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10 Graphic Design and Workflow Tips

If you're a graphic designer (or a marketer-playing-designer) working in AEC, these 10 handy tips are for you!

1. Create InDesign styles to quickly apply type treatments to text.

Developing and using paragraph styles will reinforce consistent text formatting and type hierarchy throughout your documents. For a document like a proposal, a good place to start would be creating styles for body text, headings 1 and 2, and bullets. Styles can be especially helpful when you're dealing with a minimum font size. When you base all styles on your body text, all you need to do is apply the minimum size to that style for your whole document to meet the requirement. We also recommend categorizing styles into folders, like "resumes," "table of contents," "tables," etc.

2. Use keyboard shortcuts.

Here are a few of our favorite and most used styles:

  • Selection tool: Esc, V

  • Bring Forward: Ctrl+]

  • Send Backward: Ctrl+[

  • Paste in Place: Shift + Ctrl +Alt + V

  • Find/Change: Ctrl + F

  • Place: Ctrl + D

  • Package Document: Shift + Ctrl+ Alt+ P

Table shortcuts:

  • Delete column: Shift+Backspace

  • Delete Row: Ctrl+Backspace

  • Insert Column: Ctrl+Alt+9

  • Insert Row: Ctrl+9

You can also set keyboard shortcuts for your styles, which can save you a lot of time and effort! Just go to Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts, create your own set, give it a name, and add all the shortcuts you please.

3. Make sure your body font is legible AND not too big at 10-point.

Your body text font should be easy to read. Different fonts can appear at different physical sizes even when at the same point size. Choose a font that isn't so big that when you are required to use 12-point font in a proposal, your body text looks huge. A few fonts we avoid when faced with a font size requirement include:

  • Century Gothic

  • Impact

  • Franklin Gothic

  • Futura (but great for headers!)

4. Crop photos to eliminate parallax.

When you're dealing with pictures of buildings, you might notice that structures look skewed, depending on the angle of the photo. Often times, this appears as the top of the building looking far smaller than it is. This is called parallax, which can be fixed by adjusting the perspective with the Perspective Crop tool. You can also accomplish this effect in Photoshop with Perspective Warp.

5. When it comes to logo design, consider scalability.

The logo you designed looks great on your monitor, but would it look great on a business card, across a t-shirt, or displayed 10' x 10' on a crane tower? Consider the print applications for your logo throughout the design process. Mock up a few different logo options in a variety of sizes and applications to gain a clearer sense of scalability.

GREP shortcuts are the closest thing Adobe InDesign has to magic spells.

6. Enhance PDF wayfinding with bookmarks and initial view.

Adobe Acrobat is the best program for reviewing PDFs. For a long document like a booklet or proposal, incorporate bookmarks to enhance wayfinding. Here are step-by-step directions to set up your PDF with bookmarks. To ensure your reader views the document as intended, set the initial view in Acrobat DC. Select Ctrl/Cmd+D to open the properties panel, click on the 'Initial View' tab, and set your pages to appear however you please.

7. GREP shortcuts are the closest thing Adobe InDesign has to magic spells.

When pulling content from a Word document, PDF, or email into InDesign, there can be a whole lot of cleanup to do. Enter, the GREP shortcut. A GREP is a formula made up of characters that can represent text, conditions or patterns. Use GREP to fix line breaks, to apply title casing, and more. InDesign pros have created and shared many of these codes online to simply copy and paste into InDesign.

8. Set it and forget it with auto footers and/or headers.

Variable text is the solution! Create a paragraph style that will be applied to all section titles. If your section titles have different formatting, create a character style instead that has no attributes. In your parent page, create a text box and choose Type > Text Variables > Define. In the Text Variables dialog box, click New. Type Chapter Title for Footer in the Name box. Next, specify that you want text formatted with a specific paragraph style to be used for a running header or footer (via Adobe Press).

9. Customize your workspace.

If you're constantly scrolling the window's panel for the tools you need, this one's for you! Create and customize your very own workspace with the panels and tools you use most often. Add/remove the panels and tools you want and position them as you'd like. When you're all set, click the workspace dropdown in the top right corner of your InDesign window, select "New Workspace", and give it a name. You can also choose Reset [Workspace] if you have moved the tools around and want to go back to how it was when you first set it up.

10. Text box threading for the win!

Textbox threading within a section of your document allows your copy to flow through multiple text frames. This can be especially helpful when working in text-heavy documents, like books and proposals. When you edit the text in one box, all threaded boxes will respond and shift accordingly. To view the order of the frames, go to View > Extras > View Text Threads. You can also break the thread at any point if you'd like to go back to regular text boxes.

For more information (and laughs), check out episode 23 of The Shortlist, streaming now!


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We have team members in Washington, Oregon, and California and work with clients across the country.
MAIL: PO BOX 18037, TACOMA, WA 98419


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