Standards: The foundation for innovation and creativity in publishing


The word “standard” does not appeal to the creative spirit of publishing. With connotations of enforcing rules and guidelines on people, it appears to be the very antithesis of creativity!

Looking at the broad variation of beautiful publications available, this surely is proof that publishing thrives on non-conformity and thinking outside the box?

At Typefi, we see our customers produce an incredibly diverse range of content, each with their own unique styles.

From travel guides to packaging inserts, standards publications to educational resources, it is astounding to see the variety of publications and, equally, the multitude of different types of workflows used to create print and digital publications automatically.

So how does Typefi create so many different types of publications for all these outside-the-box, non-conforming production teams?

We don’t. They do!

Typefi enhances industry-standard publishing software so that organisations can carry on using the same familiar tools. Additional Typefi functionality allows creatives using Adobe InDesign to scale up their designs for automated workflows, and authors and editors can focus on the writing.

By building automated publishing workflows around a shared set of standards, Typefi enables content producers across departments to maintain creative control while reliably producing their content in whatever formats they need, fast.

A standard format for automated content production

This is intriguing. How does Typefi match Word documents or other types of source content to Adobe InDesign files?

Of course, you can run a Word document into InDesign quite easily, but if you have many, many Word documents and many, many InDesign files, using InDesign’s manual import feature soon becomes laborious.

To solve this, Typefi developed an intermediary file type that harmonises Word documents—or any type of source content—with dynamic InDesign templates. This file type is a standard Typefi format for marking up content, and it is continually extended to accommodate new content features.

Typefi’s file format is called CXML or Content XML, and it is well documented on the Typefi website. If you spend a little time reading through the page, you will soon see that the terms are familiar to anyone who has had to spend any time tagging and styling content.

Without a ‘common language’ that provides a universal translation layer, it would be extremely difficult to reliably scale up automation.

Standards enable creativity in everyday life

A more fun example of a standard is LEGO.

While very painful to stand on with bare feet, LEGO bricks are a great example of how creativity can be sparked! Taking a single little colourful block and plugging it together with others will eventually create the most amazing and complex star ships, castles, houses, or cool vehicles.

The basic LEGO brick was launched in its present form in 1958 and remains the same to this day, offering unlimited building opportunities.

Imagine how it would be if LEGO blocks weren’t built to the same standards over time! Different sets of blocks might not be compatible with each other, stifling creativity instead of inspiring it.

Developing standards for your business

Global standards are used in many industries, and provide huge value to organisations and customers.

Many are taken for granted in publishing, such as country codes (ISO 3166) and language codes (ISO 639), which are an integral part of language setting when creating documents. For example, when language options are set in InDesign’s paragraph and character styles, these are exported to EPUB in the correct format so that e-reading apps know to adjust the app’s behaviour according to the code.

Standard data and metadata formats (such as ISBN, IPTC, and ONIX) are also examples where standards work seamlessly across multiple systems, countries and organisations to deliver content to customers.

“In essence, a standard is an agreed way of doing something.”

Most organisations develop their own internal standards that document an agreed way of doing something. These ‘standards’ could include procedures, requirements, technical specifications, or even editorial and typesetting style guides.

So, what’s the best way to get started on developing standards for your business?

Define the purpose

The first step is to define the key purpose for the standard. It could be to eliminate errors, gain efficiencies for automation, achieve faster time to market, or simply create synergy and reduce friction between departments and outside vendors.

Whatever the scenario, the standard should document an agreed way of doing something to produce a consistent and desired result.

Assemble a crack team

Neither LEGO nor CXML were developed by one individual, although the original idea could have been sparked by someone who recognised the need to improve the value of a service or product.

Rather, the creation of a standard or set of standards is realised by the effort of a group of people who understand the needs of an organisation and pool their collective wisdom to set standards which will ensure future success of the business.

A standard development group usually consists of people who are experts in their field and who ultimately will use the standard in their day-to-day work. It may include colleagues across different departments, and possibly external vendors.

While a standard is developed by experts, however, it is important to remember that it will also be used by non-experts and should written with this in mind.

In every organisation, change is difficult. Jason Mitchell, Typefi VP Customer Experience, gave an excellent talk at the 2019 Typefi User Conference on the attributes of an ideal project team to integrate new systems into a business. While the talk focused on a team managing a Typefi implementation, the principles highlighted are relevant for any organisation adopting new processes.

Decide on the form your standard will take

Starting the first draft of a collaborative document is possibly the hardest part! This is especially true for standards, which can vary considerably in style and structure depending on the requirements. There is no definitive framework for creating one, but with some research, templates and guidelines are available online to help you get started.

The final form, whether providing broad guidance or detailed, prescriptive specifications for compliance, will be influenced by the purpose, number of people involved (internal and external) and, of course, the subject matter.

A standard is generally much more than a checklist, although it can refer to and include checklists. It should include the underlying reasons for the procedures, requirements, or technical specifications, as well as details of the standard itself.

Typically, standards include an introduction, scope, references, terms and definitions, main content, and annexes. The main section could include items such as notes, examples, tables, lists, and figures.

A useful reference while developing a publishing-related standard is the publishers’ editorial and typesetting style guide. These documents already have established norms and conventions which can be included or referenced in the standards.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) provides a great downloadable PDF how-to booklet on writing a standard. Even though it is aimed at those writing international standards, the content is helpful for anyone developing a standard-type document.

Whatever form your completed standard takes, it should allow internal (and possibly external) stakeholders to make reliable assumptions about the process and to spend less time fixing and more time creating.

However, as with evolving technologies, standards should be considered living documents that reflect changes and progress in the business environment and technologies. Testing and measuring a standard during development and following implementation should be included as part of the process.

Enjoy the many benefits of your new standards

As we can see, standards ensure predictable end results that ensure quality, efficiency, and interoperability, but which can form the foundation for creative inspiration. However, the standard creation process itself can also seed innovation.

As you discover more about your internal processes, vendors’ environments, customer insights, and if relevant, requirements from government and industry institutions, it is highly likely that your team will generate a range of new ideas about the best way to do whatever you’re doing.

You might even stumble upon the next big idea to grow your existing business, or to develop into new ventures!