E-Spec has released updated versions of all of our Adobe extensions – now compatible with CC2015.
Convert-It! for Adobe Illustrator
- Provides alternate file formats; JPG, PNG, PSD and PDF
- Separates assets contained on artboards or layer/sub-layers into individual files
- Similar to Photoshop “export asset” feature
Tag-It! for Adobe Illustrator
- Collects and embeds XMP metadata; standard or custom fields
- Validates metadata with “pick lists”
- Some metadata can be required
- Metadata is mapped to your business systems
Route-It! for Adobe Illustrator
- Sends images and metadata to business system API’s
- Configured with authorization
- No user interaction required
In-Cat! for Adobe InDesign
- Automate creation of InDesign publications
- Templates are mapped to your database
- Search for items, select template and create a publication with a single click
- Later update all images and data with another single click
Images drive your business. A design sketch initiates a new product. Technical details are captured in images used to tell a vendor how to build the product. Photos market the new product to consumers. Logos identify the product as yours. When problems arise in manufacturing, pictures document the defects. Sales and inventory reports include images as a reference. Customer service agents use pictures to ensure they are talking about the correct item. Websites require multiple images of the same product. Store signage must have large versions of the pictures. Marketing needs pictures of the product being used. If your company creates products, images are involved in every aspect of your business.Most companies treat images as after thoughts – something that must accompany their data. Images are lumped together on departmental systems; each department maintaining their own copies and trying to ensure they have the latest and correct version of the image. When enterprise software systems are implemented, they may capture images and include them as part of “one version of the truth”, but the truth is: not every one uses the enterprise software – but everyone uses images.
Linear Workflow Ends in DAM
Previously, the product development department would hand products over to marketing, sales and production in a linear fashion. In today’s world speed to market requires all these tasks to be performed in parallel; the hand-offs are not done all at once. They are iterative. There are plenty of solutions being offered to help automate this complicated workflow and communications, but they still treat images as overhead and attachments.
In the linear workflow, the Digital Asset Management (DAM) system is at the end of the process. Assets are stored when they are complete; the DAM is more of a repository or archive.
Make DAM the Hub
In the world of today, the DAM system needs to be involved up front. DAM is the hub of your business, enabling the images to drive the process.
- Define common attributes – enterprise taxonomy and vocabulary The first step towards implementing an enterprise approach to integration is to define the terminology used by each department and their business systems. This exercise includes mapping of the attributes between systems and documenting the allowed values. Relationships between the attributes should also be captured, such as “one-to-many” and “many-to-one”.
- Use embedded metadata – standard and custom Adobe’s XMP is the industry standard for formatting metadata. It is used in JPGs created by most cameras and previous metadata standards have adopted XMP versions. The current standards contain fields for common elements (especially for photography and publishing) but the power of XMP is the ability to define your own custom schema and tags. Custom fields are used to store your taxonomy and vocabulary.
- Use system’s API’s (RESTful and SOAP if you haven’t upgraded in a while) It used to be common for business systems to have an “open” database. This allowed integration to be accomplished at the database level. Today it is more common for the vendor to supply Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). These API’s are now adopting industry standard so integration can be performed more easily and in a more generic fashion. The first standard to become popular in recent years was SOAP but this has rapidly been replaced by RESTful APIs. In both cases the syntax is similar to XML (as in the XMP standard), allowing straightforward implementations.
- Collect metadata early at origin To make this integration support your workflow, metadata needs to be collected as early as possible; collect all the attributes that are known at creation and add new ones as soon as they can be identified. Make the data collection as easy and non-obtrusive as possible – the fewer keystrokes the better.
- Define common metadata with subsets for user groups/departments As you collect metadata, you need to keep the dialogs as uncluttered as possible. You want to provide the user with only the attribute fields they are concerned with. The file may have many more fields embedded, but the user doesn’t need to see or deal with all of them. Typically you can divide the attributes up by user group or workflow task. This makes user adoption much easier.
An Ideal Scenario
A designer sketches a product design in Adobe Illustrator. Metadata is collected: season, collection, gender, design number, designer’s name and other attributes. The metadata is embedded in the Illustrator file. A JPG version of the file is created and sent to the PLM system along with the metadata. If the metadata points to an existing record, the image is added to that record; if the record does not exist, it is created and the image is added. At the same time a PNG (with transparent background) is sent to an internal website used for cross-departmental communications. The original AI file is cataloged in the DAM system.
The product development advances to the point where a sample is requested from a manufacturing vendor. When the sample arrives, it is sent to the photo studio for photos. As the photos are being processed, metadata is added to the files (sample number, season, collection, gender, design number, designer’s name and other attributes). The photos are cataloged by the DAM system. It is now possible for systems to use the metadata from their sketch files (JPGs or PNGs) to query the DAM system and retrieve the photos.
As the PLM and ERP systems exchange data, records in the ERP now also match the metadata. The internal website can provide data from a group of styles from multiple systems. By selecting the Season/Collection images, queries can return pricing data from one system, color and size data from another, and sales statistics from yet another system.
A customer service representative can use the image to verify that they are referencing the correct product and then use the metadata to access data from the other systems to respond to the customer’s inquiry. This same functionality can be built in to a “self-service” customer service website.
The key is to create embedded metadata that combines to build indexes of unique records in every business system. Self-aware images and metadata drive your business workflow and processes.
This article originally appeared in WhichPLM? http://www.whichplm.com/editors-choice/images-drive-your-business.html
Illustrator as a Tech Pack Generator
As recently as last week I was shown a complicated tech pack that was created in Illustrator. It reminded me how people tend to use the tools that they are most comfortable and familiar with. Prior to the advent of PDM/PLM systems, Illustrator was a tool of choice for tech packs. Designers used Illustrator to create tech packs because that was the tool they had installed on their computer. It worked better than the other options available to them – Word or Excel – but Illustrator was not intended to produce this type of document. Illustrator is an authoring tool for images and graphic designs and was not meant to handle the pagination and layout issues addressed by tools like InDesign. InDesign is a publishing/layout tool, suited for creation of a variety of documents and reports.
When Adobe released CS3, many of our customers purchased the Suite for the first time; instead of buying Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat individually, Adobe sold the full suite for cheaper than the three individual applications. For most, this was the first time they’d dipped their toes into the InDesign pool. And as it turns out InDesign has a steep learning curve so, naturally, many ignored it completely despite the fact they owned it. InDesign would have been a better choice for the tech pack.
Rather than forcing Illustrator to manage the abundance of text and image required in a tech pack, an InDesign template could have place holder text boxes along with associated image containers. This template can force uniformity among the tech packs and make printing much easier. The user can populate the placeholders with objects from the shared library (requiring few edits for this particular style) and publish the tech pack.
Link Images & Data in InDesign
When images that are created in Illustrator or Photoshop are placed into InDesign, they can be “linked” – meaning when the image is edited, the changes will appear in InDesign. The user can also launch Illustrator or Photoshop by simply right-clicking and selecting “edit original”. Once they save their changes, InDesign will also have the current image. This allows the user to use their authoring tools to create and maintain their images and use InDesign to create and maintain their layouts and publications.
In addition to linking images, InDesign can also link data. There are several methods (and commercially available tools) to link data from databases and even files to your InDesign documents. This can reduce data entry and typos as well as keeping the data accurate and up to date. There are even tools that will link InDesign directly to your PLM systems. This provides users with self generated reports from the PLM system with little or no programming required.
Best Practices: Templates, Shared Libraries & PDFs
InDesign templates can be used to enforce business standards; ensuring each user’s documents comply with a standard “look and feel” and layout. InDesign documents created from the templates can act as place holders allowing the user to start the publication while the images are still being created in their authoring tools. Text boxes can hold places for data that has yet to be defined. This allows the publication process to run parallel with the creation process, shortening the time it takes to generate all of your documentation.
With InDesign Creative Cloud (CC), users can share libraries of images and assets that can be used across the company’s publications. Common images like logos and other branding can be standardized. Multiple users can access and work on the same publications as well as the images and content.
InDesign files can create PDFs for easy distribution. InDesign is also part of the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) so your output can go directly to your website, tablet, phone or almost any other device.
If you are one of the many who have InDesign available to them but have not mastered its use, you should take the time to learn how InDesign can change your publishing processes. There are a multitude of resources on adobe.com as well as several other sites: tutorials, sample templates, ‘how to’ guides, etc. It does require some effort but it will be worth your time to produce professional publications efficiently.
InDesign is probably the most underutilized application of the Creative Suite or Creative Cloud applications. It has the power to change how you design, collaborate, communicate and implement your business processes. When combined with content creation tools (Illustrator, Photoshop, Word, Excel, etc.) InDesign becomes the hub for your published information. Include a content or digital asset management system to keep track of all the individual assets and the final InDesign output and you have a complete enterprise publishing system.
By using InDesign and linking the images, the overhead of having to edit multiple documents can be drastically reduced.
In recent years the number of images a company must deal with has exploded. What used to be a few sketches, pattern pieces and photos has become a mountain of Illustrator files, digital photos, PDFs and images downloaded from the internet. Images are used as inspiration, to convey design concepts, to provide details to vendors, to maintain brand identity, for consumer interaction, for almost every transaction and interaction that occurs, there is an image.
Back in the day
In the past many business systems contained no images, then a few started to include “thumbnails” for browsing and reporting. Most images were maintained in product systems and marketing systems. Departments and individuals managed their own images as best they could; using the file system tools provided by their operating systems and networks.
What’s in a name?
Most of the organization was implemented using folders and sub-folders along with “intelligent” file names. Over the years prefixes and suffixes ran out of room, so most of the “intelligence” was lost. Many business systems had file name restrictions on length and special characters, further limiting the “intelligence” of the file names. This also meant that in newer systems more descriptive (and longer) names were used, making integration with the older systems a challenge.
Many departments started using various applications to help manage their images; PDM/PLM systems in product development areas and DAM systems in marketing departments are typical. These are what I refer to as “point solutions”; they only addressed the immediate needs of the departmental users. Little or no thought was expended to other users of the same images and typically there was little enforcement of rules; users still maintain their own images, submitting only the bare minimum to the departmental systems. User share folders on the network continue to explode. The typical IT reaction was to add hard drive space; enabling the problem further.
Recently Master Data Management (MDM) and Product Information Management (PIM) initiatives and systems have come into play. While these don’t address images directly, they do try to enable enterprise-level consistency of data about the company’s products and services. This data is “data about data” – metadata. Most of these initiatives still treat images as an afterthought rather than the lifeblood of the company’s creativity and workflow.
Solution- An Enterprise Approach
What is required to achieve industry best practice in regard to images is an enterprise approach. This approach must include enterprise taxonomy and an enterprise structured vocabulary. Taxonomy creates the classifications for the business; division, department, product type, season, collection – how the business attributes are organized. The vocabulary creates the nomenclature; being structured means everyone uses the same values or names, across departments, systems and users. The taxonomy and vocabulary must be consistent across all business systems so the data elements are easily exchanged allowing for integration.
With an enterprise taxonomy and vocabulary in place, images can be “tagged” with compliant metadata allowing the image to be accessed via the metadata by any user from any system. Best practice is to embed the metadata into the file itself, this allows the image to move (or be copied) from system to system, location to location and still retain the information. The image becomes “self-aware”.
The first metadata attribute should be “image type”. Each image type will have a subset of metadata attributes associated with it. Fabric images will have a different subset of attributes than a style sketch or a sample photo. Each subset will have common enterprise attributes to relate the image to its workflow, users and systems. Having the enterprise level standards allow images to participate in multiple workflows and systems.
Implementing an enterprise level DAM (Digital Asset Management) system enables the sharing of images from a single source. DAM systems don’t have to move or create additional copies of the images; they catalog and index the images in their current locations. Metadata is extracted form the images and imported into the DAM database allowing easy access to the images and the metadata. Images can be “served” with the proper file format and resolution from the original source file tracked by the DAM. Applications can access images on demand or they can be “copied” as required. If the metadata is embedded in the copy of the images, the applications continue to have access to the metadata.
Folders, sub-folders and file names can still help manage the images but with the addition of embedded metadata and an enterprise DAM, images are no longer locked into “point solution” databases or departmental network share locations. All users and applications can access the images as they progress through their workflows. The ever-growing image repositories can be managed.
Images now drive your business rather than filling your network storage and clogging your business processes.
In-Cat! creates database-linked InDesign documents. In-Cat! can be used to create line sheets, catalogs and storyboards automatically from any standard database.
In-Cat! is an easily configurable extension that communicates with a simple web service to browse and select images and corresponding data then automatically populate a simple InDesign template file with minimal user interaction. Create your own templates, map the data from the web service to locations on your template with ease. Designate your own search criteria for browsing the database content. Select what you want and with the click of a button your InDesign catalog file is generated with images and data in a matter of seconds. Each object block is grouped and can be moved or manipulated after populating from the database. A simple click of the refresh button can update the content with current data without changing the modified layout arrangements.
Creating Digital Workflows using Metadata or How to make your files Self-Aware
My company, E-Spec has been using Adobe XMP metadata for over 8 years now. I began following Digital Asset Management (DAM) groups when I joined LinkedIn a few years ago. I continue to be amazed at how perception of the same technology can vary based on your background. The DAM view seems to be that metadata is primarily a tool for retrieval of assets (in most cases images) with a historical tilt towards an archive solution. E-Spec views metadata as a means for system integration and reducing redundant data entry in the business process. I would like to solicit some discussion — how can these different views can work together to create more robust DAM and integration solutions.
Keywords vs. Attributes
Our mantra for process improvement is “collect the data at the source and eliminate redundant data entry between systems”. The data of interest is “attribute” data whether it is product attributes, image attributes or file attributes. As the user “publishes” their content for collaboration, they know certain attributes. The goal is to capture these attributes just as the users share their files. Most corporate creative departments allow each user a personal workspace (still on the network so IT maintains the backups) and provide “share” locations where users can collaborate together on this content. In the shared locations, we find “attributes” are maintained using folder/sub-folder structures and specific “coding” in the actual file names (did you bring your Dick Tracy decoder ring?). The types of attributes might be the consumer/customer of the content, the type of content or other product information; for example in the fashion world: season, collection, product type, gender, size range, etc.
What I have observed from the DAM discussions is more of a content emphasis; the keywords represent the visual content in the file; the image is of a “dog”, a “retriever”, a “golden retriever” and it is in a “fenced yard”, in the “mountains”, etc. Back to the fashion example, the keywords might include; “dress”, “knee-high”, “floral pattern”, “sleeveless” – things that anyone looking at the file can see. Note that some of these keywords might also be considered attributes, but many attributes could not be derived by observing the contents of the file. From looking at the dress, I cannot tell that it belongs to a particular season (Fall 2015) or is intended for a particular customer (Macy’s) or a marketing collection (Martha Stewart). So while attributes and keywords are related and even overlap, their methods of collection may be different.
Attached vs. Embedded
Another distinction I have observed in the different approaches is how the data is captured. The DAM system catalogs the files and keywords are entered in a database with links to the file (asset). Some of the data may or may not be embedded in the file but a large portion of the data is only contained in the database (a general observation – varies by system/vendor). If the asset is checked out the linked data may or may not travel with the asset. Our approach has been to immediately embed attribute data in the file; if the file is moved or copied the attributes still exist in the file (the asset has become “self-aware”). If I make a copy of the file and send it to another department for use in their business system, the attribute data is available to integrate the file with other existing business data. If I place the file in a shared “drop box”, the recipient still has access to the attributes in his copy of the file. And if I provide the file to a DAM system, the attributes can be extracted and included with the keywords already being entered. Embedding attributes in the file means the file knows to whom and where it belongs, it knows which external data elements are relevant to it and it can be a conduit for system/data integration.
The optimum approach is to create the attribute taxonomy and vocabulary to match the business applications used in the enterprise workflow. A sub-set of the attributes can be used to identify a key to a single record in a particular database; different sub-sets for different systems. The creative user is creating an image to be used in producing the previous discussed dress. As they save their work to the shared location, they know some of the attributes; season, customer, collection, gender, product type. As other users work with them, other attributes become known; size range, color, target price, etc. At some point an ID is assigned (prototype #, style #, etc.). Sending a copy of this file to a product development database, a unique record can be created for this style using the embedded attributes. The product development system will then collect additional data about our dress as it progresses through the product workflow (sampling, sourcing, production). This data might be related to the fit of the dress, the required components to make the dress and even the cost. If another copy of the file is sent to an inventory/production system, a unique record can be created there as well. Additional data will be collected regarding factories, ship dates, quantities, etc. Other copies of the file might be sent to e-commerce websites, sourcing systems, etc. The file is provided to our DAM system as well. A user can use the DAM system to find the dress and knowing the attributes, can query the other business systems to get information such as status, sales results or any other data in those databases related to our dress. The dress image has become self-aware!
This does not replace or interfere with the traditional DAM approach; it simply provides some data (attributes) earlier in the cycle. Keywords can still be added to our dress (“floral print”, “roses”, etc.) at any point.
The integration doesn’t stop with business systems. At some point a photo is taken of our dress to be used in a catalog. If we embed the same attributes in the photo, then later when customer service gets a call about the pink floral dress in the catalog, the metadata can be used to look up in the inventory system how many size 6’s are in stock; they can look up in the product system if the dress fits the same as last season’s model, etc. The photo can take me to the original sketch and from there to the rest of the enterprise.
The point is the taxonomy and vocabulary requirements are different when using metadata for integration and need to be included in your DAM implementation planning – it can’t be added after the fact.
In creative and graphic-intensive enterprises, the DAM system can become the hub of data integration by using “self-aware” images.
About E-Spec, Inc.
E-Spec, Inc. (founded in 2001) offers a suite of Adobe extensions and other tools to establish a digital media workflow within the creative process. Free yourself from the mundane work of identifying, converting, publishing and tracking of media files and focus on what you do best, create!
Dan Hudson, President E-Spec, Inc. email@example.com