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EightShapes, LLC is a user experience design firm specialized in web sites and web applications.

Annotating Document Change

The UX document’s change history expresses “What’s different now compared to before?” It is a revered page, and crucial to documents of any length and being updated with any frequency.

Traditional Change History

Change histories can also really suck, in that they are often:

  • Viewed as unsexy minutiae getting in the way of sharing ideas.
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  • Written haphazardly and inconsistently, such as following “Made updates of all wireframes” (way too vague) with “Added two additional secondary calls-to-action to the Reply button: Reply to All and Print.”
  • Filled with historical information no one needs maintained.
  • Mapped to changed content from a document’s front or back matter in disconnected, obscure, and – if using page numbers – easily outdated ways.

These and other problems mean we need to reconsider change histories as how to communicate change. Instead, consider an alternative approach where you – like any other UX annotation – directly annotate the pictures and words that changed in your document in a simple way that’s easy to remove later.

Annotating Changes in Pictures

To annotate a changed picture,

  • Lock all document layers
  • Create a new layer, and label it something like “version 19 changes”
  • Add an well-understood icon or an overlay with a brief description to each picture that has changed.

Using Overlays on a New Layer (45 sec)

While I disparaged the “traditional” change history, a collection of overlays gives you an easy way to compose a change history summary at the front of your document. Using a specific paragraph style for overlay text, you can produce an automated list of changes with page numbers using the Table of Contents feature.

Automating an Inventory of Overlay Annotations (1:32)

Annotating Changes in Words

To annotate changed words:

  • Create a new character style with a noticeably distinct character color (for us, that’d be green or purple, since our annotations are chiefly orange), named something like “version 19 changes.”
  • Select whatever text has changed, and apply the character style.

Using a Character Style to Identify Changed Words (51 sec)

Disposing of Change Annotations

New versions of the document will have their own set of changes. As such, the following disposal techniques don’t significantly disrupt your work on or presentation of the subsequent version.

To remove the change annotations for pictures, delete the disposable layer containing the overlays. If you want to keep the overlays just in case, hide the layer instead of deleting it.

To remove the change annotations for words, delete the disposable character style and be sure to apply the “None” character style in it’s place.

Disposing of Change Annotations (52 sec)

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Comments (1)

  1. This is so simple, and yet incredibly profound. I continue to see the power of InDesign in my work. Thanks for the great workflow concept. This is one area that I will benefit from in my next documentations.

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