From writing to layout

After homo sapiens invented farming [1], he quickly realized that it was complicated to rely strictly on his memory. Indeed, as exchanges multiplied, how could they keep their accounts up to date? This is how writing was born. We wrote on wax tablets, on papyrus [2], even on parchment rolls. Very quickly, it was no longer just a matter of managing one’s accounts, but also of writing stories. The same person holds all the roles: the author puts his own text on the page; and to disseminate it, it is necessary to recopy, recopy, recopy [3]…

The invention of paper and the use of movable type gave birth to printing: these already existed in China, but in Europe, it was a certain Gutenberg who developed the industrial technique. We are in the 14th century. It was necessary to find a way to reduce the costs of book production! The content producers gave their work to the composition and the layout in order to print it. When you held a book in your hands at the time, it was difficult to imagine all the trades that had to be mastered to achieve this object…

A thousand scuttles! At the end of the 20th century, computers and the invention of the layout process came along. With a computer and software, I can now create my content, I can lay it out and I can even print it myself! What a revolution! PostScript, LaserWriter, PageMaker: these are the names of the first culprits! But they had many accomplices since then. I don’t need all these jobs anymore, alone, I can work on the content and the form…

The content, the form, and the automation

…or not. Because separating the form from the content allows dividing the work. A necessity when the formatting has to be outsourced, as in the Gutenberg era. The opportunity now is that formatting can be automated. This provides a number of advantages:

sharing the work allows you to organize yourself differently: thanks to automation, rather than waiting for the content to be available, it is possible to work on the formatting in parallel (the update will be done by itself);
automation saves time during the formatting phase; moreover, automation can be indispensable when the volume of data to be formatted is too large (personalized catalogs, etc.);
automation makes layout accessible to people who have neither the skills nor the tools (turnkey generation of marketing sheets, etc.);
automation, and therefore the separation of form and content, make the latter independent, which makes it possible to exploit it in other contexts (other channels for example);
Finally, automation produces a more qualitative result: the risk of errors is lower and the result is necessarily more regular [4].

The separation of content and form, combined with automation, allows you to focus on the content while having an immediate overview of the result. This is how Simple Workspace combines the advantages of WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean) [5] and WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) [6]:

  • on the one hand, Simple Workspace’s data management allows me to focus on the content [7], without worrying about formatting; indeed, this can be taken care of by automation;
  • on the other hand, when I work on my page, I can see exactly what will be printed: because the automation is based on the same tools that will be used to generate the PDF.

Hm! I can already see you coming up with all kinds of plans, in which all your media will be automated in no time. It’s possible, but be careful…

The automation game

…automating a layout means mastering the science of compromise. Let me explain.

The Holy Patron of Simple Workspace [8] integrators is always represented with four entities: data, charter – its complexity and flexibility -, team skills and time. To illustrate the question, I suggest the following game: you can put one to twenty tokens on each entity. Let’s get started!

  • Data: Data is the fuel of automation; the better the quality of the data, the further the robot will be able to go; put twenty tokens if all the data is there without error, if not, decrease the quantity;
  • The complexity of the charter and its flexibility: if the charter is complex, undocumented, fixed, play few tokens; if the charter is simple or if it is possible to adjust it, increase!
  • The skills: you have a team of technicians at hand who are experienced in this exercise, twenty tokens [9], otherwise…
  • Time (and therefore money): this is the judge of peace; how much time do I have before the first production? do I have time to correct my data manually? will I be able to finalize my layout by hand? so how many tokens?

It’s time to take stock: how many tokens did you put down in total? At least forty, the average? If so, you can automate without too much difficulty. If not, you’ll have to make choices: get better data, simplify the chart, bring in another team, or find time…

That’s it. So separating form from content is a good idea, right? But one does not exist without the other: “The form is the substance that rises to the surface,” said Victor Hugo.


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As you can see, we are experts in this field: whatever your situation, we can help you. Contact us: we’ll be happy to talk to you.

Jean-Yves Jourdain
Co-founder of J2S

1- The author of Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, seems to say that it was not such a good idea since chapter 5, about agriculture, is called “The greatest swindle in history”…

2- Misenplis will not say the contrary.

3- The scribes and other copyist priests come to mind, for example. By the way, think of seeing the movie The Name of the Rose again.

4- However, this does not preclude a creative layout: once the generation is done, the layout artists can add their personal touch.

5- What you see is what you mean.

6- What you see is what you get.

7- Even if, at the beginning of the 21st century, content can sometimes be produced by automatons: see how automated text generation – GAT or NLG – powered by AI is already able to produce financial or sports articles.

8- And why shouldn’t they have a boss? See the list.

9- If it’s J2S doing the integration, put down all your chips 😉.