Layouting is one of the last open fields of automation in the production of printing. However, if printed products are to become more flexible and individualistic, layouting must also function without human intervention. Since design is based on logic and rules that can be defined, it should also be possible to program software for automated layouting. At least Tobias Köngeter, owner of WirbelWild GbR, is convinced of this and explained to the participants of the symposium what he means by this: dynamic printing.
For some years now, there have been opportunities for individualization and personalization. Usually placeholders are defined in a layout for this purpose, which are later filled with content. For example, for the name of the recipient or the address. However, this type of personalization hardly attracts attention anymore, since no additional benefit is created. The personal name on a direct mailing is not impressive.
“The information has to be adapted to the recipient via filters and automation as a whole”, explained Köngeter. “This is where placeholders fail, however, because different types of information can only be introduced and exchanged by placeholders to a limited extent. It is difficult to accommodate a text that, depending on the addressee, consists of 100 characters one time and 1,000 characters the other time. It is even more difficult if the number of design elements varies, for example, if one recipient is to see two pictures and the other five. Rigid layouts are not suitable for this purpose; several rigid layouts would have to be created for templates, which would cover as many application scenarios as possible – this could lead to endless problems the more flexible and diversified the information becomes.
What happens with automated layouting?
Design rules for companies are defined in a corporate design. These include fonts, sizes, formats and rules of conduct for elements: How large can they be, where should they be placed, etc. In addition, there are also general rules concerning color contrasts, proportions, symmetrics and harmonies.
“These design and behavior rules can also be applied by software to implement a given design – as a designer would do. With the difference that a complete layout can be created within seconds, as often as desired and in any number of variations. We are talking about highly dynamic layouts or, in the print sector, dynamic printed products,” says Köngeter.
A layout can be generated without having to know the incoming information. Whether there is a text and how many characters it consists of, whether two or five images are to be placed, is irrelevant. The software applies the defined design rules and places the elements according to these specifications.
“Such software for generating layouts can be connected anywhere to retrieve and process data – to any PIM system, CMS, e-commerce platform or other API. Information can be entered into a layout at the time it is processed – there is no longer a difference between the level of information and the layout version,” Köngeter explained. Only the print production, including further processing and dispatch, increases the time difference between the information status and the time when the recipient receives it. “You could say that layouts go live. And printed products are closer to the customer than ever before.”
During his lecture, he left open whether it is artificial intelligence with which Tobias Köngeter wants to create automatic print layouts. Much more important to him was the answer to the question of how layouts can be created automatically.
“Let’s imagine an e-commerce system with a web shop where purchases can be made and where the order data is stored and processed at certain intervals. Product recommendations can be generated and, based on the personal profile, the appearance for a print mailing can be oriented in different directions – for example, more conservative or more modern. Afterwards, required texts are generated, product images are loaded and a separate display is created for each person. At the end, these are exported in PDFs and sent to a print shop.” This is how Tobias Köngeter imagines the workflow for an automated mailing, which also contains an individual QR code including a link that leads the addressee directly to the web shop’s shopping cart. This shopping cart already contains the products recommended in the mailing. Accordingly, three interactions are necessary for the purchase: calling up the shopping basket via QR code or link, clicking the buy button and logging in. An evaluation of the purchases can then help to optimize the distribution intervals, design and content.