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Silicon Publishing – Automating Content With Adobe InDesign Server

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Silicon Publishing has been delivering world-class publishing solutions for 16 years, gathering key talent from the original Adobe InDesign team. CEO, Max Dunn sat down with us for a conversation about achievements past and present, as well as their future vision – including major new innovations extending the Adobe Creative Cloud.


Q: Max, tell us something more about Silicon Publishing and your history?

A: Alissa and I started the company in 2000, after working for years as software developers in the database publishing division of Bertelsmann. We had written core applications that ingested millions of records of data and created many kinds of print output: catalogs, directories, statements, insurance documents… you name it. Our applications generate billions of printed pages per year.

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So when we started Silicon Publishing, we thought (rather naively it turned out) that it would not take very long at all for our fledgling company to reach a similar level of production. After all, we had written most of the code, and what else do you need besides code? It turns out, believe it or not, that there are other dimensions of business. We learned many lessons, and we continue to learn more and more to this day. In the end, it took a few more years than we expected going in, for our two-person company to merit the same kind of respect as the 60,000-person company we had left.

Our first lesson was that we needed software, and the industrial tools we were used to using at Bertelsmann were suddenly beyond our means.

We evaluated all the tools available, and settled on a desktop application called Adobe InDesign 1.0. With it, we were able to produce even better output! We learned that with InDesign, whatever you can dream you can do.

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But, not unexpectedly, there was a downside…

Unlike the tools we had used at Bertelsmann, InDesign was not server-based. That meant it was slow as molasses, and our clients began wondering why some jobs had to run overnight. We did too…

For years, we begged Adobe to create InDesign Server. Almost in spite of our pleas and requests, our prayers were answered in 2005 when Adobe realized that a tool like InDesign really did deserve to exist in server form.

Since then, we’ve become the leading InDesign Server solution provider, expanding beyond database publishing into online editing and workflow automation. We have eclipsed the scale we worked at when we were at Bertelsmann, and we are now more than 20 people.

After many hard lessons learned, we are thankful to have endured and we’re eternally grateful to Adobe for making InDesign and bringing its server form to life.

Q: Who is your ideal customer and why?

A: We have been honored to work with great companies such as Nike, Disney, Amazon, Hallmark, and Google. We love clients with a strong vision, people who want to do something special. As we are a developer-centric company, we also appreciate companies that have clear points of interface with their systems and a real understanding of how to extend their technology.

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We can provide a straightforward solution, but because our software is so extensible, we often have the chance to see our solutions creatively enhanced and modified in ways we had never anticipated. After delivering our Designer product to a client, a couple of months later we were delighted to discover that they had created a book maker and an imposition system on top of Silicon Designer. Some applications of ours have run for a decade or more while our clients extend them, enhancing the baseline software largely on their own. This means that we empower our clients, rather than creating dependency relationships. Of course we are always ready to support our clients when needed, but in reality most of our support agreements are rarely exercised, because we deliver solutions that clients are able to run with on their own.

Q: Could you explain the function and advantages of your Silicon Designer?

A: Silicon Designer is by far the most powerful online editing application in the world. Based on Adobe InDesign, the most powerful composition engine in existence, it means that you are using the best software available at every step of the way, from template set-up all the way through rendering printed output. A fundamental strength is found in two simple facts: InDesign is the tool designers prefer for creating and managing templates; and its print output engine is the global standard for delivering serious documents. Sure, there are legacy options available, but none approach InDesign in quality, flexibility, universality or sheer power.


In 2009, we hired the creators of InDesign. Now, when we claim to be world experts at automating it, let that sink in: we hired the creators of InDesign. Our company boasts of luminaries like Olav Kvern, who literally wrote the book on automating InDesign, as well as a cadre of amazing engineers who built it and whose in-depth understanding of InDesign is therefore unrivaled.

But this InDesign expertise is just one half of the overall picture. Our team also boasts of leading HTML5 developers who, in concert with our InDesign gurus, enable all modern browsers to ingest InDesign templates. The result is online editing experiences with unlimited options in terms of look and feel, workflow and other aspects, that still use InDesign Server to deliver perfect multi-channel output. We see a few faint echoes out there, but no online editing solution can rival Silicon Designer, which is why it is the centerpiece of the largest implementations in the world.

No two Silicon Designers look the same, because the UI is beautifully decoupled from the underlying core applications. The result – our clients can make it do anything, and they often choose to make it do some very unique things. They can, because control over the UI design and functionality lies entirely within their hands.

Q: Can you give us more insights into your software?

A: We came out of database publishing, and in some ways we are returning to our roots: our Silicon Paginator product is becoming ever-more popular. We are one of the few companies investing heavily in making database publishing easier and more powerful than ever before.

We have created some amazing forms of template management, and in doing so, we have overcome the challenges of financial statements, retail and manufacturing catalogs, cruise booklets, insurance documents, and almost any other data-driven document class, while offering easier template creation and higher quality output than was ever possible before.

People say that print is dead but that’s not so – they print more than ever. The change in print is this: print must be smarter today because it needs to be more customized, personalized, and “on demand” than before. We may not see as much print on paper eventually but that is being rapidly compensated for on other substrates and with 3D printing. And Silicon Paginator is getting better and better at the most demanding data-driven challenges, while other database publishing tools sit still. As “database” and “publishing” are re-formed and re-defined, we are here on the pulse of both.

I should also mention that we have a third product, Silicon Connector, something that is really more of an uncomplicated plugin than a complex solution. However, it solves a simple but critical issue for authoring workgroups: Connector makes URL-based links to DAM repositories work from within Adobe InDesign. No other tool does this.

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The URL link to the DAM means that there is now a single asset referenced by multiple documents, and it is in these single-sourced assets that our clients are saving huge amounts of time, while boosting quality and accuracy. We also connect to DAMs from other CC applications, starting with Photoshop and Illustrator and moving to even more. Today, we have Connectors for 12 DAM partners and counting, with thousands of users loving it the world over. No customization is needed – this little thing just works. And it’s saving our clients a ton of money, while saving their design teams a ton of grief.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: We have ambitious roadmaps for all three product lines, and an overall goal of merging them into a single core product. While they started out as three very distinct products, we increasingly see hybrid solutions, and consequently we are unifying the codebase. We also see more and more “web to web” use cases for Silicon Designer. We put millions of dollars into its HTML5 editing technology, and we see massive re-use of this in a publishing context. Obviously 3D is big for us; WebGL is my hobby today the way SVG was 18 years ago. And, we’re already doing Silicon Designer for 3D Printing.

Fundamentally, our primary goal always has been simple: keep our clients and partners happy, and continue growing the amazing team we’ve built. We expect our products to continue evolving organically, as they have to date. We don’t sit in a room planning out new product features we’ve thought up in a vacuum: instead we brainstorm with clients and partners about what they want, and most of the new things we’re working on came about as a result of input from the brilliant people we’ve been so fortunate to work with. We intend to work more with Open Source efforts and with standards bodies (mainly the W3C and Khronos Group), and we remain committed to giving back to the community, especially by sharing our knowledge of InDesign scripting and Creative Cloud extensibility. I am thankful to have lived to see 2016, the best year yet for rendition automation, and I look forward to announcing some very cool things this year and next.

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