My colleague Loïc Aigon recently updated his professional website: loicaigon.com. I take this opportunity to let him unveil axis and motions of a misknown job: automation expert…
• You are one of the very few french freelancers offering custom automation services for the Adobe Creative Suite and Publishing. Why focusing on customization?
Loïc Aigon : I have clients with one-time requirements, others with global expectations. I take the floor wherever time and reliability constraints are critical. Automation is indeed a modular science. People often associate it with speed but automation has another great asset: it rises reliability to a level that no manual copy/paste can ensure!
• Do you have practical examples?
L. A. : I recently worked with Mitsubishi Electric France to help them speed up and secure the production of their annual catalogs. Also, I am intensively working with an editor to inject data within InDesign in real time from a database. The idea is to reduce a much as possible any further manual processing with a high level of responsiveness.
I am also involved in a web2print solution, based on communication between InDesign users and a web application connected to InDesign Server. Graphic designers can prepare and send their files to the server thanks to a dedicated extension. The web application can run InDesign Server to modify these files, then to generate high resolution PDFs for print…
• Do companies hire you as a consultant?
L. A. : Yes, I do consulting for huge companies as Lectra or Electrolux. They have their own projects but sometimes they are facing issues. They then need a professional answer. Most of these missions deal with InDesign and InDesign Server, sometimes Illustrator and occasionally Photoshop or Acrobat. In most cases, they lead to scripts or extensions.
• Regarding business activity and market requirements, could you draw a portrait of your typical client?
L. A. : The scope is very large: consultancies, publishing studios, small and big companies, even freelancers. The final goal is always to “better produce” whatever it's a one-time project of a permanent automated production solution. Projects are always different from one to another and I really enjoy that!
• How do you fit into client specifications?
L. A. : My number one rule is to never come with preformatted solutions. When I am asked to study a project, I try to move back as much as I can. If a company orders a script, I am first wondering why they need it. What was the genuine need? Context? Intentions? It's critical to me. Then I will look for the most dedicated solutions for the client environment. My motto is 'customization.'
• Let's say I am dealing with a data-to-publication workflow for a company which releases a catalog translated into 18 languages. The system is working for years but not really optimized, quite stringent and time consuming. How could you help?
L. A. : In your case, I'd first interrogate the production tools. Then I'd look for weak points from top to bottom. Is the solution still adequate? If a script is already in use, is the code optimized? Are all operations actually required? Could they be processed in a better way? Are we really taking advantage of existing technologies? From that stage I could suggest to enhance the flow elements, or to rewrite some routines, or maybe the entire code in order to rise efficiency and features. In worst cases—this rarely happens though—I could recommend to change tools or the technology itself!
• …Which could be a huge move for your client!
L. A. : Indeed. That's why I'm talking about extreme scenarios! My purpose is to really take uses into account and pick the most harmless solution. A few months ago I worked for a company where everything was done with Illustrator. You know as much as I do how limited is Illustrator when it comes to scripting. Therefore I suggested to migrate from Illustrator to InDesign. But they barely knew InDesign at the time. So I had to design a process that can involve a minimal use of InDesign while preserving a maximal use of Illustrator. That wasn't easy at all. But I've learned from experience that the main barrier in automating tasks is something of a customer's mental block. Thus, by reducing the switch, we can improve the penetration of automated tools.
• Maintenance, assistance, reactivity. How do you address this triple request?
L. A. : I always provide a maintenance period. Anyway, I never release solutions that aren't well proven. So, it's quite rare that customers come back with huge troubles. I do not pretend to perfection! I just want to deliver a final product that fits the requirements. Since evil is in the details I try to make things square at the very beginning of the project. The longer it's analyzed, the better the development will advance. In fact, issues rise with late demands. And this is where bugs can pop up…
• …Speaking of bugs, what is your warranty in case of issues?
L. A. : I always offer bug fixes for a specified period. Later, I charge on a time basis. This doesn't regard problems related to OS and applications updates. I consider a development is only warranted within its own context. Should a client tweaks my code without my approval, he will loose any ongoing warranty. It's up to him. (My "terms and conditions" sum up many discussions we had on this topic—if you remember it.)
• Are you involved in Web and/or Web2Print projects?
L. A. : More and more! Basically from the beginning with companies such as Tweak or RIP Consulting, but in a very indirect way. I went much further with PressRun (AppStudio), wich led me to deal with file exchange between InDesign and a web server. Right now, I am developing scripts in a web2print solution for local media. That's really awesome! Imagine you are within InDesign, you export your file and in seconds, you can see and edit the document from a web interface. I definitely enjoy cross-cutting projects.
I am also involved in a project that should make some noise soon… But you already know what I am talking about—as you introduced them to me. (Besides, I take this opportunity to restate my friendship, while others would probably have chosen to compete…)
• Your polyvalence must have some limitations somewhere!
L. A. : Well, I do not deal with web dev. I've tried many times in the past but I've never been very enthusiastic. That said, there was a time I would have sworn to never write a line of code; see where I am now! Who knows? Maybe I will go again in that direction. Not to become a chief but to better handle those technologies. For the time being, I couldn't set a database and manage it, although it's often a key point. Generally, when it comes to web, I enlist Richard Hordern (from MonArobase), unless my client's developers take that in charge.
I remain curious anyway. As soon as I feel like I need a technology I don't master, I don't stay unconcerned for long…
• Tell me about your work tools…
L. A. : When I discovered PatchPanel with Adobe CS4—providing a solution to embed Flash panels within scripts—I just fell in love with it. Ironically, I never worked with Flash Pro, and still do not. But with Flash Builder, I could just design advanced interfaces in a blink. Maybe it's my graphic design background that made me comfortable in building up interfaces with this IDE. I really enjoy this tool, as it lets you code crazy stuff. Extensions requests were still marginal two years ago. Now they are at the center of my business activity. I spend most of my time with Flash Builder, or should I say ExtensionBuilder, a great tool. (But I will stop here. I won't convince you to quit ScriptUI :)
• Who do you work with?
I also work with Christian Brugeron, an expert more specialized in ePUB, XML, PDF and C++. The last year I met a great person, Christian Blaise, Enfocus Expert. Since then, I wish we can collaborante on a project although this has not happened yet. Finally, I have signed a partnership with a consultancy dedicated to the Fashion Industry that will make me work with great brands.
Of course my intention is to enlarge my network.
• OK, I really enjoyed this interview and now I want to convince my manager to work with you. Any practical advices before we contact you?
L. A. : The most important is not to hesitate in contacting me. I am always open to hear at your projects. Whatever your needs, give a maximum of details, files, samples, screenshots, anything that can help for a better understanding. While sharing, new ideas can emerge. Anyway, I always answer people back. And if I am too overloaded to take new projects, I can offer to contact other automation experts.
Actually, our sole intention is to convince you that automation really rocks!
Interviewed by Marc Autret
• Where to go from now? http://loicaigon.com
• See also (in French): Loïc Aigon at AdobeTV