Spec Sheet Automation

Specification sheets (spec sheets for short) are technical documents designed to set out the details of how certain products are intended to perform or function. Most of the time, this information is very technical in nature and quite extensive. Because of this, charts or tables may be used to help display the data in a way that is easier to digest. Features tend to be in “bullet format”, as opposed to flowery descriptive copy. Diagrams, line drawings, and high-resolution photos are also commonly employed.

A Spec Sheet Automation Sample Produced By Catsy

The following are some of the top challenges faced when catalogers try to create spec sheets, or keep them up-to-date.

1) How can you create many spec sheets quickly?

ANSWER: The best way is to break down your spec sheets by unique traits and look for commonalities. You will find that instead of “many hundreds” of individual spec sheets, you most likely can break these down into a much smaller number of unique variants. Then, the challenge is to have this content databased so that your spec sheets can be template-driven. Once you have databased content and spec sheet templates, you can create spec sheets in seconds as opposed to “individual art projects”-which is how they may have been handled up to this point. With Catsy, this is handled by a special set of InDesign plugins that actually connect to the same content management database. The fields in the template are directly pulling from the content entered by the content team.

2) How do we minimize errors when each spec sheet can be a laborious and time-consuming process which is error-prone by nature because of the amount of technical data involved?

ANSWER: Because the content is databased, and managed by people who know the specifications inside and out, you aren’t putting the content burden on your Designers (or whoever is actually creating the spec sheets). The data in the database is either correct, or it isn’t, and what displays on the page is precisely what’s been entered into the database for that field of data for that given product. There is no thinking involved. Oftentimes, companies use the first run spec sheets as “proofs” to check their content. They can do this because of how much easier it is to produce spec sheets in an automated fashion. It is also easier to proof data laid out in spec sheet format, as opposed to scanning multiple lines from an Excel spreadsheet.

3) How do you keep a spec sheet up to date when specifications can change so often?

ANSWER: Catsy accomplishes this using the same database + InDesign plugin approach. Once the content is “sprayed” onto the page the first time using the template, the tags are retained. This means, the content on the spec sheet still has a two-way link back to the database. At any point in the future-says, after some data or specs have changed-the same document does not have to be recreated but rather can be “refreshed” at the push of a button. This tells the special InDesign plugins to grab the latest version of content for each individual tag from the database-and update what’s on the page with the latest and greatest data.

4) How do you support multiple language versions of the same spec sheets?

ANSWER: A good content management system must support multiple languages. Furthermore, it should allow for as many languages as your business intends to publish. This way, translators can provide, for example, German and Chinese versions of the same databased English content. That’s only half of the solution, however. When it comes to creating the spec sheets, you need a way to quickly pull that multiple language data using the same template. How Catsy accomplishes this is with a special plugin called “Refresh by Language”. You can take as many of your spec sheets as you’d like, add them to an InDesign book, and then quickly refresh them by any language you’ve provided translations for. Each tag within the template will look for that selected language’s version of the data. So, not only will your Feature bullets show with the new language, but any field you publish could potentially have its own multilingual values.

5) How should a typical Workflow look, when creating Spec Sheets?

ANSWER: You most likely have a product manager, or a content group, which is responsible for keeping the highly technical data up to date and correct. You may also have a design team responsible for creating the spec sheets in an application like Adobe InDesign. Ideally, these two roles can be separated-you don’t necessarily want your Designer fact-checking specification data when they want to just focus on creating the document. With a content management system, your content people can fully focus on the data only. Specialized Adobe plugins that connect to the database allow the designers to simply “spray” or pull the data from the database via their templates. This way, they aren’t entering content at all. They are simply pulling what is there and what has been provided by the content experts.

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