White Paper 2015

LibreDoc ©
Layout by intention

Functional digital documents
Our initial ambition – in response to customer demand – was to produce digital documents. These documents are known as “functional documents”, and the content of these documents is more important than their format. Every business will have a collection of documents, ranging from 10 to 100 in size, that it needs to digitise relatively simply for internal and external communication purposes. We soon realised that there was a serious gap in the market, i.e. there was no satisfactory solution to enable businesses to produce reliable, customisable, functional digital documents that could be updated easily – all at an affordable cost.

Content and layout
The root cause of these problems lies in the systematic use of template-based CMS solutions. [1] These systems feature vast templates containing numerous assorted content blocks. This, in turn, makes document creation and maintenance both difficult and costly. Initially, this solution made it considerably easier to publish content, especially online. However, the major drawback with this approach was that it was not possible to completely separate the content from the layout. As a result, there is a growing consensus that templates have had their day. [2]

Two dangers
Under the standard approach, the designers define the format of the publication and the authors are required to place their content in small, pre-defined boxes. This situation should be avoided at all costs. In other cases, authors are required to define the layout of the document themselves, meaning they spend valuable time on technical layout issues rather than focusing on their core task, i.e. content authoring. This absurd situation has led one major publishing software developer to observe that authors can spend up to 60% of their time working on layout issues.

The challenge
The publishing industry is therefore faced with a major challenge, i.e. the need to produce functional digital documents en masse. This challenge can only be met with a new generation of tools that represent a clean break with the past.

Templates are dead
The solution is a new-generation CMS, i.e. a “template-free” CMS that finally enables users to separate content and layout. This is an entirely new approach that no existing solutions offer. Although our approach is unique, we were able to identify examples of other projects and announcements exploring similar themes, confirming the relevance and feasibility of our vision. [3] In other words, we are moving in the right direction. The publishing sector is likely to experience major upheavals in the near future. These changes are imminent and are already in the pipeline.

The task
Faced with the need for a complete overhaul of the content input and layout process, we developed a radical new solution that:

  • enables users to customise content blocks in ever greater detail
  • is capable of capturing the author’s intentions
  • replaces the layout interface with an automatic formatting engine that makes decisions on the basis of a set of customised design rules and options (tailored to the customer’s specifications).

Our goal was to develop a software solution that offers these features, enabling both business and personal users to produce high-quality traditional or digital documents easily, quickly and more cost-effectively.

LibreDoc Editor © et LibreDoc Engine ©
LibreDoc Editor © is a SaaS solution and the very first new-generation, templates free CMS. There are no templates involved in the content customisation and publishing process. LibreDoc Editor © is an example of what we call “layout by intention””, whereby the author focuses primarily on:

  • business content
  • content structure
  • desired reader impact

In other words, it allows authors to focus on what they do best, using an innovative new tagging system. This is the core feature of this new approach.

LibreDoc Engine © takes responsibility for the layout process, interpreting the structure and intention tags and calculating the layout accordingly. The author is fully absolved of the layout burden.

Considerable benefits
The benefits of this approach have an impact on the whole production chain, from an individual author right through to an entire team.

  • Flexibility:The basic components are separated into structured content blocks, which can be adapted and updated with ease.
  • Reusability: The individual blocks and groups of blocks can easily be recycled and recombined.
  • Versionning: Each block is assigned a specific version number, meaning that “the correct version” is always published online and updated automatically.
  • Customisation: All content is fully adaptable and context-sensitive, and can be customised in real time.
  • Small changes, big impact: Since each design component is fully compartmentalised and can be accessed separately, even minor changes (as well as changes of colour, font or logo) can be replicated across one or more publications.
  • Improved communication: The solution removes existing technical barriers entirely, leaving the author to focus on the authoring process and on business content.
  • Authoring advice: LibreDoc Editor © is even able to give authoring advice on the basis of content structure and intention tags.
  • Editorial consistency: The system helps to minimise inconsistency across multiple publications caused by differences in personal preference. The solution also allows for graphic creativity, with designs centralised then applied rigorously across all publications within the same family.
  • Responsiveness: The system boosts the agility of the editorial team, allowing it to respond in real time.
  • Collaboration: The solution improves collaboration between all stakeholders in the production chain, moving away from a linear model and towards a circular model. [4]
  • Cost savings: The system does away with technical complexity, helping to drive down costs, save time and enhance collaboration. It also ensures that minor changes can be applied immediately (without the cumbersome process of updating templates).
  • Non-proprietary format: LibreDoc © is a non-proprietary technology, meaning that published documents can be viewed on all operating systems, all devices and all screens, both online and offline, with no specific document reader.
  • Multiple output formats: The system allows users to select other, additional publication formats (both hard-copy and digital), such as PDF, Word, EPUB and standard web formats.
  • Removal of barriers: Any authorised member of the production chain is able to modify the document, with no technical barriers.

Jean-Domique Quinet, Bert Ceuppens, Yves Monsel
Bruxelles, 12/11/2015

[1] Without mentioning “pseudo” solutions such as online .PDF or .DOC formats.

[2] In his article entitled “Templates Are Dead“,Leigh Taylor explores a brand new approach to design. Although his approach is interesting, we disagree with the use of the term “Scalable Design” to describe these new template-free approaches, since this generates potential confusion with the use of the same term to describe a feature of libraries such as Bootstrap. Taylor is referring to something entirely different.

[3] The thegrid.io project offers interesting potential, although it differs from our project.

[4] An alternative way of working

A linear, but ultimately complex process: “Surviving design project” by Dan Brow.


An open process with greater collaborative potential.
Less interference, more interactions. Faster response times, fewer iterations