Illustrator has a lot of dialogs through which styles of objects can be specified. To make this process easier, Adobe has included a preview option in the form of a checkbox. So let’s say you are applying a drop shadow to an object. You need to adjust the distance, the angle, the spread, the opacity, and several other attributes. Without checking the checkbox, you would likely have to revisit the dialog a several times to get the shadow to look just the way you want it to. When the checkbox is checked, the shadow is shown and updates dynamically as you adjust the attributes. This is a great feature. However, the preview checkbox is unchecked by default. Worse, its state doesn’t persist, so every time I open a dialog, I have to find the preview checkbox and check it.
I’ve been spending a fair amount of time lately making revisions to some pixel-perfect screen mockups done in Photoshop by another designer. Here are some tips I wish I had shared with him earlier.
When representing tabular lists, enter all of the text within a given column into a single text layer. Control the vertical layout with leading. This ensures alignment and even row spacing and makes it much easier to manage edits.
For button labels, headings, and other text applications that won’t need to wrap, use Point Text, rather than Paragraph Text. Point Text is a lot easier to deal with when aligning objects and making edits.
Don’t use vector shapes. They don’t snap to the pixel grid, and you end up with blended edges. That is undesirable when trying to define consistent dimensions and create production-ready graphics. Additionally, when trying to resize an object, it’s quicker to use the marquee tool and hold down the option key while dragging than to select individual points.
Keep constructed objects, such as buttons and icons, in separate files. Use flattened versions of them in the screen files. This significantly cuts down on the number of layers in a document, and Photoshop will perform better with fewer layers.
Label your layers and layer groups. Especially when collaborating, having clearly labeled layers makes working with a file so much easier. Good software engineers comment code—good designers label layers.
Keep layers in a logical order. Granted, the order of layers determine what objects appear above other objects. Aside from that, put your layers in an order that matches the order in which they appear on screen. If there is a button bar at the top of the screen, make a button bar layer group at the top of the layers palette. Inside that group, assuming each button is a separate layer, order the layers from top to bottom as the buttons appear from left to right. Having a sensible, consistent layer order makes it a lot easier to navigate the layers palette and know where things are.
Close up layer effects. The layers palette will be long enough without having all of the layer effects showing too.
Delete unused layers. If you think you might need something later, you can keep it around, but be diligent in deleting the layers that you don’t need. Leaving unused layers in the document, even if turned off, clutters up the layers palette, degrades performance, and increases file size.
I’ve been testing an application I designed for use on a ruggedized Windows Mobile device running version 6—one version behind the most recent. I’ve never liked Windows Mobile, and now that I’ve been using an iPhone for almost three years, Windows Mobile seems positively antique. It has changed very little in the past five or six years since I last had to work with it (WinCE, at that time). One aspect that illustrates this perfectly is the on-screen keyboard.
Granted, the WIndows keyboard is intended for stylus input, rather than a finger, but they didn’t even attempt to optimize the keyboard for mobile use. It is an almost exact duplication of a full-size keyboard. The keys are tiny and packed so tightly together that I can’t type very quickly at all. I must be very precise in targeting the keys. On the iPhone, the invisible area in which a particular key registers varies based on the likelihood it would be tapped given the context of the previously entered characters. Even when I do miss, the software is smart enough to realize what I meant to hit and automatically correct it. WiMo will suggest words as you type, but it doesn’t correct misspellings.
I’ve also gotten used to double-tapping the space bar on the iPhone to enter a period. This little shortcut allowed them to save a lot of space, relegating all punctuation to a keyboard accessed from a modifier key. WiMo stuffs in the hyphen, equals sign, left and right brackets, semi-colon, apostrophe, comma, forward and back slashes, and an acute. How often am I going to use any of those? The comma is the one punctuation mark I would like to have available on the iPhone keyboard without having to press the punctuation key. I’ve found that for most contractions, the iPhone will insert the apostrophe without me having to type it.
Perhaps the difference that bugs me the most, however, is capitalization. The iPhone automatically capitalizes the first word of a sentence. As such, I very rarely have to use the shift key. Not so on WiMo; every initial character must be proceeded by the shift key.
Mobile use requires many special considerations. The keyboard is a very visible tip to the Windows Mobile iceberg.
Gas pumps ask an awful lot of questions. Do you want to use your card as debit or credit? What type of fuel do you want? Do you want a car wash? Do you want a receipt? I’ve written previously of the GetGo stations that are extensions of Giant Eagle grocery stores. Purchasing fuel gives me points towards discounted groceries, and purchasing groceries gives me points towards discounted gas. So I have the additional question as to whether or not I want to apply the accumulated discount to my fuel purchase. It also means that I start every purchase by scanning my Giant Eagle Advantage card, identifying myself and providing the pump access to my account information. Would it not be possible then to store my preferences? Use it as a credit card. Give me regular. Yes, I want a receipt.
Boxes and Arrows has begun posting presentations from IA Summit 10 as podcasts. They’ve started by releasing three keynotes.
Dan Roam, author of Back of the Napkin, gives an outstanding hour and a half presentation on solving complex problems through visual thinking. Given the topic, I appreciate that they have created an enhanced podcast including the visuals from his slides. I’ve never read Dan’s book or heard him speak before, and I was quite impressed. His presentation is chock full of anecdotes and real-world examples.
Richard Saul Wurman’s keynote also runs one and a half hours, but I didn’t find it nearly as engaging. Don’t get me wrong—he makes a few good points—but overall, he rambled aimlessly, easily becoming sidetracked, and often not returning to the point he was trying to make.
Whitney Hess speaks from an atypical perspective in her thirty minute closing keynote, and as a result, resonates well with her audience. I’ve never attended an IA Summit, but I get a flavor of the conference and community from Whitney’s inspired call to action.
This is high-quality content. Find the time to check it out.
My wife was wanting a note-taking app for her iPad, so I suggested that she try out Evernote. I’ve never used it myself, but I know it’s popular, and a lot of bloggers and podcasters that I follow speak highly of it. As with many applications for the iPad and iPhone, Evernote comes in two flavors: free and premium. She downloaded the free version and upon launch, the first thing it wanted her to do was to set up an online account. Upon further inspection, we discovered that the free version only allows notes to be stored remotely on their server. Thus, you can only use it while you have an internet connection. Local storage is only available with the premium version of the app, which requires a subscription.
That’s completely backwards. I could understand charging a subscription for the online storage and synching between devices. That is an ongoing service with hardware, bandwidth, and upkeep costs. There are no ongoing costs for the local storage, however. I would be perfectly willing to pay $10 or so for a good notebook app, but there is no way I’m paying a monthly subscription. We’ll keep looking.
There’s an interesting article up on BusinessWeek about a new product from Bayer. Didget is a blood glucose meter—you know, one of those things that people with diabetes prick their fingers with to monitor their blood sugar. It’s not one of those things that people enjoy doing, so you wouldn’t expect them to particularly like their meters. And while adults can suck it up and deal, you can imagine that a child would have less patience for the whole ordeal. Paul Wessel’s son Luke, who was four years old at the time, was the inspiration for the concept that would eventually find Paul working at Bayer and collaborating with Nintendo. You see, he realized the power of games. What sets Didget apart from other glucose meters is that it interfaces with a Nintendo DS and a game called Knock ’em Downs World’s Fair.
The program rewards players for performing a prescribed number of tests each day by bestowing points that speed the player through the game. Additional points are earned for staying within target blood-sugar ranges, which parents can program in. “There used to be days when I didn’t want to test,” says George Dove, 12, of Nottingham, U.K., who must use the meter as many as eight times a day. “Now, it’s fun.”
The iPad keyboard dock very much resembles the Apple Bluetooth keyboard, which itself mimics the MacBook keyboard. Across the top of the keyboard is a row of 14 half-height buttons that perform special functions:
Home: This key has the same square with rounded corners found on the iPad’s home button. It returns you to the home screen, or if already there, moves between the home screens.
Search: Sporting a magnifying glass, this key brings up the iPad’s search function.
Brightness: Two keys allow you to dim and brighten the screen.
Slideshow: Bearing an icon of a sunflower, like the Photos application on the iPad, this button will initiate the picture frame feature.
Keyboard: The iPad’s on-screen keyboard doesn’t pop up when it is plugged into the physical keyboard. If you need it, for whatever reason, this key will show and hide it.
Playback Controls: There are keys for play/pause and for skipping to the previous and next tracks.
Volume Controls: There are keys to increase and decrease the volume, and one to mute and unmute.
Lock: This key returns the iPad to the initial, unlocking screen.
Have you been counting? That leaves one button. Right in the middle of the row is a key without an icon; it’s completely blank. It doesn’t seem to do anything. My wife hasn’t found a purpose for it. I Googled it and found a bunch of speculation from back in February when it was first noticed. The only recent result was by Chris Pirillo, and he doesn’t know what it’s for either.
So, what’s the deal, Apple? Could you just not decide on one more useful feature to put up there? It seems a waste to have a key that does nothing. Or, was it reserved for something that didn’t make it into the iPad in time? Was it supposed to turn on the rumored camera? Or, to appropriate one of Victor Borge’s jokes, perhaps it is there to separate the other buttons.
Usually, Apple does away with buttons. I find it out of character for them to include an extra button that does nothing at all.
As a designer, I’ve had some small amount of training in photography, and I consider it to be one of my more serious hobbies. In this the fourth year of DesignAday, I’ve decided to shake things up a bit and post a photo every Friday.
Most of my artistic photography (as opposed to family photographs) is of nature, and you will find that I have a thing for mushrooms. This photo was taken at the Middle Fork Club near Queens, West Virginia.
When I ordered my wife’s iPad, we decided to get several accessories. Seeing as how she will be toting it around with her everywhere, we figured it would be prudent to get a cover for it, and why not get the one that Apple designed for it? Knowing that she will occasionally want to give presentations with it, we purchased the VGA dock connector. Considering that it will be her laptop replacement, we also decided to get a keyboard, and since the keyboard dock is the same price as the dock without the keyboard, it made sense to get the keyboard dock.
The keyboard was delivered yesterday, and my wife quickly discovered a major oversight in the design of the case, the dock, or both. The iPad will not connect to the keyboard while in the case. This is rather problematic, as it is not particularly easy to get into or out of the case. She isn’t very keen on the notion of having to take it out of the case every time she wants to dock it. Considering that both products were designed by Apple, I’m rather disappointed.
Three years ago today, I challenged myself to write about design on a daily basis. I’m rather proud to say that I have met that challenge, minus a handful of days due to sickness, vacation, and business trips. It does take time and effort, and there are nights that I don’t feel like writing at all. By and large, however, the exercise has been intellectually stimulating, and very rewarding. As such, I’m planning on continuing my writing for the foreseeable future. With 774 posts now in the archive, I think it has become a respectable resource of design-related observations, critiques, examples, and advice. To wit, I encourage you to peruse some of the long-running topics I’ve been writing about:
Possibly inspired by Min-Kyu Choi’s brilliant multi-plug design, two students were presented with 2010 iF concept awards for stacking USB plugs. These are only concepts, so I don’t know how plausible they are, but I think they’re well-conceived and nicely executed.
Gonglue Jiang and Ke Zhao of Tongji University in Beijing, China designed a plug that is very believable in its dimensions. The clean, white cable matches the current Apple aesthetic, and the color accents provide a way to distinguish one device’s plug from another. One drawback is that the width of the plug and orientation of the cable may preclude use of other ports.
Yi Fan Lin and Hong Yih Chu of Shih Chien University in Taipei, Taiwan have a very compact design. Again, multiple colors improved identification. While the small profile solves the potential to block other ports, I must wonder if there is room for whatever would be needed to make such a plug functional. The bend in the cable lends some visual interest, but it also seems like it could get in the way when plugging and unplugging the cables.
Feasible or not, I enjoy seeing these fresh takes on old problems.
The most recent version of Espresso separated the “workspace” portion of the side panel such that it doesn’t scroll with the rest of the list. This makes sense, as its purpose is to separate out the files that you are currently working on for quick access. Having them scroll off the screen as you browse the rest of your site sort of defeats the purpose.
I noticed a very subtle visual treatment that I quite like. One problem with scrollable areas is that other than the state of the scrollbar, there is nothing to indicate whether or not you are seeing everything there is to see. When the list is scrolled in Espresso, a drop shadow is displayed, indicating that some content has scrolled out of view.
It’s just enough to subconsciously communicate the state. Nicely done.
The instruction booklet that comes with Apple’s new iPad is one page. The instruction booklet that comes with this year’s IRS 1040 long form is 172 pages.
This raises an obvious question as next week’s dreaded filing deadline closes in on taxpayers. How can a revolutionary new product — using about as much computing power as a mainframe computer might have had a few decades ago — be so easy to use, while a tax code serving a constant purpose of funding government be so complex?
The answer is that the iPad is the product of free enterprise. The tax code is a product of politics and, in this age of dysfunctional government, it is a particularly defective one.
The article proceeds to place blame on the political parties, but they came to the wrong conclusion right out of the gate. The answer is not that “the iPad is the product of free enterprise.” The iPad is a product of Design.
As other journalists have done in the past, the article concludes by flippantly suggesting that the job of simplifying the U.S. tax system be turned over to Apple. A better approach would be to hire a design firm that specializes in social and organizational change. They would assemble a team of people with appropriate knowledge and experience and then work closely with the IRS. They would approach the problem with a user-centered process in which the needs of all stakeholders, from taxpayers, to financial advisors, to those that work for the IRS, are taken into consideration. This is exactly what Richard Buchanan and Tony Golsby-Smith did in their work with the Australian Tax Office. It started out as an effort to make the tax form itself easier to fill out, but ended up as an overhaul of the entire tax code, making it easier for citizens to file their taxes and cheaper for the government to administer the process. Everybody wins.
Simplifying and clarifying the tax system is an achievable goal, but it isn’t going to be accomplished by our government alone.
I don’t own it, nor have I played it, but I am compelled to mention Scrabble for the iPad from Electronic Arts. This is an extremely creative use of networked, mobile devices. While the game runs on the iPad, supporting multiple players, there is an optional iPhone client. Players can user their iPhones as tile racks, allowing them to view their tiles privately and rearrange them while other players are taking their turns on the iPad. Check your spelling in the included dictionary. When your turn comes around, flick your tiles off of your iPhone onto the iPad where you can place them on the board.
It’s somewhat laughable. If three people are playing, each with their own iPhone 3Gs or iPod Touch, the entire setup costs about $1,110. I can’t help but love the concept all the same.
Now that I’ve gushed over the iPad a bit, it’s only fair that I point out what’s missing. I’m not referring to things in the software, such as multitasking and printing, or even hardware items like the camera everyone seems to want in it. I’m thinking about what came in the box.
At $500, the iPad is quite a deal. It’s an amazing price, really, but at the same time, it’s not pocket-change either. When I purchased my 20” Apple Cinema Displays, they each came with a soft, gray, cleaning cloth. I keep one in my desk drawer to clean my monitors. The other hangs out in my laptop bag. When I got my new MacBook Pro at work, it came with a thin, black, cleaning cloth impressed with the Apple logo. That one stays in my desk drawer at work. My iPhones didn’t come with cloths, but they’re easy enough to wipe on my shirt or pants leg. I was surprised upon opening the iPad to find that no cloth was included.
In fact, the only thing in the iPad box other than the iPad was the USB cable and power adapter. I’m noticing a trend here. When I bought the first iPhone, it came with a dock. Apple’s Bluetooth headset came with a dock that would hold the headset and the iPhone together. My iPhone 3Gs didn’t come with a dock, and it won’t fit in either of the docks I had for the original. I’ve since stopped using the headset, as I can’t see having the whole iPhone dock on my desk just to charge it, and I have yet to find a dock for my new phone. The iPad didn’t come with a dock either. I ordered the keyboard dock, as it was the same price as the dock without a keyboard.
My first iPod came with earbuds, as did my first iPhone, and they each came with extra felt covers for the earbuds. The 3Gs came with earbuds, but it didn’t come with any covers. The iPad doesn’t even come with earbuds.
The iBooks application comes with a free book when you first download it. Winnie-the-Pooh was a brilliant choice for inclusion with the application as it dramatically shows off one of the primary distinctions between the iPad and Amazon’s Kindle. It struck me immediately upon opening the book. It is full of Ernest H. Shepard’s wonderful illustrations in full color. The Kindle can’t do that.
I suppose one would typically read books in the portrait orientation—the content is completely fluid, so it’s not as if it is laid out in spreads, but upon rotating the iPad ninety degrees, it switched to show two pages at once, just as I anticipated. The Kindle can’t do that.
Navigation is so natural, turning pages with a swipe of my finger. I know I can just tap the side of the screen, but swiping just feels right. The Kindle can’t do that.
The application provides a control to adjust the screen brightness directly within a book to compensate for ambient lighting conditions. Not only can it not do that, the Kindle requires an external light source.
I can select a word by touching it and then have a dictionary entry displayed right over the page. Or, I can select an entire sentence by dragging my finger across it and then bookmark it or copy it to the clipboard to paste into another application. The Kindle can’t do that.
So many people have claimed that the iPad is “just a big iPod Touch.” They got it backwards. The iPod Touch is actually just a shrunken iPad.
My wife’s iPad arrived on Saturday. As an object, it is a thing of minimalist beauty. Some have complained about the wide bezel around the screen, but it was obvious to me that you would need that as a place to hold it without covering up or accidentally touching things on the screen. The single piece of aluminum that forms the back is elegant and sturdy. It feels solid. I’ve also read complaints that the headphone jack is on the “top.” What you must realize, however, is that the top is relative. The jack is in the top when the iPad sits in a cradle, but if you want the jack on the bottom while you are using it, all you have to do is turn it upside-down. The screen will reorient. The Apple logo is the only thing on the iPad that has a fixed orientation.
As many of the journalists have indicated, the iPad is wicked-fast. The smoothness of zooming in the maps application blew me away. The speed at which it launches and closes applications makes me wonder if running background applications is really as desirable as we think it would be. As for the keyboard, my wife just commented that she can type on it quite well already. The only criticism I have thus far is that in our bedroom, which is the spot in our house furthest from our WiFi base station, if you have it resting on your lap, it barely gets a signal. The Apple logo on the back of the iPad is actually a hole cut in the aluminum and covered with plastic. The antenna is apparently right behind it. Covering it with my hand is enough to nearly block the already weak signal.
The few applications I have had a chance to use so far are just better. The extra space afforded by the larger screen makes a huge difference. The extent to which Apple has created special landscape views in their apps is testament to this fact. The iPad is really what the iPod Touch wants to be when it grows up.
Last night, IxDA Pittsburgh gathered in the new Gates-Hillman building on CMU’s campus to watch videos of a few presentations from Interaction 10, the conference held in Savannah, Georgia this past February. The Human-Computer Interaction Institute was kind enough to provide the space, some light appetizers, and beverages. IxDA was nice enough to provide videos of every presentation from the conference on its website.
We started with Liz Danzico’s Frames: Notes on Improvisation and Design. Using examples of improv ranging from jazz to comedy, Liz asked us to think about providing frames in which our users can improvise, bringing their own contributions to the interaction, and encouraged us to move from creating closed artifacts with predetermined applications to designing for emergent behavior.
We followed Liz’s thought-provoking ideas with Mike Kruzeniski’s Poetry & Polemics in Creating Experience. Don’t let the title fool you—this presentation was grounded in real work being done within the entertainment group at Microsoft and has practical applications. Mike related an entertaining and inspiring tale about how his group of designers influenced the developers and product managers they work with to start thinking about features in terms of the soul, heart, and body of the product, rather than simply priority 0, 1, and 2. Mike described it as a beginner design vocabulary.
To cap off the evening, we queued up Paola Antonelli’s keynote, Talk to Me. From her description of the way objects speak to her, to her hatred of the Tamagotchi, to her attempt to acquire the @ symbol for the MOMA’s collection, Paola captivated and amused us with her unique perspective on the field of Interaction Design.
It was a very educational evening, and the students present especially appreciated the opportunity. We had a reasonable turn-out of around 20 people. We’ll be announcing our next event soon!