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    Russell Viers is a Transition Expert in the publishing world. Since 1997 he has helped newspapers and magazines adapt to changes in the industry. Read more...

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  • Why the new Agates in InDesign CS3 are so important

    April 13th, 2007 by Russell Viers

    If you’ve never heard of an Agate, or you didn’t know people were still using them, then this new feature of CS3 probably doesn’t mean much and you may want to stop reading right now.
    Watch the video about Agates here
    I don’t use agates…never did. So why am I writing about agates? Because it proves, once again, that Adobe is listening to us.
    I remember the time I was training at a newspaper in Canada on InDesign CS2 and someone asked “How do I set InDesign for agates instead of picas.”
    “Under Preferences> Units and Increments,” I quickly replied, not knowing if InDesign offered agates, but if it did, that’s were they would be. I knew they had ciceros, and I thought if they had ciceros, they HAD to have agates.
    “It’s not here,” they quickly pointed out, with great disbelief that InDesign wouldn’t offer such an oft-used system of measurment.
    Well, every day of that Canadian training tour was met with the same question: “Does InDesign have agates.” At which point I could confidently reply, with as much sympathy as I could muster, “No…with deep regret, I have to inform you that it does not.”
    Honestly, I didn’t think anyone still used agates until that trip.
    In fact, I was so upset with myself for not having my thumb on the pulse of the industry’s need for agates, that the next week I was doing a seminar in Boston to about 100 newspaper people and I had to ask: “How many of you are using agates?” Not one hand was raised. Someone asked “What’s an agate?” and someone else shouted out “They still have those?”
    So you know, an agate is the equivalent of 5 1/2 point type and was used as a common measure of column length in newspapers.
    So back to my real point…if Adobe cares enough to put agates in the new InDesign because of a select group of users (and I’m not saying that only Canadians use agates, I’m sure they are used in Albania and Liechtenstein, as well) then they are really trying to create a piece of software that meets our needs….all our needs. And if you need agates, we’re going to give it to you.
    You want to be able to place multiple files at once? Okay, we can give you that. You want a better Text Wrap, okay, we’ll get on that.
    You may say “Yea, but I’ve been asking for a better Text Wrap since InDesign came out in 1999,” and I’d agree. But they did it…and a lot more in that time.
    So if Adobe is listening to us, the question then is, are you talking? There has been functionality changed in Adobe products in the past that I didn’t like, and I’m convinced it’s because the wrong people were talking. If you want this software to behave the way you want, you need to let them know about it.
    An example is the renaming of the Black Channel in a grayscale image. It’s not gray…it’s black! Why? Because it’s going to print in black and look gray due to the dots.
    Ignore me…I’m venting.
    Adobe has set up forums for us, the average users to go for information and idea exchange. Have a look at and you’ll notice there are forums for all the applications as well as the Creative Suite as a whole. Follow the rules and know that this is a great opportunity to be heard.
    And heard you will be. I was amazed during the beta testing at how quickly someone from Adobe replied to my bug reports. They wanted more info, or sample files, etc., but I knew there were people on the payroll reading my forum submissions. And they will read yours, too.
    So when the next version of Creative Suite comes out and you don’t like something about it, don’t go around with a bumber sticker that reads “Don’t blame me, I didn’t report my complaints and suggestions to the Adobe forums.” You’ll just have to live with it.
    And as a “thank you” to Adobe for listening to us, from now on I’m going to use agates. Not for my InDesign documents, because I use inches and picas too much. No, I’m going to start using agates in all other parts of my life. When my kids ask me “how much longer” when we’re on a trip, I’m going to say “Oh, about 37.2 billion agates…or so.”
    When asked how tall I am next time I’m arrested, I’ll kindly tell the officer “991 agates.”
    You try it…just know that there are 14 agates in an inch, 36 inches in a yard and 1760 yards in a mile.
    The rest is simple math.

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