Intellistem Writer Box

Instellistem Writer Card Decks

Intellistem Writer Box assists nursing instructors in quickly constructing unique exams.

In addition to assisting the layout and design of Intellistem’s marketing website, my contribution to the Intellistem Writer Box was the design of the five decks of cards included within the box. The purpose of the Intellistem Writer Box is to assist nursing instructors in quickly constructing unique exams. Each card serves as a starter “stem” from which test questions are developed and refined according to specific industry standards and competencies.


  • The content of these cards was pulled from a database it shared with an online app (currently under development). Many cells within that database included markup text that the software uses to interpret different usages ranging from textual emphasis to indicators of which text is turned into input fields within the online interface. I needed to either hide this markup upon import into InDesign or configure InDesign to use that markup to style the appearance of the cards.
  • The printed version of the cards needed different styles applied to communicate emphasis or to indicate which part of the next needed to be swapped out by the test maker. Each card also needed to quickly communicate its associated nursing process (evaluation, implementation, etc.).
  • Each future print run and expansion pack uses an updated database where some cards would be edited, removed, or added. Due to time constraints and the size of the database, the styles applied to the text needed to be completely automated. While the local printer company does offer variable data printing services that pull database content into an InDesign template for print, they do not configure InDesign templates to automatically assign styles upon import. The automation would need to be managed on my end and a completed printable PDF provided.

A Variable Data Design Solution:

Indesign includes a function called Data Merge that allows content to be imported from a comma or tab-delimited file. This database was broken down into five “decks” according to their “stem” process (evaluation, implementation, etc). Each color-coded deck utilized its own template file into which the database tables were mapped.

By using GREP styles in InDesign, I utilized the database markup to assign visual styles to the text. GREP, standing for globally search a regular expression and print, is a UNIX based command-line search utility that uses code to within InDesign’s Find/Change dialog to run complex searches.

For example, using GREP, you can search for any text that appears between specified markup. InDesign can then assign character and paragraph styles to those GREP search results. The adjacent image illustrates the text contained within the brackets [] assigned a different color. In cases of textual emphasis, another GREP search was used to hide the markup.

Through the use of GREP, combined with InDesign’s Data Merge functionality, each card template was able to import content from the database and automatically assign the unique stying needed for each card’s text. From there, the cards could be exported into a print-ready PDF. Using this process, a new print run could go from the database to print-ready in of minutes–saving time on the number of hours it would require to manually style the text within each deck after import.