What's in a Theme - a Template?

Intro

When trying to help Captivate users, I often bump onto confusion between themes and templates. Same confusion can be found in many training schedules and books. There has been a lot of evolution in Captivate since versions, slowly but steadily. Those are not the big hype features that were emphasized everywhere. You know that I often appreciate more the hidden gems, which help any developer to save time and frustration. This article will explain how I am creating custom Themes, and also why I am using Templates a lot less than in earlier versions of Captivate (before version 6). 

Theme versus Template

The goal of a Captivate theme is to keep a consistent design throughout your project. It can be 'applied' to any project, even after creation. Although most themes will be created for a certain resolution, when designed carefully it is not necessary to apply it only to projects with the same resolution. When you apply a well designed theme to a project, the 'look' will change immediately and you'll not have to edit the design a lot afterwards. A theme is saved in a file with extension cptm. You can have themes for a normal (blank)  or for a responsive theme. Captivate 8 and 9 both have several themes in the box, most of them being responsive themes. They show up as thumbnails when you click on the Big Button 'Themes'. Those Captivate themes are stored in the Public Documents, under the subfolder 'Layouts' of the 'eLearning Assets', at the same level as the Theme Colors palettes.

You can store your custom themes in this folder or wherever you want. The Thumbnails view (under Themes button) has a Browse button which allows you to navigate to any folder. I will mostly save a custom theme in the project folder when working for a client. But you see in the screenshot that I have a custom theme (CP8Theme) in the default folder. That folder is a copy of the original Layouts folder in the Gallery under the Captivate installation folder. If you ever have messed up one of the themes in the Public documents, you can restore it from that original folder. If you delete the whole Layouts folder in the Public documents, while Captivate is closed, on restarting the application a new copy of the original folder will be installed in the Public documents (see also my article: Keep your Customisation).

To save a theme you need to use the Themes menu, not the big button 'Themes'. Use the option 'Save Theme as' if you started from an existing Captivate theme.

template in Captivate has to be chosen before you create a project. You have to use the option File, New Project, Project from Template. This means that a template needs to have exact the same resolution as you want for your project. As for a theme, there is a difference between a template for a responsive, and one for a normal (blank) project. A template file has the extension cptl. When you create a project from a template, it will get the normal extension cptx. You can edit a template, and that will the only reason why you would save it again as a cptl. It is also possible to create a template from a normal cptx-file with the option 'File, Save As'. There is no 'reserved' folder for templates, Captivate has no included 'templates'. The term is often wrongly used: most Captivate 'templates' that you can find on the web, are just cptx-projects, not templates in the Captivate language. 

When a template is saved, the used theme, preferences etc are saved with the template. However you can always apply another theme later on. 

Components of a Theme

It is rather important to know what exactly will be saved in a custom theme. . Remember: if you ever want to use that theme in a responsive project, be sure to create the theme in such a project. I will list up the components in the logical sequence to be followed when editing or creating a custom theme :

1. Theme colors palette

The start point for design consistency in a project is guaranteed by the consequent use of a Theme, which starts with the creation of a palette with 10 colors that will be used for object styles, master slides, skin, and within learning interactions. I have written some articles about the creation of a Theme colors palette:  Colorful 2015  and   Theme Colors. Beware: it is no longer possible to save an ASE file with Adobe Color (as described in the first article): that means that the Swatch Manager is not very useful anymore. My recommendation is to ignore the Swatch Manager and focus on the Theme Colors Palette, which is available in any Color Dialog box.
When saving a theme (using the Themes menu), the used theme colors palette will be saved with the same name. In the mentioned articles you'll find a way to save a theme colors palette independently from a theme as well.

2. Object Styles - Object Style Manager

Most design-oriented applications have a work flow for creation and use of styles (Word, InDesign, Framemaker). All experts and good trainers will tell you to use styles, and to avoid overridden styles. Captivate is no exception in that world: it has a great Object Style Manager to be found under the Edit menu (or by using the the shortcut key SHIFT-F7). Object styles can be saved individually, have the extension cps, only useful in case you want to export/import such an individual style. In most use cases you'll save all the object styles necessary for a project in a custom theme, no need to export/import styles anymore as was the case before themes appeared in Captivate.

If you are working on a responsive theme: first define the breakpoint views you want in the theme, before launching the Object Style Manager. In the styles you will be able to define the look for the breakpoints that are available in the project.
Make some decisions about which objects you'll be using in the theme as well. Just an example: if you prefer using shapes instead of captions for feedback messages, capture messages etc you do not need to change all the caption styles. A similar situation exists for normal buttons vs shape buttons. 

Some tips:

  • Use only colors from the palette defined in Step 1.
  • Do not hesitate to change one of the (grayed out) styles between brackets [Default...]. You can overwrite those styles, since you are working on a custom theme. Those are the styles that will be applied immediately when you insert an object. Another approach is to clone a style and set it as Default style. The problem is that you'll end up with tons of custom styles, which makes selecting the proper style in dropdown lists not easier. That is why I always change existing default styles. 
  • For buttons: the InBuilt states Rollover and Down are available together with Normal  for change in the OSM, do not forget to check/edit those states. This is valid for Text Buttons, Image Buttons and Transparent buttons.
  • For shapes: you cannot define a default style for text and another default style for buttons (too bad), but any shape style that you define should include InBuilt states (Normal, Rollover, Down) because any shape can be converted to a button.
  • Quizzing objects are in a separate category. Quiz buttons cannot be replaced by shape buttons (yet), but you can define an individual object style for each quiz button. Feedback captions can be replaced by shapes.
    Feedback captions and shapes not always use theme colors in the default Themes included with Captivate. Be careful: if you want to have consistent colors in your project, you'll need to check those styles.
  • It is not possible to define real Effects in an Object style. Only the 'old' Transitions can be defined.

3. Master slides

The Object styles defined in step 2 - at least the default styles - will immediately be applied to the objects on the Master slides.  If it doesn't look well, you can edit the object style and redefine it, while working on the objects in the Master slides (It can be done with the Properties panel). Be sure to make all added objects responsive (check all the breakpoint views) on the master slides. 
Each theme needs at least 6 master slides (Blank Master slide, 4 Quiz master slides and a Score master slides), besides the main master slide, but you can create as many master slides as you want. You can add different type of placeholders on master slides, but be careful with the 5 master slides for Quiz: the embedded objects (without individual timeline) have a lot of functionality built in!

Some tips

  • Use the new Rulers to assist you for designing master slides: Guides Rule!
  • If you ever will use the theme for software simulations: keep a real Blank master slide, because it is used both for software simulations and for PPT import. You don't want those slides covered up with other stuff.
  • Remember that shape buttons can be used on master slides, they can have actions. This can be a big time saver for custom buttons like the ones from these posts: Toggle buttons   and Replay slide button
  • Do not forget to label the master slides

4. Skin

Use the theme colors palette to customize the skin: playbar, borders and Table of Contents. You can even insert a logo on the TOC and eventually custom expand/collapse icons.

5. Recording defaults

This is only necessary for themes (also) to be used for software simulations. Although you have set up Default object styles in step 2, you still have to indicate which styles have to be used when capturing simulations. Just one example:
  • Create a default style for the highlight box in step 2: with a big bright red stroke and outer fill. Set it to display as default highlight box style.
  • Open Preferences, Recording, Defaults and check the default Highlight box style: it will still be set at the original default style in the original theme. Bit annoying, but it also allows you to save two different sets of object styles within a theme: one for normal slides, and one for software capture slides.

Do not forget to save the theme (using the Themes menu)!


Do you need a Template?

I ask this question often everywhere: with all the design power and flexibility of a custom theme, why would you still need a template? Before themes existed, I used templates to be able to reuse variables and advanced actions (see: Template for reusing script). With the present version of Captivate, we have shared actions which I store in a separate project to be used as external library in any project. Variables, used in those shared actions, get copied automatically when the shared action is dragged into the Library of the new project.  When you copy an object, that triggers an advanced action, the action will be copied along when pasted into another project. 

I used templates to have footnotes on each slide, pointing to the name of the project, showing the slide number and the total amont of slides. But now you can put them on master slides, using system variables or user variables that can be populated later on. 

When would I use a template in Captivate 9? For courses that have several modules, where you want to have some slides in common, maybe have custom navigation/control buttons that cannot be put on the master slide, but need to be timed for the rest of the project. I would rarely use it to have placeholder slides, unless some team members need to have that assistance. Lot of placeholders have fixed object size, which can just be annoying. If you do have a lot of advanced actions (maybe variables), that cannot be replaced by shared actions, identical entries in Project Info, variables not included in shared actions: those would be situations where I would think about creating a template.


Conclusion

I hope this post did clarify the difference between a theme and a template. If you ever see somewhere my question 'Do you need a template', this will no longer be a mystery, right? 





Customized Progress Indicator

Intro

Do you use the Progress Indicator for Quizzes? I'm very frustrated about that indicator: you have the choice between a Relative or an Absolute indicator, you can adjust the style using the Object Style Manager, but... no way to change the phrasing of that indicator. It is always 'Question X of Y'. If you are an unhappy Captivate-user that needs to localize a lot of courses, this is really annoying. My Dutch-speaking students want a Dutch indicator, my French students want a French indicator etc.
 
It is really not so hard to create your own Progress indicator for Question slides, using rather simple advanced actions and a dedicated Master slide. In this tip I will explain the work flow step by step
 

Example

Play this movie to check the result. In this Quiz I do have 6 question slides. The first 3 questions use a master slide with a progress indicator in English, the last 3 use a similar master slide but with an indicator in Dutch. Do not panic: all questions are in English.

Work Flow

  • User variables: create 2 user variables, I labeled them
    • v_begin  to store the slide number of the last slide immediately before the first question slide 
    • v_current  to store the number of the question; since there is no accessible system variable for this information I will have to detect it from the current slide number

  • Advanced actions: create 2 advanced (standard) actions, I labeled them:
    • IndBegin: to be triggered on entering the last normal slide before the first question. It has only one real statement: to store the current slide number (system variable rdinfoCurrentSlide) in the user variable v_begin. First image in the Gallery shows this action.
    • IndCurrent; to be triggered on entering each question slide, it calculates the question number and stores it in the variable v_current. I do use the system variable rdinfoCurrentSlide again combined with the fixed  number stored in v_begin. Second image in the Gallery shows this action.

  • Attach the actions IndBegin to On Enter for the last slide before the questions and IndCurrent to all Question slides as the same On Enter action (can be done in one operation, select all the Question slides and use the Properties panel, Action accordion)

  • Master slide: create the master slide to be applied to all the Question slides. In this example I created 2 Master slides for the English and the Dutch questions, both based on the General master slide (for the background). Insert the text caption that shows the sentence to be used for the Progress indicator. The used variables in my Progress Indicator (see third image in the Gallery) were:
    • v_current the current question slide number, calculated with IndCurrent action
    • cpQuizInfoTotalQuestionsPerProject is a Quizzing system variable that shows the total number of questions in the project, you can of course also introduce this manually but I do not like to count myself
    • cpQuizInfoPointsPerQuestionSlice this is a bonus, not necessary but extra information for the learner, a Quizzing system variable as well. 

Conclusion

Hope you liked this small tip, and will be inspired to use variables on master slides.
 
 
 

 

Using the button widget: some ideas

The button widget is no longer available in later versions of Captivate, but can be replaced almost in all use cases described in this article by a shape button.


Intro

This is not the promised second part of the use of widgets for customized questions. You know that I find some inspiration in the user forums, and last week I discovered another hidden gem, coming for free with Adobe Captivate 5: the deceptively simple 'Button'-widget. The Adobe team seem to like hiding their gems, and always wonder why? Few people, except the widget wizards of course, do realize that this Button-widget is not an interactive widget at all, but a static widget. Check it out for yourself: in the Widget panel, set the filter to Static and you will be able to verify my statement ((first image in the Gallery). I'm used to tell my students always to verify teacher's statements
 

Non-interactive button?

A lot has already been written about the difference between static, interactive and question widgets (a few links on the blog get you to those Widget kings), will not bother you with it. But want to explain why it is great news that this button is a static widget. Being static doesn't mean that the user cannot interact. If you have read the blog post about the use of the (static) widgets for custom questions you will know that. But the fact that is a static widget will allow you:
  • to use it on question slides, where interactive objects cannot be inserted
  • to use it on master slides, that have the same restrictions as question slides
Isn't that great news?
 

Configuring the widget

There are quite a lot of configuration possibilities as you can see in the second image of the Gallery that shows the settings of the buttons I used for the example of the Menu on the master slides. It is pretty straightforward to use, I only lost some time finding out how to put in more than 4 characters on the button. You have to click in the Preview space on the button and you'll see the text box appearing (is visible on the screenshot). There are a lot of small arrows of all kinds that allow you to move the text box, to increase its size and even to increase the size of the text itself. In the list of actions that can be performed you'll find navigation, open File/URL and send email (here I used Jump to slide).
 
 

Use on Question slides

Lot of users get frustrated because it is not possible to insert any interactive object on a question slide or on the score slide. If the action you want to trigger by this object is a navigation action, or opening a URL/file, or sending an e-mail than you can use the same Button-widget as used on the Master slide example.
 
Some ideas:
  • to allow user to get back to an instruction slide when failing on a question
  • to open another file on success/failure of a quiz

Example Menu on Master slides

In the example that you can watch here, I used the button widget on a Knockout Master slide (see blog post Create and Use a Knockout Master slide) to create a menu. I do have 2 very similar master slides, the first is used for the introduction slide, the second has also a button (same widget) to go back to the first slide and is used for all other slides.
I would love to hear how you do use this widget!