InData builds 2100-page directory for RIBA

July 17, 2014 by

Phil Handley, Design and Production Manager, and Michèle Woodger, Content Editor, share with us how they built a complex directory for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

RPS2014_Flexy_CoverThe RIBA Product Selector directory is a hard-copy publication featuring construction product information and advertising material, distributed to 20,000 architects each year. The publication contains 8 different indexes with cross references, 800 pages of advertising material and a further 500 pages of educational/continuing professional development information. Until 2013 it was published as a 2500 page, two-volume hardback set, with four corresponding websites making use of the same data.

The directory has been in print since 1982, and due to this formidable 32 year history, the business workflows were complex (advertisements and indexes are handled by two distinct teams), the pre-existing, un-user-friendly DTP software was no longer suitable, and the directory contents were in need of a design refresh.

(Click on any image for a larger version.)

Moreover, with constantly evolving web technologies, particularly with regards to search engines, the paper directory needed to be able to cater for a new generation of information end-users, who rightly expect data to be easily accessible.

Last year the designer and content editor revisited the choice of software, designs and materials with the aim of updating the appearance and saving money, paper and distribution costs.

The team was able to identify these main areas as being within their scope to improve on:

  • choice of software package,
  • design,
  • paper and cover.

Throughout the year, data for the indexes is maintained within a bespoke database. A data-cut is taken on a fixed date, laid to page, collated with the advertising material by an external reprographics company and sent to print.

It was agreed that the use of InDesign would allow the team greater design flexibility to create a more streamlined page-layout which was far more economical with space. However, there were concerns about InDesign’s ability to adequately provide for the complexity of the cross referencing and to import such large quantities of data.

Despite the initial concerns with this approach, the team called in Roger Fuller to act as a consultant in the initial stages.

The database was modified in-house such that data could be exported to and edited in Microsoft Excel. Once the columns and rows had been organised logically, this was saved in TSV format and imported into InDesign CS6 using the Em Software InData plug-in. With the use of the InDesign plug-in Cross Reference Pro, links between the various indexes were also greatly simplified.


Some key changes to the design were then achieved. These included the use of a condensed typeface, the introduction of a symbol key system to replace certain cross references, and the introduction of a 5-column rather than 4-column grid.


A complex chart displaying a referencing system for the 500+ pieces of CPD material was also made possible using InData. This matrix grid contained a coding system which classified pieces of educational material by knowledge level and subject matter. InData enabled the designer to be more creative with the visualisation of information, which resulted in an easily-understandable chart diagram, which took up less space.

Core Curriculum

The reduced number of pages then offered the scope for different cover and binding options which were more cost effective to produce. Two volumes were reduced to one, and hardback was replaced with a flexi-bind cover, which, when opened, is able to be laid flat without damage to the spine. It is also lighter to hold and lift off the shelf.

The end result was even better than planned, with a production cost saving of approximately 20% and an equivalent percentage reduction in paper. The final product was better for the environment, more cost effective to print, cheaper to distribute, more user friendly and considerably less heavy.

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