Create Your Perfect Workspace

Versions CS4 and later of Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign all use a standardized user interface that allows users to customize the visibility and arrangement of panels. This panel arrangement is referred to as your workspace. These 3 products also allow you to save multiple workspaces for different purposes. A well organized workspace will help you work more efficiently. In this article we’ll explore ways to make your workspace work for you.

Example: My Perfect InDesign Workspace

Click to view example workspace

click this thumbnail to view a snapshot of one of my favorite workspaces

I chose InDesign for my example because it has many more panels than Photoshop or Illustrator. However, since all three applications use identical workspace management tools, the information in this article is equally relevant for all of them.

I’ve included a snapshot of my preferred InDesign workspace, designed for a screen resolution of 1920×1200 pixels. Note the double-column group of panels on the right; these panels have the tools I use constantly. I typically have pages, object styles, paragraph styles, and character styles all visible simultaneously, since I’m constantly referring to them. Also notice I’ve shrunk many other panels down to their “button only” display and placed them below my tools. I don’t use these as often, but I hate having to find them in the menus so I add them as buttons below my tools or next to my main panel group on the right. I often work with books, so I position my book file below the double-column panel group on the right. I’ve also hidden the relatively useless Application Bar (via the window menu), which is usually located at the top of the screen. This gives me a bit more space for my documents.  And speaking of documents, this arrangement leaves me enough space so that I can view one page of my InDesign document next to the original source file, so that I can easily compare the two files.  It’s also enough space to view a full spread.

Keep in mind that my perfect workspace won’t be your perfect workspace. We all develop our own preferred ways of working, and our workspaces should reflect that. Also, different types of work require different workspaces. I thought it might be helpful, though, to show how at least one long-time InDesign user prefers to work.

Getting Started: of Screens and Resolutions

The first thing to consider when setting up your workspace is how much screen space you have. I typically use one screen set to a resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels. This gives me quite a bit of space in which to put panels but still see my document. However, when I hook my computer up to a projector for a presentation, the resolution typically drops down to 1024 x 768. I have much less space for my panels, so I need a different workspace  with fewer panels so they don’t hog all the space. Some designers use 2 or more screens when working, so they have even more room to spread out their workspace. The trick is to optimize your available screen space so that all the panels you need are easily accessible and the view of your project is maximized.

If you have one computer, such as a laptop, that is often used with different screen resolutions or uses multiple screens, consider saving different workspaces that match your various screen configurations.

Built-in Workspaces

Adobe applications ship with a number of pre-designed workspaces to choose from. You can find these in the Window: Workspace menu. While these are a good place to start, it’s always best to eventually build your own custom workspace that has everything you need (and nothing you don’t) at your fingertips.

In the case of InDesign, it’s important to note that as of CS5, the default workspace is “Essentials” which I do not recommend to anybody. It is lacking the essentials! Switch to “Advanced” and then customize from there.

3 Ways to Display a Standard Panel

3 Panel Views

Ever since CS4 most panels in Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign have allowed 3 basic views. In expanded view, the panel displays its full content all the time. In the collapsed views, the panel’s content pops out to the side when you click on it, and it hides itself when you click on another collapsed panel or click its hide button. To switch between expanded and collapsed views, or to hide the content of a collapsed panel, click the double-arrow button in the upper-right corner (circled here in red).

There are two collapsed views available: button with name and button only. When in collapsed view, you can drag either side of the panel to change its width (as indicated here by the red arrow). You can make it wide enough to display its name, or make it so narrow that only the button is visible.

Panel Groups and Docking

Panels can be grouped and docked together. They can also be docked to the sides of your screen. Experiment with dragging panels on top of, below, or adjacent to other panels to see the various possible configurations.

For example, look at the snapshot of my preferred workspace. The Pages, Layers, and Links panels are grouped together. Two other panel groups are docked together below this group. A second column of panels is docked to the left of this group.

Menu Customization

In addition to panel arrangement, workspaces can contain menu customizations. It is possible to highlight menu items in various colors to make them easier to see. It is also possible to hide menu items, which can be useful for restricting access to some users. To customize your menus, go to Edit: Menus; it’s pretty self explanatory from there. When you save a workspace it gives you the option to include menu customizations.

Saving, Loading, and Resetting Workspaces

All panels, as well as options to manage workspaces, are found in the Window menu. Customize your workspace by opening panels and arrange them in a way that works for you. But be sure to save it! If the application crashes (which unfortunately does happen) your workspace might revert back to the default, and if you haven’t saved it, you’ll have to build it all over again.

To save your workspace: Go to Window: Workspace: New Workspace. Either type in the name of the new workspace, or select an existing workspace from the drop-down menu to replace it.

To Load a workspace: Go to Window: Workspace and make your choice.

To Reset a workspace: when you move panels around, the new positions are saved so that when you switch to and from that workspace it remembers the new location. However, you can revert the workspace to its original state by resetting it; go to Window: Workspace: Reset [workspace name].

Document Window Arrangement

While not technically part of your workspace, properly arranging your document window(s) will also help you work more efficiently. If space allows, try making the document window large enough to hold one page, so that you have space left over to view another document. Or you can expand the window to fill all available space in order to view a full spread. Different document sizes and page alignments will require different window arrangements.

One of my favorite tricks is to work in two different parts of the same document simultaneously by going to Window: Arrange: New Window. For example, I often have one window open where I’m inserting cross references, and another window of the same document where I’m creating the corresponding text anchors.

Conclusion: Working Workspaces

When I meet with a client for the first time I will typically review their workspace with them and help them evaluate how well it suits their needs. Often, new users have struggled with panel arrangement. Poorly organized workspaces cause frustration and cost time. Spend some time making your perfect workspace and enjoy the benefits!

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