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Do too many cooks spoil the soup? Not if each one sticks to his or her own ingredients. With composition zones, you can chop up a QuarkXPress 7 project, give each portion to a different person, and let everyone do their magic — simultaneously.
Version 6 of QuarkXPress shipped with a couple of very neat features that not a lot of people use: multi-layout projects and synchronized text. The first feature essentially allows you to put more than one document into a single QuarkXPress project file. On the face of it, that may not seem too incredible, but when you add synchronized text, it gets a little bit more exciting.
With the synchronized text feature, the text of an article can appear in multiple layouts, and if a change is made to that text in one layout, the same change is automatically made in the others. If you’re maintaining two versions of a manual, in US letter and A4 sizes, the combination of multiple layouts and synchronized text starts to sound pretty good.
Neat as these features were, they made life a little more complicated in one important way. If every layout is in a separate file, Gillian, the designer, can work on the company’s annual report, while George, the copy editor, works on the supporting web project, and then they can swap files, but if the annual report and the supporting web pages are in the same file, George is going to have to take a coffee break while Gillian does her thing.
What if you want to split up the workload within a small workgroup that really isn’t a fit for QPS or QuarkDDS workflows? (See sidebar.) What if that small workgroup is split up geographically?
With the release of version 7, QuarkXPress answers both of these questions with a new feature called composition zones. Put simply, composition zones let multiple people work on different parts of the same project at the same time, either locally or remotely – and still take advantage of features such as multiple layouts and synchronization. (Even if you usually work on your own, composition zones deserve a look; they make it easier to reuse graphic elements throughout a layout or group of layouts, and far easier to update those graphic elements when they change.)
Sample Composition Zone Workflow
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how composition zones work, let’s consider an example of composition zones in action.
Nancy and Eric run a newspaper for a small town. Nancy does most of the writing, photography, and editing, while Eric does the layout and handles the ads. They do most of the work themselves, in a small office with a local network, where Nancy clings to her Dell® even though Eric insists that his G4 is a far better beast. However, they also have a field writer — Nancy’s sister, Hannah — who writes a column with a rural flavor and sends it to them via email.
In general, Nancy and Eric are happy with their set up. However, they occasionally get frustrated, because sometimes Nancy needs to work on a story while Eric is placing ads on the same page. They also have some issues with their columnist, Hannah, who likes the sound of her own typing; she tends to send them stories that are far too long for the allotted space, and then insists on doing all of the copyfitting herself, requiring Nancy and Eric to email the whole newspaper file to her for editing and then wait until she gets around to sending it back.
Fortunately for everyone involved, Nancy subscribes to X-Ray Magazine, and consequently knows that QuarkXPress 7 can make their lives much easier. After upgrading, she and Eric solve all of their layout-related problems in one fell swoop.
Let’s take a look at how it's done.
To start out the production cycle, Eric opens up the template and determines how much space he needs for ads. Once he’s set up the text and picture boxes for a news story on a particular page, he selects these boxes and then turns them into a composition zone by choosing item > composition zone > create. He does the same for every set of boxes that needs content, including the set of boxes used by Hannah for her column (see figure 1).