EmData process

EmData is the bridge between data and layout

(© Em Software)

Over the past 10-15 years I've helped produce several catalogues and directories using information stored in a spreadsheet or database and flowed automatically on to layouts ready for printing.

How it works

The process makes use of desktop publishing software (QuarkXpress or Adobe InDesign), in which the layouts are designed and the pages created, and a nifty piece of add-on software called EmData that works, according to its makers, "like a mail merge on steroids". By carefully designing a layout using a series of linked text and picture frames and then programming EmData to distribute the incoming data it is possible to output hundreds of pages an hour.

If your business requires the production of a catalogue, especially on a regular basis, this process can save a great deal of time, letting you focus on the important stuff like making sure the information in the database is accurate before it's published.

Data preparation

With a large database maintained by different people over a long time it is inevitable that duplications and variations will arise. However, repetition and inconsistency can spoil your finished publication. For this reason it is worth spending time de-duplicating and cleaning up the content before flowing it into the layouts. Date, address and telephone number formats can be imposed, spelling errors corrected and duplicate entries removed.

I've developed several techniques to make this process less painful by using macros in MS Word and Excel. It's easier to force a "house style" when the data is in tabular form: columns of postcodes and phone numbers can be checked against regular expressions and potential duplicates can be flagged up at this stage rather than when they are spread across multiple pages in a large document.

Photographs, logos and other graphics used in the catalogue need to be assembled and prepared too, and links to these files are added to the data before the process begins.

Of course, the final pages will be proof-read before publication and further adjustments, additions and deletions can be made then.

The next step

If you'd like to explore how this process could help you create your catalogue, please contact me.


Here are some examples of publications produced using this method...

Parks Directory cover

Estates Gazette magazine produces this annual round-up of the more than 700 industrial distribution parks in the UK.

Parks Directory spread

Careers Guide cover

An annual list of colleges offering catering and hospitality courses. The challenge here was to indicate for each college which of three areas – hospitality, leisure or tourism – it offered courses in and which of 15 qualification levels could be achieved in them.

Careers spread

Careers extract

Hotelympia cover

A catalogue of exhibitors for the UK hospitality industry's biennial show.

Hospitality Week spread

IFE cover

A catalogue of exhibitors for an international food & drink exhibition.

IFE spread

© Mike Docker [mike@threetrickpony.co.uk]