If you’ve heard of CHILI GraFx, chances are you’ve heard of Smart Templates. They’re the technology at the very center of our Creative Automation platform. As I write, they are streamlining and scaling graphical production capabilities in every corner of the globe (maybe you didn’t hear this bit, but Smart Templates never sleep). Why do so many businesses use CHILI GraFx’s Smart Templates? What exactly are they? And how might they help your graphical production? In this two-part series, we’ll answer all that and more.
Everyone working in marketing and graphical production knows that producing content at the hyper-speed of the digital age is a serious challenge. High-quality, targeted marketing content is essential for maintaining brand awareness in a noisy and crowded marketplace, but getting your messages out to market is no easy task.
That’s why we created Smart Templates—to streamline and make scalable the complex business of high-volume, highly targeted graphical production.
Before we look at how Smart Templates work, let’s quickly review the benefits they bring to graphical production:
Creative teams spend between 30-50% of their time managing the manual process of design adaptation. You can drastically reduce or even eliminate that with CHILI GraFx Creative Automation.
Ward De Langhe
Chief Product Officer
@ CHILI publish
In short, with Smart Templates, you get to market faster with high-quality content that takes a fraction of the effort to produce.
Let’s now dive into what Smart Templates are, and how they can increase your graphic production.
A Smart Template is a type of document—almost always, a graphical document.
Smart Template documents can be brochures, product labels, POS collateral, a digital ad, and much else besides.
They’re “templates” because parts of their content can be modified, like a name, a price, a photo, even a color, etc. while other elements remain locked.
They’re “smart” because they can intelligently shapeshift in multiple ways, such as dynamically altering text formatting to fit designated areas, or outputting variants of a single template for digital and print in multiple sizes—all while staying within brand guidelines.
Smart Templates are incredibly useful because (1) they enable users with little or no graphics knowledge to create or edit graphical content, and (2) they can be used to automate graphic production—partially or in full.
In short, as we mentioned at the beginning of this article, Smart Templates enable self-service, automation and intelligent variant production.
Like most documents, you can start the creation of a Smart Template document on your Desktop computer.
One great feature of Smart Templates is that you can create your artwork just like you would with any other design project using industry-standard tools Adobe® InDesign® or Illustrator®.
You just work as you always do, letting your creative juices flow as you create your layout or artwork, with no thought of “templates”. Once you’re happy with your design, save your file, and it’s time to meet GraFx Publisher.
GraFx Publisher is cloud-based. When your artwork is ready, the next step is to upload your file to CHILI GraFx.
There are CHILI plugins for InDesign and Illustrator that make this easy. (They have other features too, but we’ll skip over those for now).
When CGraFx Publisher has successfully received your design file, it will convert it to a Smart Template and store it in the library associated with your account.
Like most SaaS tools, CHILI GraFx has a web portal where you log in to your account to see your documents. You can also use this portal to perform some configuration magic on your Smart Templates.
In fact, once your file is uploaded, all you’ll need is a modern web browser to start simplifying and automating your graphic design and production.
Now for the clever bit. Once your file is uploaded, you’re ready to configure it.
First, you’ll need to decide if this template is for users to self-serve content production or if it is for a more automated, data-driven approach.
Let’s assume the former and keep things simple.
Imagine you work for a global retail company, with a wonderfully original name: ACME Smart Retail.
You want to create a promotional flyer that will be printed in every region across the globe. Rather than centralizing the personalization and localization of the flyer, you want store owners in every region to be able to provide their own text content. You also want them to be able to change a map image that shows where the store promoted in the flyer can be found.
As the designer creating the shareable template, you can do all the above in GraFx Publisher via a web browser. It helps to think about it as follows:
You know the way when you’re designing on a Desktop computer, you usually have a document like myArtwork.indd and an application like Adobe InDesign to edit the document?
Well, with GraFx Publisher environments, Smart Templates are the document, and the Editor is the online application you use to edit them.
What’s remarkable about CHILI Editor is just how similar it is to Desktop design tools like InDesign. You can use it to open and modify your imported InDesign artwork. But, if you prefer, you can create your artwork from scratch in Editor—it really is that powerful. And it is also capable of very advanced modifications on any document you’ve imported. Made a mistake in InDesign? There’s no need to return to the Desktop application to fix it. CHILI Editor has the tools you need.
But CHILI Editor also has a unique set of features for configuring editable areas in your template document.
In our example, if you wanted to make the store name and description (text fields) and the map image (image fields) editable by end users, you can do that while keeping all the other elements in your document locked.
This means you can enable users from across the globe to open the template you’ve created, edit those fields, and not mess with any of the other elements in the artwork you’ve created.
That’s localization and personalization distributed and brand consistency centralized!
So far, we’ve been looking at things from a Designer’s perspective.
You’ve seen how GraFx Publisher makes it possible to take a design file and transform it into an enhanced, dynamic format.
In our example, we’re dealing with a template created to enable self-serve document creation within tight brand guidelines for a global community of retailers launching a concurrent promotion.
Sounds nifty, but how does that work?
Thankfully, the steps are simple and tailored to the job.
When the designer is satisfied with how the Smart Template is configured, they make the document available to team members across the globe through a web portal.
The portal can take many forms. It could be a simple, vanilla, get-the-job-done site, a web-to-print public website, or, in our case, a beautifully designed custom portal that follows exactly ACME Smart Retail’s branding.
And, of course, once your document is online, it means that users from anywhere on the globe can log in to the portal, navigate to the document, and open it for editing.
With Creative Automation, we consolidated over 500 templates into 90 Smart Templates. Now the effort to create a product label is minutes instead of hours or even days.
Co-Founder & CEO, BE
If you’ve been working with Desktop publishing applications for a while, you’ll know that most of them have “Workspaces”—these are storable configurations of the tool’s interface. These workspaces let you quickly load the environment best suited to the job at hand.
With CHILI Editor—the Smart Template editor—you have something similar but on a whole different level.
For a start, CHILI Editor is an embedded editor, so when an end user logs into their portal to access their CHILI publisher files, they’ll be able to open the files in their web browser, just like the designer did.
Nice, but when the document opens, what you don’t want is your end-users running scared by too many options or clicking frantically on a myriad of interface tools that they will never need. That’s why the visibility of all of CHILI Editor’s interface tools is completely configurable, so your end-users only see what they need to do their job. In other words, users won’t be tempted to twiddle knobs that might harm brand integrity. Some people really do think Comic Sans looks kind of fun.
Next, with the Smart Template open, all elements of the document will be locked except the fields that were designated as editable. This means your global (or local) team of content customizers can get to work on entering targeted content for their region with no risk to your brand integrity.
Finally, as some icing on the interface cake, what if your whole portal uses a particular color scheme or brand appearance? No problem! The CHILI Editor interface is skinnable, meaning you can design the interface to match your portal and brand exactly!
When the local user has localized and personalized their document, they can save and publish their content. GraFx Publisher’s engine then takes over and creates production-ready PDFs of the artwork.
In our example, depending on how ACME Smart Retail have built its portal, the output-ready files could, for example, be directly delivered to a local print service provider or could be queued for review by marketing—locally or at HQ. Equally, digital image versions of the files could be produced for posting on social media. GraFx Publisher has such an open interface that the options are endless.
Companies with a strong Creative Tech foundation that adopt Creative Automation can take full advantage, while those stuck with legacy tools will fall behind the curve.
@ CHILI publish
In this article, we’ve taken the 10,000 feet overview of how easy-to-create Smart Templates can provide a truly global solution to the marketing challenge of creating localized and targeted content that stays within brand guidelines.
What used to be an almost impossible task—generating on-brand, highly personalized, and localized marketing content on a regular, per-promotion basis—is now easy, efficient, and incredibly fast.
And we’ve only scratched the surface.
In the next article in this series, we’ll take a deep dive into the mind-warpingly smart features of GraFx Publisher Smart Templates that make them such an incredible tool for streamlining and scaling graphical production.
So, if the above has you ready to learn about Dynamic Layouts, Image Fitting, Advanced Variables, Constraints, and more, stay tuned for our next installment!