Sunday, October 10, 2010

InDesign CS5 Visual QuickStart Guide by Sandee Cohen (Book Review)

InDesign CS5 for Macintosh and Windows: Visual QuickStart Guide
by Sandee Cohen
Peachpit Press, 2010, 552 pages
Book Level: Beginning / Intermediate
Paperback: $ 26.99. Also available as an ebook from the publisher's website:

Last week, in answer to the question, "Why should I learn about ebooks and electronic publishing?", I described for my readers a book that offers 50 significant reasons. This week I have 4 reasons why you should borrow or buy this excellent book by Sandee Cohen, a book that skillfully introduces us to all the essentials of the latest version of InDesign.

1. To learn InDesign efficiently, you need a good book.

There are some new benches in the parks in the Republic of China. To use the bench, you insert a coin. When your time runs out, small sharp spikes — made of steel — emerge from the bottom of the bench. (The goal is to prevent one person from hogging the bench all day.) I wouldn't say it's impossible to sit on these spiked benches, but it would be very uncomfortable.
One could say the same thing about the InDesign software. It's not impossible to learn it by noodling around, clicking on the menu items one by one. But this method would be tedious, inefficient, and time-wasting -- about as comfortable as sitting too long on a park bench in China. InDesign contains too many features, and many that are far from obvious to the untrained hand and eye.

2. This book teaches InDesign expertly.

It's obvious that Sandee Cohen has years of experience teaching InDesign in a classroom setting. If the author is not experienced, then these kinds of books about complex software (and especially complex Adobe software) can never get off the ground, as the author bores the reader with page after page of how to navigate the scores of items on the menu. By the time you read through Cohen's succinct opening chapter, "Getting Started", your 5 o'clock shadow isn't out yet and you aren't bored to death. Instead, you're impressed by InDesign's vast feature set, and enthusiastic about learning how to use it.

3. You don't need a computer to read this book.

Lately, I've been spending so much time in front of the computer, I celebrate any opportunity to do something productive (such as mastering essential tools) that gives me a break from the screen. Like the "Maran Illustrated" books (which appears to have ceased) and O'Reilly's HeadFirst series (which is now going strong), the Visual QuickStart books, in general, are a pleasure to work with. The books contain many illustrations and screen shots; the information is always divided into small and easily-assimilated chunks.

And more: Cohen has a laid-back writing style that never uses jargon, and often adds a dash of humor. I would have laughed out loud at Cohen's anecdote about "Rules" — except that I have done something similar.

4. After you read the book once, you can keep it on your desk as a handy reference.

The book is so well organized that you can use it for two purposes: as an introduction to InDesign, and as a reference book. My copy is already filled with yellow sticky notes.

If you are publishing in today's market that demands not only paperbacks but ebooks, not only ebooks but ebooks in many formats, not only ebooks in many formats but "enhanced ebooks" that sing and dance and sell coffee — then it's likely that you will need to use InDesign. Cohen's clearly-written book takes all the sweat and struggle out the learning process for Adobe's powerful and complex software for design.

== Story Tools ==

For more information about the book, and for an interactive chapter that teaches you how to use InDesign's interactive tools, visit the book's companion website:

To access this site you will need to create an account, but that process is free, fast, and worth the trouble.

—Michael Pastore,Editorial Director
Epublishers Weekly