The brief was to create a printed EU specific catalogue for IEWC, a company that sells wire and cable by the kilometer. Around 500 products from various suppliers catalogues needed to be included but the data was also to be available to the website. The problem therefore was not only putting a round peg into a square hole but also triangular, hexagonal, rectangular and star shaped pegs.
The solution was to create a bespoke online based data input system, robust enough for several people to use simultaneously but with minimal training. With the addition of third party software it was then possible to attach the database to Adobe InDesign where the actual catalogue could be designed.
That all sounds simple enough but with so many different catalogues it was necessary to plan and organise and test the data input system on paper long before the design of the database could start. I devised a system of zones which could accept the different data fomats. The green zone for top level product data which wasn’t repeated, blue zone for technical information which were name and value pairs, the red zone for tabular data and finally the orange zone for graphical content.
The next challenge was to carefully think about the user experience and consider how a user would want to use the system, where they would expect to find input controls and how they would move from page to page. The colour coding helped a lot as all areas were colour coded according to their function which made decisions on what data goes where on the final printed page.
Another upside of this approach was the ability for multiple users to work on a single product. If one user was particularly fast with the numeric keypad they could work on the red zone data once someone had added the top level (green zone) information.
Once a few products had been entered the job of laying out the content in InDesign could start. With the help of additional software it was possible to connect InDesign directly to the data source which also facilitated bi-directional updating of the database.
On the website side it was decided that it wouldn’t be possible to create a single dynamic page that was capable of bringing together all data in the way it was intended to be seen. Therefore each page of the catalogue would be printed to PDF and attached to it’s corresponding record in the database. To make this easy I devised a drag and drop upload system that would also insert the filename and filesize directly into the database in one action.
I particularly enjoyed the problem solving and user experience design aspects of this project. Users were able to quickly understand how to use the system with around 1 hour of instruction. With their valuable feedback I was able to modify areas to fine tune the input experience before the major input task began.