so are probably not a very demanding bunch on average, which explains why the situation with InDesign is similar to the one with Word, and Adobe has become another Microsoft.

And of course, this is all pretty depressing and frustrating.

One Response to “More Adobe CS5 pain”

  1. links for 2011-06-20 « Design Studies at Dundee says:

    […] More Adobe CS5 pain An entertaining rant about graphic designers who don't know how to use their tools: "in most of the documents created by other graphic designers, I find a horrible mix of manual and style-based formatting and, at worst, manual formatting exclusively. How do they avoid getting repetitive-stress injuries from all the pointing and clicking that this excessive use of manual formatting implies? […]