When you design a dynamic template, you want to have high confidence that the resulting variations will each be on-brand and free of visual defects.
Indivio provides a process and visual QA tool that enables you to gain this confidence by previewing exactly how your template will perform with variations of data.
Designing Dynamic Templates
1. Plan - Prepare the Validation Feed
Planning your dynamic design starts with setting up the Validation Feed that will be used to drive variations for testing your dynamic template.
The following are considerations when planning your template design and validation feed:
- Designing for Relevance:
- Ask yourself how you plan to make your template design relevant - what data and assets are you able to leverage for making creative meaningfully different for each audience?
- In the context of products, these might be different USPs, product photos, sales pricing, testimonials, starred reviews. Perhaps you want to tailor your to your audience's location, segmentation, product interests - the possibilities are truly endless here
- Ask yourself what variables do you want to test in the creative? This could be messaging, imagery, colors, template layouts
- Feed Columns:
- Make sure there is a column in the feed for each dynamic element - such as texts, colors, or links to media such as images, video, or audio clips. Extra columns that may exist in the feed are ignored.
- Make your dynamic layer names in the template consistent with the feed column name in order to streamline workflows and avoid errors.
- Row Variability: In order to make sure your template will work with your full data feed, you want to have a variety of sample rows that are representative of the variations that can be expected in the full data set.
- Pay special attention to the variability of text and media inputs.
- For text, plan to design for both the min and max text length you want to display.
- For images and video, make sure your design can handle a variety of sizes.
- Pay special attention to the variability of text and media inputs.
- Conditional Elements: Identify if any visual elements should be on for one audience and not for another - e.g. showing a sales tag on a sale item but not on a regular item. Consider also designing for elements that should appear in the future - e.g. activating a holiday theme or message on a specific date.
- Conditional elements will be triggered based on the presence of specific data in the feed.
- Add a column to the validation feed for each conditional element you plan to have in the template.
- Add a row for each value of the conditional element you want to test.
When you are done with this step, you should have a Validation Feed with columns for all the image, text, color, video, audio, and conditional fields you plan to vary in the template design. You will use this file to QA your template design.
2. Design your Template
The challenges with designing for dynamic creative stem from how variations of texts, images, and videos are handled. Design problems can results from:
- Variable lengths and sizes
- Alignment of elements
- Turning elements on and off
- Determine if you need to build a multiple main comp template
- Determine if your project needs a design control layer
After Effects presets allow you to use and reuse specific configurations of layer properties and animations and apply them across various projects. We created our own set of presets to help with variable length and sizes of text, shapes, alignments and number counters.
You can find Indivio presets here: Indivio Presets
Refer to the “validation feed” with the sample rows of data that you created during Planning to confirm whether your design will handle the different variations.
Bootstrapping a new Dynamic Template with custom images and text
To create a new template, we recommend you start in ADOBE AFTER EFFECTS and follow the instructions below for adding dynamic text, images, and preview markers.
1- Identify or create a MAIN_COMP.
- This composition is the single composition that will be rendered by by the Indivio system, and should contain everything else within.
- Start with one MAIN_COMP design, duration, and aspect ratio.
- This composition will be specified at time of template onboard.
- When building a template, start with just one MAIN_COMP, more can be added afterwards. (See "Steps to Build Multiple MAIN_COMPs" below "QA Template Design with Validation Feed" section towards the bottom of this document
2- Enabling Dynamic Text, Image, and Video Layers
1) Create a new text layer and set layer name to match feed column name
2) Set layer label / color to green
3) Convert the text to "paragraph text" by right-clicking on the text
4) Set the paragraph text area to be big enough to handle the longest text value
1) Add asset to project footages, set asset name to match feed column name, and change the label to green in footages.
2) Create a new layer with the footage by dragging it directly, so it uses the same name and so the layer is also labeled green
3) Right click on the new layer and pre-compose the layer to add effects and transformations
Note that if a replacement image has different dimensions than the image used to pre-compose, it will be replaced with "Fit" image replacement.
Replacement image will retain its original aspect ratio and not be cropped.
Replacement image will be placed in the center of the composition and scaled up until the image touches the pre-composed composition.
This may leave some dead space around the replacement image, only if the replacement image is a different aspect ratio than the original image.
- Additional Tips - Designing for Variable Lengths / Sizes
- Add a new layer (can be null) and change the layer label color to orange
- Move the Current Time Indicator to the desired time
- Add a marker by using the menu Layer > Add Marker. A new marker will appear on the layer.
- Double-click the marker and change the comment to a number that reflects the order of the thumbnail e.g. 0, 1, 2, 3… etc.
- Repeat for each desired thumbnail
- Ensure that all green dynamic layers have at least one marker covering it on the timeline
Use the Template Design Checklist to make sure your design is ready for the next step: onboard.
Each After Effects template project should have dynamic layers (green) and preview markers (orange):
3. Onboard Template
- Review the Template Design Checklist
- Prepare Template Project for Onboarding
this involves collecting project dependencies, saving the right version of the project, and compressing the files into a zip archive.
- Create Template
- To reduce project, drag your MAIN_COMP into a new composition. Then with your new composition open, go to File > Dependencies > Reduce Project.
Preparing Dynamic Template for Onboard
Creating a Template on Indivio
Next, if you haven’t done so already, take the “validation feed” with sample data and create a feed on Indivio to be used with the template for QA.
How to Look Up Failed Template Onboard Details
Once you have onboarded your template and you get a notification in the top right corner that says, "Failure". Which looks like this:
You will want to find out why it failed by navigating to the details. Click the bell icon on the top right corner.
Then all your recent tasks will come up, looking like this:
You can either double click on your project arrow in the recent tasks and the template errors window will pop up and go into detail of why your template failed.
Or you can click See All on your Recent Tasks which then takes you to the job tray. You will want to click on the eye icon under Errors + Warnings.
Once you have clicked the eye icon the template errors window will pop up and go into detail of why your template failed.
Once you have a template onboarded successfully and a feed created, you are ready to QA the template design by generating previews.
4. QA Template Design with Validation Feed
Creating a Feed from Gsheets on Indivio
Generating Previews for QA
The QA step involves rendering variations of static and video media using the onboarded template and the validation feed. Indivio will render variations for real-time preview, so you can quickly see many different versions and identify any issues with the design. Use Thumbnail view to scale up the thumbnails and make it easier to review.
- Create Media (Images and Videos) From Feed
- Change the size of thumbnail previews
Sample QA screen:
If issues are identified with the template design, adjustments can be made to the design and the template can be updated for further testing. Follow the "Update Template" workflow to updating an existing template instead of creating a new template. Redo step 4 until you are satisfied with how your template design is handling variations.
Common issues that can be uncovered while QAing a new template, and how to address them.
Text replacement issues:
- Wrong font.
- Make sure to upload any required fonts on step 2 when onboarding.
- Text in the wrong location.
- Make sure text alignment is set correctly.
- Text line break issues.
- Line breaks can be included in the variations feed by adding "\n" (no quotes).
- Line breaks can alternatively be controlled by changing the paragraph text boundary area.
- Replacement text is too small.
- Review text scale presets here: https://support.indiv.io/hc/en-us/sections/207234427-Working-with-Dynamic-Design-Elements
Image replacement issues:
- Replacement image is larger than the default image in the template.
- Make sure that the default image is the same size as the composition that it is placed in.
- If the composition is larger than the default image, reduce the composition size so that it matches the default image.
- Replacement image is smaller than the default image.
- Replacement images that are the same dimensions as the default image in the template will always be scaled to fit the containing composition, and therefore be the same size, assuming the composition size is set correctly.
- If the replacement image is a different dimension than the default image in the template, it will be replaced with "Fit" image replacement.
- Replacement image will be placed in the center of the composition and scaled up until the image touches the composition.
- This may leave some dead space around the top or sides of the replacement image, only if the replacement image is a different dimension than the original image.
- A solid background can placed behind the default image if the dead space is a problem.
- If you need "Fill" image replacement, which will fill the entire composition, but also crop, the incoming image due to dimension differences, we can enable this option for you.
- Replacement image is a different size, and it should sit at the bottom or top of the composition instead of the middle.
- Review "Pin Image" presets here: https://support.indiv.io/hc/en-us/sections/207234427-Working-with-Dynamic-Design-Elements
Steps to Build Multiple MAIN_COMPs
After completing QA on the template, there are some circumstances where it may be useful to have multiple MAIN_COMPS in the same template. The two most common scenarios are multiple template dimensions (ex: 1080x1080 and 1920x1080 outputs for the same design), and templates that have the same design but different lengths (2/3/4 image versions of a template).
If the scenario does call for multiple MAIN_COMPs, the best route is always to validate one MAIN_COMP first, before building out the others. This helps save time making updates in multiple places. Assuming that initial validation has happened, proceed with these steps.
- Name the initial MAIN_COMP with some sort of self descriptive identifier, such as the aspect ratio or unique component at the end. For example: MAIN_COMP_1080x1920 or MAIN_COMP_4_image.
- For all dynamic layers, precompose those layers so they can be reused throughout your Multi-MAIN_COMP project. For more information about shared components see link: https://support.indiv.io/hc/en-us/articles/1500006550762
- With the initial MAIN_COMP selected, you can press CMD D, or CTRL D commands to duplicate.
- With your MAIN_COMP duplicated, rename the copy to include a unique identifier at the end. If the second MAIN_COMP needs to output in a different dimension, adjust the composition settings, and otherwise make any other adjustments necessary for the new version of the MAIN_COMP.
- After adjusting everything, make sure the Preview Markers are configured correctly for the new MAIN_COMP. Double check all labels and layer names, and then prepare to validate the new MAIN_COMP with your validation feed.
- Save the current .aep file (with multiple MAIN_COMPs) as your "mother" .aep file. Any further adjustments or modifications moving forward should be made to this file. After saving, select your new MAIN_COMP > Go to File, dependencies, and then select reduce project. With your file reduced, only one MAIN_COMP will remain. Save this reduced version as a new .aep file, and give the .aep a self descriptive name that identifies which MAIN_COMP it contains. Create a new .zip file with your project directory.
- Onboard your latest .aep file in the app as a new template, and use the same validation feed you used to test your previous MAIN_COMP.
- If any adjustments are needed for either the initial or secondary MAIN_COMPs, make them in the "mother" .aep file, before reducing down to a single MAIN_COMP and then re-onboarding.
- Repeat this process to create different MAIN_COMP aspect ratios or durations.
5. Publish your Template
Once the QA process is complete and your template is approved, you need to Publish your template so it can be used to render publish-quality assets and used in Campaign creation workflows. To do this, open the Template Details modal and hit the "Publish" button. The Template is now ready for use in Publish-quality workflows.