A few months ago I was laid off my first full-time job. My position was eliminated, and they will not be replacing me. While this stinks to high heavens, I realistically had to prepare my soon-to-be ex-coworkers for life without any designers on staff. This means not only that I have to rush through projects that aren’t finalized yet, but also that I have to make sure that they have the resources to put new content into existing design styles that I already created for the company.
The best way to do this? By creating design templates.
What is a design template?
A template is a file that is set up with filler text and images to make creating documents in a set format simpler. They are often created as part of branding campaigns and help give a company consistent design. In InDesign other items are also generally included in templates to make typography consistent, such as character and paragraph styles. These set uniform text styles to certain elements, such as headlines, and make setting up design files faster and simpler.
Why you should create templates
Design templates are a way of thinking about the future uses for your design work. For instance, at my current position I created a layout for print handouts. This is used for all products and vertical-specific handouts, usually given to customers at trade shows or viewable online. I originally created a template for this project for my own sake–over the last two years I have created over 250 documents using this layout, and having a template makes the setup of the files much faster.
However, creating templates isn’t something that you do just for your own use. Templates also help out whoever comes after you. Realistically speaking, you are not going to be at your current job forever. Someday you will leave, for whatever reason, even if it’s 20 years from now. At that time the person who comes after you will do one of two things: they will easily navigate your old files, or they will curse you as they rebuild things that were not saved. And it’s not just someone else hating you for not making templates or organizing your files, there’s a good chance that someday you will be the one fighting your way through a disorganized mess while you try to find a very specific photograph that seems to have magically disappeared because it was never organized, and its name is a long sequence of numbers courtesy of the camera it was taken on. Remember that you can’t expect anyone to not leave a mess for you to deal with if you would do the same to someone else.
Things to keep in mind when creating design templates
Keep it simple. The more complex the template, the more likely future mistakes are. Like instructions for building furnature, the less steps the easier to put together.
Use the right program for the job. Keep in mind both what the template will be used for, and who will be using it. If you think that your replacement or coworkers have no experience using Adobe programs, than it would probably be a good idea to build the templates in another program that is more common, such as Microsoft Word.
Allow for some reorganization. If you’re making a lot of items based on the same template, then you will need to allow for some reorganization of the initial layout. This helps keep the designs from being too repetative.
Keep your files organized and packaged. If a template requires a specific image, such as a logo, make sure that it is packed in the same folder as the file. Disconnecting the image files can turn a template into a tresure hunt for the next person.
How to create templates
Setting up templates varies from program to program, but each template must have a few basic pieces: the basic colors, text styles, and image formatting. Follow the links below for tips on setting up templates in various programs.