VDP Technical Reading List

By | September 14, 2009

By Nicholas Barzelay

One of the problems in training for VDP is the issue of not providing an adequate understanding of the fundamental technologies involved. In football for example, a player needs to know how to run, block, and tackle before being able to adequately perform play patterns. In the military there is a step called “basic training”.

In VDP (and I have experienced this) the approach seems to be navigating the graphical user interface and pushing the right buttons in the proper sequence. After a couple of sessions, you are considered “trained”. Just follow the demonstrated sequence of windows and buttons each time, and you will be able to do VDP – at least mail merge.

This provides no preparation on the basic processes. When it comes to the menus, windows, and buttons, there is not an adequate explanation of what is going on under the hood or how it all relates to the basic processes. Finally the graphical user interface becomes the workflow. The workflow is narrowed and necessary activities outside the user interface tend to be ignored. The user interface does not comprehend the full VDP workflow, leaving a disconnected string of dots.

Some time later when the operation is only doing mail merge (something that can be done with most capable word processing applications), the question comes up: “Why can’t we get more out of our digital press?” The answer is that nobody understands VDP basics. The same holds true for DAM, except that the question is: “Why did we pay so much for this software and only use it as a Web portal?” The answer to that question is similar — nobody comprehends its basic functionality either.

The question frequently comes up: “What can I read to understand some basic technologies involved in VDP?” The reading list below can provide a good start, however it is not necessarily going to supplant some good basic training.

Reading List

XML problem-design-solution by Amiano, M., D’Cruz, C., Ethier, K., & Thomas, M.

This book explores the use of XML to produce a range of documents by repurposing content. Discussion starts with simple documents and then progresses into more complex documents.

FileMaker Pro: the missing manual by Coffey, G. & Prosser, S

The manual provides a good reference for learning and then using the FileMaker Pro desktop database. It also provides a hands-on explanation of database basics in the form of tutorial exercises.

A designer’s guide to Adobe InDesign and XML by Maivald, J. & Palmer, C.

This is an excellent hands-on window on variable data publishing. The authors have addressed several kinds of documents in text and in tutorial examples. They take the reader through building each kind of document step by step.

Instant InDesign: designing templates for fast and efficient page layout by Powell, G.

This book is a good companion to Maivald and Palmer (above). It addresses the key corollaries in VDP: document structural standardization and document content variation.

XML all-in-one desk reference for dummies by Wagner, R. & Mansfield, R.

For anyone with a desire or need to learn XML basics, this book provides a simple explanation of key XML technologies using easily understood and consistent examples. The examples can be downloaded for experimentation and learning.

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2 thoughts on “VDP Technical Reading List

  1. Adam Peck


    Thanks for sharing this list. I would also add that after acquiring a basic understanding of the fundamentals associated with database basics, XML, and VDP it is important to properly evaluate the range of software solutions that are on the market and understand which solution fits your requirements.

    Oftentimes, getting more out of a digital press requires investing in the right software. We see far too many service providers use mail merge to “personalize” documents with the addition of a first name and then ask why their VDP campaign wasn’t more effective. Today’s VDP solutions have an incredible amount of functionality that makes it easy to create much more relevant and effective personalized communications.

    When it comes to evaluating and choosing among the leading VDP solutions, readers may find the InfoTrends Ultimate Guide to Variable Data Publishing Solutions helpful.

  2. John Dowd

    This is the second time I’ve seen File Maker Pro mentioned in a VDP context. I’ve never used it before, but it surprises me to see it mentioned. What kind of VDP functionality does FMP offer? Text? Images? How does it differ from Desktop Fusion Pro, XMPie, etc?

    thanks for the great series of posts – very helpful!


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