Book Review: Adobe InDesign Styles by Michael Murphy

OverviewAdobe InDesign CS4 Styles: How to Create Better, Faster Text and Layouts

If you’ve ever spent any time in InDesign, you’ve realized that one of its biggest strengths is the ability to format massive amounts of text and other objects with very little effort. That is, if you’ve taken the time to get to know the various styling palettes. When you first start using InDesign, you may not bother using styles. Even after discovering the styles palettes, you may still be wasting time and effort using them incorrectly. If you’re looking to potentially save hours, if not fortnights, by streamlining your workflow and increasing your InDesign styles knowledge, then Adobe InDesign Styles by Michael Murphy is a fantastic place to start.

Intended Audience and Topics Covered

The book assumes you have a good working knowledge of typography and an intermediate level of knowledge of InDesign. It covers the gamut of subjects you think you know (such character and paragraph styles), then moving onto the slightly more esoteric table, cell, and object styles, and then to more nervousness-producing subjects such as GREP, CSS, and XHTML. The author breaks down the various style palettes, discussing each format option (and wisely points out when not to use certain formatting even if when the option to do so is provided in the palette being discussed). In the fundamentals section, some fairly inventive uses of styles are demonstrated, such as fake highlighting, rounded text rules, and other surprising live effects you may not have thought possible.

Nested Styles

The author digs deep into topics like nested styles—devoting an entire chapter to it. This is wonderful knowledge to have—not only to make your workflow faster and easier, but also in case you need to make edits to an InDesign document that already utilizes nested styles. Without some knowledge of how to create and edit nested styles (and GREP styles -covered in the following chapter), editing a document with nested styles created by someone else can be quite irritating and make you doubt you knew much about InDesign to begin with.


Any discussion of GREP or GREP styles can leave you feeling like you accidentally wandered into an Esperanto-only section of town after a few ill-advised drinks. The author devotes a chapter to GREP and GREP expressions and does a pretty good job at bringing the concept down to earth. The section on defining expressions for GREP styles and some commonly-used examples is well worth reading and playing with. Watching GREP styles apply themselves as you type is kind of fascinating to watch. Even so, you’ll need to read this chapter a few times. GREP is, unfortunately, one of those subjects that unless you work with it constantly, it doesn’t always stick. I recommend keeping this book near the computer with this chapter marked with a post-it note.

Object and Table Styling

Object and table styling (respectively) are given separate chapters. The author shows off some great examples of object styling and gives advice on object styles every InDesign user should keep on hand (auto-fit frames, preferred text wrap options, drop shadow settings, etc.). The chapter on table styling (which includes cell styling) is greatly welcome. Table styling (as of CS4) can oftentimes be frustrating. The author even includes a section on the limitation of table styles and discusses how easily it is to create a table that cannot be completely defined with table styles.

TOCs, Text Variables, and Cross References

If you’re working with long documents, the author delves into utilizing styles to construct dynamic content such as tables of contents, running header text variables and cross-references. The ability to use styles to create live links between text and a table of contents is a wonderful thing but is easily goofed up unless you do some pre-planning ahead of time. The author points out the potential pitfalls of using running header text variables (like how they will never wrap onto another line—instead all the characters are overlaid on top of each other to make a mess if you’re not careful). Cross-references had been a highly-requested feature and were debuted in CS4. To access their functionality, you need to call up the hyperlinks panel. The author does a fair job of covering their use, creation, editing, styling and tips on working with them. It’s something I have not had the chance to work with and look forward to exploring this functionality.


One of the last things the author covers is exporting from InDesign to XHTML for processing in Dreamweaver and conversion to usable web pages. Although he briefly covers CSS and best practices for crafting single web pages, InDesign (as of CS4) wasn’t ready for prime time in terms of a being part of a usable workflow for creating entire websites. However, it’s ability to import and export XML to create all manner of documents is quite handy if you know what you’re doing. The author discusses building, importing, applying and exporting XML tags and how to match them up with existing document styles. The author breezes through the basics—recommending James J. Maivald and Cathy Palmer’s A Designer’s Guide to Adobe InDesign and XML for further reading.

All in all, I highly recommend this book for anyone’s continuing education. It benefits everyone working with InDesign who wants to save large chunks of time when it comes time to format and/or reformat their documents. For those who work with menus, white papers, brochures and book-length documents, you could also be saving yourself panic attacks, missed deadlines, angry clients, and visits to your cardiologist.

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Adobe Press; 1 edition (April 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 032160606X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0321606068


  1. Rebecca Evans says:

    This book is a wonderful resource.

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