Creating the Affinity Publisher Workbook

With the Affinity Publisher Workbook hot off the press, we talk to our Head of Documentation Andy Capstick and Creative Projects Manager Ian Cornwall to learn how it was created using—you guessed it—Affinity Publisher.

With ten hands-on projects, a 59-page Interface Tour, a Core Skills section (for brushing up on essential publishing techniques), a dedicated Page Design Principles chapter, hundreds of illustrations and screenshots, three tear-out Keyboard Shortcut cheat sheets and over 800 downloadable resource files, the Affinity Publisher Workbook is our largest companion guide yet—and producing it has been a real labour of love for everyone involved.

It comes in both English and German language, and is now available to purchase on the Affinity Store.

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In this article, we speak to two key members of the team: our Head of Documentation Andy Capstick, who edited and co-authored the book, and our Creative Projects Manager Ian Cornwall, who directed the overall look and contributed three hands-on projects, to gain an insight into how it was created.

Tell us a bit about the Workbook.

Andy: Well, I think the most important point to make is that the Workbook was published entirely in Affinity Publisher! It is our largest book yet (544 pages) and has the same high production values as the already available Affinity Designer and Photo Workbooks. It’s packed with projects, tips and tricks, all supported by our Interface Tour and Core Skills chapters, as well as a DTP-specific Page Design Principles chapter. All fully indexed of course.

Who was involved in its creation?

Andy: For starters, Ian brought many years of graphic design experience to the table, especially with page layouts. You’ll see his design skills in action in the Workbook’s brochure and poster projects. Emily Goater, our in-house Affinity Publisher product expert provided the Page Design Principles chapter, and we were also very pleased to commission Adam Banks, former Editor of MacUser, so he could share his 30 years of magazine publishing experience.

Ian: We also worked with some amazing designers, illustrators, and publishing experts from all over the world to bring you the rest of the projects, and we would like to say a big thanks to Eleni Debo, Roberta Burattini, Rosa Maglione, Steve Simpson, Sandi Dez, David Hussner, and our in-house graphic designer James Bates for their inspiring contributions. We would also like to thank Fernando Martins Ribeiro for shooting some of the product photography and images for the cover.

How did you plan out and manage such a huge publication?

Andy: Because of the nature of the projects, i.e. using internal and external commissions, all at different stages of development, the project and chapters were developed as independent Publisher files. This gave us maximum flexibility. We had three main stages: Planning—Development—Book Assembly/Publishing.

How easy was it to multi-author?

Andy: The core team was about five people—a mix of technical authors and graphic designers working in a DropBox cloud environment. By using JIRA task assignment, chapters and projects were owned by authors or designers. This kept development distributed until we brought the Workbook together into one file. As we’re focused on quality, the book was subject to rigorous Quality Assurance checks as you’d expect; both for its written content and all the downloadable files to follow along with the projects.

What was your process for designing the Workbook?

Ian: I had to give the art direction a lot of thought. We knew that most of the projects for Publisher would be multi-page, with potentially a lot more ground to cover than the projects in the Designer and Photo Workbooks. The approach I decided to take was to try and illustrate the final objective instead of breaking down each step. A lot of full screenshots are cropped by flowing in from ‘off the page’ and then supplemented with more captions and zoomed in areas. We did early tests and decided this approach worked well.

From the previous workbooks, we already had a ‘house style’ established in terms of size, colours, layout and fonts etc. Once we decided on the orange Pantone® colour used throughout the book, we were able to template a lot of the pages like the chapter and project front covers. So a lot of files were prepped ready to accept the actual content.

Ian: StudioLink was a massive help to us. I’ll use the UI panels as an example. There are literally hundreds of them in the book, and they all have live filters ‘unsharp mask’ applied, along with some white balance adjustments to improve sharpness and colours for print. Thanks to StudioLink, these were all non-destructive to the screen-captured panels, so if we wanted to revisit them after reviewing early hard-proofs etc., everything was easily editable.

How did you bring together so much content?

Andy: Like publishing projects we’ve been involved with in the past, the key was to keep the component chapters and projects independent of each other for as long as possible. Only when they were quality checked at the end of the development stage did we bring it all together. For this we used a feature called Document Merging, which means assembling all the files sequentially in book order where master pages, text styles and index entries all merge together…then voila! A Workbook!

For the record, I used a 5K iMac (27” 2017), 24GB RAM DDR4 and SSD to merge 27 files, creating a press-ready 2.1GB PDF file (PDF/X-4 compliant). Here’s a video so you can see this merging process in action.

Andy explains how he brought the individual files together using document merging

No sooner had we finished the Workbook than the Dev team had come up with a book management feature for Publisher—the fast pace of Affinity development in action! Here’s a sneak peek screenshot of the new Books Panel expected sometime after 1.9 release.

Book Panel screenshot
What were the biggest challenges?

Andy: From an editing and authoring perspective, it had to be keeping the book as up to date as possible with live software development—this is true up to Workbook launch date and beyond for all Workbooks.

Ian: Creatively I would say maintaining a consistent look across the book, whilst keeping it visually pleasing and engaging. We had to fit a lot of content onto some of the pages, and sometimes I would end up with sections of text, such as instructions, which I didn’t want to carry on to a new page. I often tussled with Andy to get him to either trim copy down or “just write some more” to fit my design better, haha! But it’s all good—we’ve known each other a long time, and even during lockdown working from home we can laugh it off on a Slack/Zoom call.

We also produced the localised German version in-house concurrently with the English one. The main challenge was to keep the same page count and spread design, whilst fitting in the translated copy which came back with a much higher word count. We started by making some subtle changes to text styling, such as slightly reducing the font point sizes and tightening the leading and kerning. We then looked at managing the white space available on each spread, without compromising the design. Small tweaks to right text-box margins and alternative line breaks soon built up to allow us to fit a lot more text into the same space. The German Workbook was given a lot of care and attention in its own right and we are very pleased with the end result.

The German Affinity Publisher Workbook
How did work progress during lockdown and working from home?

Andy: Ash Hewson, our Managing Director, has had us all safe and working from home since mid-March. Since then, we’ve all been in daily contact using Slack, a business comms platform. The Workbook was developed pre-lockdown in Dropbox so this just continued without any disruption. Mentally, pulling a big book together was a big challenge, but we had a stable team and lots of experience to see us through.

How did you prepare the document for print?

Andy: We prepared right from day one! All our workflows from initial document setup, right through to print were tuned to press-ready CMYK workflow. Each new project document had a CMYK colour space, we applied CMYK colours (process and spot) from the Colour/Swatches panels, and finally ensured that our CMYK colour profiling was preserved on PDF generation. With all that in place it was really just a click to generate our PDF.

You also had some of the Workbook projects printed professionally. Why was that?

Ian: There’s a couple of reasons. I really wanted us to take photos of actual physical finished projects—not just rely on mocking them all up digitally. The processes our contributors used to create them are authentic, so I felt we should be too visually, where possible.

To hold these printed projects (the hardback book, brochure and lookbooks in particular) and see how vibrant and precise they came out, for me, not only validated the written procedures in the Workbook, but also the software itself.

How long did the Workbook take to produce?

Andy: The high-production values meant that this was more of a marathon than a sprint, but we started to get a lot of momentum from Autumn 2019 onwards.

How did you feel when you saw a physical printed copy for the first time?

Ian: Staring at this stuff on screen for months on end it can be easy to lose sight of the end game—that thousands of these would be printed and sent out to our customers. When I saw one of the first Workbooks out of the box it was just a massive relief, and then I was taking pictures of it and messaging everyone, haha!

Andy: It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work so we’re delighted with it. Also, the way the timing has worked out, it made me realise that we had made the Black Friday and the Christmas period. Basically, we were really hoping that Publisher users could enjoy this as a Christmas gift and hold it in their hands on the big day.


The Affinity Publisher Workbook is available to purchase on the Affinity Store.

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