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InDesign Character/Paragraph Styles and HTML/CSS

I was talking with my Typography II class about setting up Character and Paragraph Styles in InDesign, and I got a question about why a designer would want to take the time to define a Character or Paragraph style. “Wouldn’t it just be quicker just to select the text and change it,” they asked? I considered the student’s comment for a minute and then opened TextEdit to give my reply.

Paragraph styles are to InDesign, as CSS is to HTML. Character styles on the other hand are the equivalent of phrase tags (em, strong, etc) in html text.

I quickly typed up a simple html document using TextEdit with a h1 and p tag, and then I linked an external CSS stylesheet to the document an gave my h1 tag a red attribute. I told the class, “Let’s pretend that I want to change the color of every h1 tags on my entire website from red to blue. I can accomplish this easily because my html content is being styled by my CSS.

Similarly, when a designer sets up a document using Paragraph and Character Styles in InDesign, and he or she needs to make a change, they can simply change the Paragraph or Character Style and the changes are implemented throughout the document.” I continued, “Just like you use CSS to style your HTML content, you can use InDesign styles to control the look of your paragraphs, characters, objects, tables, and cells.”

This seemed to answer the question, although I had to admit that setting up Paragraph and Character Styles for a three-page magazine spread was a bit of an overkill—but an exercise that would save my students a great deal of time when working on larger documents in the future.

Image credit: http://webworksofkc.com

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