Digital Publishing with InDesign: Types of Interactive Elements

DigPubIDCC one page

This is a guest post by Sandee Cohen, adapted from Digital Publishing with Adobe InDesign CC by Sandee Cohen and Diane Burns. This article highlights the methods for adding interactivity to an InDesign document.

Types of interactive elements that can be added to InDesign documents

  1. Links: Hyperlinks, Cross-references, Table of Contents
  3. Audio/video files
  4. Multi-state objects
  5. Buttons
  6. Forms
  7. Animations
  8. Page transitions
  9. Overlays

Each has its own particular uses, and some of the features may overlap. Before you start work, you need to decide which type of interactive element is right for your job or you could be stuck with an effect that can’t be exported for your finished project.

You also need to know what kind of devices will be used to view your project.

For instance, just a short while ago PDFs were read only on computers, but now many people open PDF files on iPads and iPhones (iOS devices), Android tablets, or Windows touch screen devices.

A PDF that works fine on a desktop computer using a mouse may have elements that don’t work on a tablet or touch screen. Or the interactive elements that work fine when viewed using one PDF reader may not be visible at all when viewed using a different application. For instance, most of the interactive elements in a PDF rely on the Flash Player, which is not supported on iOS devices (or most non-Adobe readers).

You also need to be aware of how the documents will be distributed. ePubs and PDFs can be downloaded or emailed to readers.

Mobile apps (like those distributed with DPS) require downloading through an external service such as Apple’s App store or Google’s Play store or use of an expensive Adobe Enterprise service.

HTML can be viewed online with a web address, or converted into an app.

There aren’t simple answers to choosing an export format, but this article will help you understand which options are available with InDesign.


This category includes three different types of elements used to apply clickable links within documents.


Hyperlinks add a hotspot area to text or objects where you can click (or tap) to navigate to other parts of the document, other documents, or web pages.

Hyperlinks can also be used to send email.

Not all Link To options are supported in all formats or all devices.

Hyperlinks can be applied to frames, or directly to the text inside of a story.

hyperlink example

An example of two hyperlinks applied to text and their listings in the Hyperlinks panel. Notice that the text for the URL link is different from the actual URL. Also notice that the icon for the email link displays an envelope.

Hyperlinks can also be automatically generated for the entries in a table of contents or index.

Hyperlinks work in reflowable and fixed-layout (FXL) ePubs, PDF, Publish Online, in5 HTML5, and DPS apps.


A cross-reference adds a hotspot area to text that is linked to other parts of the document.

Cross-references allow you to insert dynamic text that updates as the referenced text moves as well as creating a hyperlink in the exported digital document.

x-ref example

Table of Contents

The Table of Contents allows your readers to quickly navigate to sections of the document.

A Table of Contents is a list of all the text in paragraphs that have specified paragraph styles applied, along with the page numbers. The list for each paragraph is a type of hyperlink to the referenced page, which is created automatically by InDesign.

Choose Layout > Table Of Contents to configure and add a Table of Contents to your InDesign document.

toc in epub

ePubs contain built-in interface elements for the chapters in an ePub.


A bookmark is an easy navigational element that lets you jump to a location in the document.

Bookmarks are also visible in the Bookmarks pane of Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat, and can be created automatically using the Table of Contents feature.

bookmarks in toc

Bookmarks can be created manually or automatically using an electronic table of contents.

You can jump to a specific bookmark with a Button action.

Bookmarks are not necessarily supported in third-party PDF readers.

bookmarks in a PDF reader

The Bookmarks pane contains the bookmarks created manually in InDesign or using an electronic Table of Contents.

Audio or Video Files

The Media Panel lets you add sound and motion to your finished file.

You can control audio and video with custom buttons.

Audio and video work in reflowable and fixed-layout ePubs, PDF (in Adobe Reader/Acrobat with Flash Player installed only), Publish Online, in5 HTML5, and DPS apps.

Some formats may not be playable on all devices. For more on media formats, check out this lesson on Audio and Video.

An example of a movie placed on an InDesign page. The movie can be previewed in the Media panel and the options set for how it plays.

An example of a movie placed on an InDesign page. The movie can be previewed in the Media panel and the options set for how it plays.

Object States (aka Multi-State Objects or MSOs)

Multi-state objects (MSOs) let you create a single element that can display different text and or graphic objects.

MSOs can be used for slideshows or other varied displays of elements on a page.

Interactive elements such as buttons and movies can also be made part of an MSO.


MSOs work in fixed-layout ePubs, Publish Online, in5 HTML5, and DPS apps.

A multi-state object is created from elements held in individual object states. These object states can be shown automatically or revealed by clicking buttons.


Buttons add a hotspot area that can contain text or graphics. This hotspot can be set to invoke a wide variety of behaviors, including navigation as well as movie or audio playback.

You have total freedom in how you design a button (or you can choose from some pre-created buttons).

Available for fixed-layout ePubs, Publish Online, in5 HTML5, and DPS apps.

nav button

Buttons can be used as navigational elements to move through the documents. Any InDesign element can be used as a button.


A form element is an area that can be used in a PDF (in select readers) or in5 HTML5 to enter information or to select checkboxes or radio buttons.

These forms can be filled out in the PDF and the information can then be sent back to the creator for tabulation.

Forms do require a fair amount of work create.

form example

You can add checkboxes, radio buttons, text fields, and list menus to documents. Users fill in these forms.


InDesign’s Animation and Timing panels let you easily add motion and special effects to page elements.

Animations work well with buttons and multi-state objects.

Animations are available for fixed-layout ePub, Publish Online, in5 HTML5, and DPS (using in5 as a converter).

Also available for SWF (Flash) files, but that output format is only available for supported desktop operating systems.

animation example

Objects can be set to animate onto a page following a motion path.

Page Transitions

Page Transitions create an effect, such as a dissolve, when the viewer moves from one page to another.

Page transitions are available for SWF files and PDF files (except for the Page Turn transition, which is not directly supported in a PDF). Note that these transitions are not be visible in all PDF readers.

in5 offers different transitions with its output dialog (File > Export HTML5 with in5…).


Overlays let you easily create special effects including slideshows, scrolling text, pan & zoom, and image sequences.  Available for DPS apps and in5 HTML5.

overlay for mso

The Overlays panel has a wide variety of special effect such as creating a slideshow from a multi-state object.

How to use all of these great interactive tools

Now that you’re familiar with all of the interactive elements, you can go one step deeper and start using them to great digital documents.

To start creating interactive content, check out this free online course written by the world’s top Digital Publishing experts.

Check out the course >>

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  1. Jose Gouveia says:

    Is it possible to have one page in liquid layout (fullscreen) and another in vertical scroll?

    1. Justin says:

      Not in a single document, but you can have one in5 document link to another one.

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