Affinity Publisher Workbook Commentary

A live reading the affinity publisher workbook follows, currently uncomplete.

Chapter 1

March 15, 2021

Welcome. What you’ve stumbled upon is a live commentary of the Affinity Publisher Workbook. These are compiled tweets, so they don’t read as nice as properly written paragraphs, but I just can’t write two versions of the same thing. I can’t do it.

Alright, so I have the Affinity Publisher Workbook. I’m going to be going through the exercises over the next few weeks (months? years?) and putting out my thoughts about the book as I do so.

Hopefully, when this is all done, this can serve as an archive for any TTRPG designer that’s wondering about the workbook, and if it’s useful. I have yet to discover that for myself, so let’s find out together!

One major thing I immediately noticed is that the book explains how it was made in Publisher. Something that caught me was “Document Merge” and stitching together 23 final documents into one. I think that’s something that I was wondering—do you put together a project chapter by chapter or just all in one file? I’m now thinking sections might be the way.

Next up is a nice overview of the “main features” of the program. A lot of these are semi familiar to me, having played around with Publisher a bit and already having a good grasp of Photoshop.

Studio link is next: the ability to easily switch your file between Publisher, Photo, and Designer. (If you have them, of course.)

Now encountering a section about how to effectively use this workbook. It’s calling out some things you’ll need to learn first: the interface basics and also the core skills. Interface is Chapter 1 and Core Skills is Chapter 2, so it’s really onboarding you at this point.

On to CHAPTER 1: Interface Tour. I think this might be a bit basic for me, since I’ve already spent some hours playing in Affinity, but I’m not going to skip it since there’s probably some big knowledge drops coming up. Chapter 1 is 58 pages, so this is going to be some WORK.

We start with some basic pictures telling you what’s on screen. Some helpful things for newcomers here, like describing what the context toolbar is. Most of this stuff is intuitive for me, but as I already mentioned, I have some photoshop background.

Now we’re getting a brief overview of the tools of Publisher. Nice and short descriptions of each. A few pages of toolbar explanation follow, including the context toolbar. The context toolbar is the “secondary” toolbar that pops up depending on what tool you’re using.

Okay, Studio Panels. These are all the panels you’d expect to be playing with, from adding new pages, storing assets, picking colors, swatches (pre-defined color palettes and recent colors), etc. I’m not going to go through every panel in a tweet. Just know: this is what makes up the bulk of the chapter.

Most of the panel pages are excellent reference pages, but I’m wondering how much of this is something that’s just included in the help database? I’m probably much more inclined to quickly search a virtual help than to flip through a book for these. But YMMV.

Customizing the workspace is next, these are the standard tips about how to make Publisher look how you want it to look, including fixing and moving around the studio panels. Nothing terribly new for anyone familiar with Adobe stuff.

And that’s it for Chapter 1! It’s a lot of pages, but those pages are big and full of images of the panels. A good reference and definitely required, but this is mostly stuff I figured out intuitively. But like I said, I have some background with similar programs.

For someone coming in completely new, this is probably good stuff. They really hold your hand here, without making too many assumptions about your background. That’s probably pretty handy for us TTRPG designers, fumbling into this whole layout thing.

Chapter 2 is next, but that’ll come tomorrow. I’m a slow and steady guy for the most part, so expect a constant stream of progress but not any huge leaps. Mostly.

One of the things I’m mostly wondering about is how useful the example projects will be, but… I think that they’re going to be useful? I think this whole layout thing is a skillset, and have skills that aren’t purely RPG book design is actually pretty helpful to designing our actual books. That’s the assumption, anyways. I’ll put it to the test for all of us.

Chapter 2

March 16, 2021

Alright, moving onto Chapter 2: Core Skills. This is a hefty 70 pages, but I’m thinking there’s going to be lots of pictures. I think I’ll likely get a bit more use out of this chapter. but I am also thinking I’ll see some repeats of things I already know. But maybe I’m doing them wrong!

Okay, well this chapter actually has some example files associated with those, so I’ve gone ahead and downloaded them.

We’re starting off with a lot of basic stuff, opening files, learning what kinds of files Publisher can open. After that, we’re creating a new document and going over what master pages are and publication pages. Master pages being like “templates” that you create publication pages out of.

None of this stuff is new to me or actually unintuitive to the program. But these are core skills. They’re really showing you the ropes here—everything, including the minutiae. I think that’s probably a good thing in the end, and if you’re brand new at these sorts of programs, this book is going to absolutely walk you through it.

We get quite a few pages on masters, which is good, and how to apply them and specifically “unlink” them with your publication pages. From what I know about layout, master pages are a pretty dang big deal.

The first new thing I’m learning about is the baseline grid, which is different from the grid. A key feature here is that turning this on is a universal thing across the entire document; the baseline grid is where the text aligns. Setting the baseline for tables and frames can be independent though.

This baseline grid stuff seems pretty important. I kind of assumed that line spacing was the big thing, but it seems like the baseline grid is actually what’s making up the alignment of your text. I am also 70% that line spacing is not the term I should be using here.

Column guides are THE GRID. If you’re working on documents in RPGs and haven’t read Clayton’s article about the grid, you should read that now.

After this I’m moving pretty quickly through the next stuff: object control, like resizing and moving and arranging. The text frame stuff is something I figured out already, so that’s not exactly super helpful now. But I can’t repeat enough: this stuff is really handholdy. That’s a good thing. People trying to learn Publisher can come in with zero experience and start figuring this stuff out.

Learning how to wrap text is new to me, but seems like a must if you’re including art in your RPG. This is pretty simple stuff, but learning how to fine tune your wrapping boundaries is neat.

Resource management is pretty cool to learn as well, since you can employ this stuff to keep track of everything you’re putting in the book and not worry about having to replace things piecemeal if you change a graphic. You just save the graphic and update it in Publisher. I actually should have been using this already for a cover of a document I was making. I was just saving it, deleting it in Publisher, and then re-adding it… Over and over. Oops.

Hitting the text styles section now. This is also a big deal, obviously. Who hasn’t spent hours looking for perfect font and font combinations? Text styles is pretty standard seeming if you’ve used a word processor, including making child text styles that inherit things from another style. It’s styles all the way down.

Okay, that’s it for Chapter 2. Really solid chapter if you’re coming into this with no experience. I really feel confident that with some work people can pick this program up and get familiar with it using this book. So far, at least.

It’s tough to give Chapter 1 and 2 a fair shake, since I’m coming from a pretty heavy computer background, including Photoshop experience, and there’s a lot of skill trade-over. It very much seems like solid stuff, though.

Things you could learn by fiddling around and playing with the program, though. Or watching Youtube videos. Or even just googling things as you need help. (But that’s always been my way of working with new tech, and your way might differ. If you want to be guided, this here is a great guide.)

I’m excited for Chapter 3, however. It’s Page Design Principles. This seems like we’re getting into the meat of things now. The tools and interface are moving aside and hopefully I’m going to be learning some stuff about actually designing.

But that’s for another day. Taking a break now and closing this tome.

Chapter 3

March 19, 2021

So, Page Design Principles. This is exciting stuff, actual tricks and lessons about layout itself, not just the program. It’s only 12 pages, so let’s hope those pages are packed with useful stuff.

We’re going through the most basic steps of layout. Starting with structure: two pages with examples on setting up your page and thinking consciously about how to break it up and what to include.

Second entry is on voice and message, two pages, but one is just an image. They’re not discussing these things with TTRPGs in mind (obviously) but the takeaway here is still very clear. Things about imagery and text, color, and minimalism. These three things are pretty big in layout when it comes to an RPG, and not thinking about them seems like a mistake.

Next part is speaking on balance and consistency, two separate things each with a page themselves. Good stuff, and the example picture spans across a two page spread to illustrate what they mean.

Impact comes after. First thing they call out here is the RPG hot topic of white space. Essentially, impact is about designing your book to draw the eye to what you want, and the ways you can do that.

Emphasising and de-emphasising are a page each, two sides of the same coin. There’s good advice on how to highlight important parts of the text and also good advice on ways to tune secondary details in a way that you’re drawn to more primary elements instead of getting hung up on something little.

Alignment is an important two-pager, going through things like hang lines, margins, and guides. Hang lines are a new term for me, made to spread across a page so that all of the elements start (and possibly end) from the same guide. This seems really useful in something like a magazine or look-book, but I’m less sure how to use something like this for an RPG. (But I know almost nothing about layout officially, so.. I have a lot to learn)

The last big topic is Typography, and it continues across 8 pages. Makes sense. They call it out pretty clearly: “typography is perhaps the most fundamental part of your content.”

We get some dense amounts of instruction here, stuff about considering the audience, readability, medium, and context. Every one of these applies to RPG books and I think there’s also really easy to just ignore and get the text on the page. This is also something I’ve snagged on when putting together some PDFs, specifically trying to fit the text I’d written to something in a standard style that I enjoy, instead of really focusing on the text and what would be best for the individual game.

Then we’re moving on to talk about things like serif/sans serif fonts, the weights and styles, amount of typefaces and headers. They specifically only call out 3 headers, and I’ve heard it a few times that having more than 3 styles is probably a bad idea. This is a tough spot for me, since I really like organizing text by lots of headers, and probably something I should either look deeper into or adapt to a Header / Sub-header / Body structure. Depending on the context, of course.

The next page contains some talk about alignment and avoiding the dreaded widows and orphans, which always feel bad. They also mention the baseline grid once again, and I feel like this is something I need to play around with in Publisher itself to get a feel for.

The last two pages (still typography) are about the nitty gritty stuff, like kerning, tracking, and leading. There’s actually a super helpful graphic on this page to help with the differences between them. The last page deals with punctuation and special glyphs, really going through the differences between hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes.

I think Chapter 3 is a really solid explanation of foundations. There’s a lot here that you can transfer over to RPGs, and most of it is just good design talk about how to layout anything. Principles are always an important thing to learn, and I honestly think if you came in with zero experience with the program or layout and reached this point you could start putting together a book of your own. There’s still a lot to learn, but with the basics, you can definitely get started.

Did you enjoy this post? Consider signing up to the mindstorm, my semi-regular newsletter!