Automatic Composition

Most of the labor in the composition of an editorial project is production, not design. Design is usually done at the beginning in form of a plan, and then adjusted along the way during composition and testing. Design often means programming the work of someone else: other designers, contractors, printers. If the specifications are clear and consistent enough, the production can be instructed to a machine. I have been involved in many projects of book engineering, especially cases where the data sources were vast and difficult to translate into images. From artists’ books to commercial catalogs, from big spreadsheets to SQL databases, from html pages to markdown documents, from raw numerical data coming from working font files to data generated from the program itself. The flexibility offered by custom software is huge. I can adapt easily to very different needs.

I have been specializing with two different workflows, which I can choose according to the project’s needs. The first option is usually Drawbot, a Python open source tool able to manipulate a PDF canvas. Here I have full control of the layout, I can draw shapes, plot images, visualize data, typeset – including open type features and variable fonts. Anything you would be able to do with Illustrator, but automated.

Instead, in some situations it is important to be able to edit the document afterwards in Adobe InDesign. In such cases I usually opt for an XML markup generation that could be imported in InDesign. Here I do not have total control of the layout; I only edit the elements order. With this workflow it is possible to create a huge html page – with linked images and graphics – and the stylesheet is stored directly into the InDesign document. From there, a PDF is generated and sent to the printer.