As a long time paying Dropbox customer, I'm quite accustomed to not having to to think much about saving my files in the cloud. It just happens. And so when I find myself in a situation where I have to use iCloud instead, I notice the differences.
It would seem that Apple has plans for iCloud to be the type of service customers depend on for their every day storage needs. From my experience, it's not yet at a place where I can make it a major part of my computing setup.
iCloud is configured to fit Apple’s vision of simplified computer usage. So the file system is something not easily accessed by the user. Where as Dropbox is a complete sync of your file and folder structure, iCloud simply stores files by application and the user is not presented with the file system at all when saving or opening files.
I can admit that there are certain scenarios where this would work for me. And there are many people for whom this is adequate. But when I'm working on something that requires multiple files in different applications, I find myself wanting the “old way” to be available.
Two recent scenarios have been a trigger for me thinking about this subject again. I've been teaching adult Sunday school classes since January, so I've been using Keynote a lot. And this was about the same time that I started using Writer Pro on my iPad. The latter does not yet support Dropbox (it's coming). And while the former can make use of Dropbox and the file system on OS X, the iOS version does not.
This really hit home for me when I was at TypeCamp in January. I really wanted to go over my slides on the plane ride home using my iPad. Being able to do so was great, but the steps required to get it there were onerous.
The task itself does not sound onerous in and of itself. But this only works with a small number of documents. If you have more than 10 files, this process is unfriendly.
You have to save the file to iCloud within the desktop version. Then, on your iPad, refresh the list of iCloud files. Once you see the one you're working on, open it on the iPad. Not, now only is the process less than ideal, but you lose any sort of special formatting with your slide deck. Typography being the big area where you lose out.
All of this could be overcome if the benefit of reviewing and editing my slides were beneficial enough to be done on the iPad. But because it would cause me more work in the long run, I've not made the step.
Of course, this is only one application. And as slide shows are very personalized (or, they should be), perhaps it's a poor example to use. But it's simply one of the tasks where I've actually had the desire to use the iPad as a content creation device. And the experience was lacking overall.
The example is also more on the subject of creating with an iPad rather than iCloud storage. But without the one, the other is not required at all. I've simply continued using Dropbox with my slide decks rather than iCloud. There are no benefits to do so, only drawbacks at this point.
I certainly appreciate iCloud and the amalgamation of OS X and iOS. It's made certain areas of my computing life much more lacking in friction. But the improvements have come at the same time as Dropbox (and other web services like Rdio), so it can be hard to differentiate between the improvements overall.
In the end, computing for a Mac user has been simplified. That's a
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A few recent trends in web design get under my skin. Any site that employs a heavy use of parallax, animations, or hijacks the natural scroll behaviour drives me batty. Although this is partially my own preference, these tactics can take away from the experience of the site visitor (user).
But is there still a place for animation and other enhancements in web design? I have been to the point where if I see any of these items employed, I would simply close the tab. But I've seen a few compelling arguments and examples lately that have me reconsidering my distaste for anything animated.
Fundamentally, a web page should be created on good writing and a well thought out architecture. It should be easy on the person reading the site; no difficult decisions should have to be made.
But once the foundation is in place (good writing, solid typography, a clean & sensible architecture, plus supplemental media like photos and video), what then? Is there a way to add a few flourishes with animations or other tactics? Maybe there is.
Although I see a lot of bad examples in the course of a week, there are some good ones out there. The Pencil site developed by Jonnie Hallman for Paper is a great one (no, not that Paper, the first one).
The design is very clean and attractive, it scrolls like butter (very important), and towards the end there's a small bit of animation with the Pencil. It's a small addition that adds to the core message of the page, rather than take away.
When used as more than just a subtle design detail, animation can provide cues, guide the eye, and soften the sometimes-hard edges of web interactions.
When the goal is to add to the experience, I think there's a place for these tools (the on boarding experience with the recently launched Slack is another good example). But when they're employed for the sake of using a fun piece of technology, it's painfully obvious that your core message is lacking.
If I never see another copycat parallax site again, I'll be a happier man. But with a slightly more open mind, I'll be keeping my eye open for good applications of these tools in order to improve my own work.
All comments and opinions below are based on my time with Writer Pro for the iPad. I've not used the desktop version to this point.
It's been 6 weeks since I purchased Writer Pro for my iPad. As a very happy iA Writer user, I was eager to give it's successor a try. The concept of a writing workflow definitely appealed to me, albeit with a large grain of salt.
The feature set and announcement for this application excited me. Having firsthand experience with the previous version left me with a confidence in the people behind it. If anyone could take an already great writing experience and improve on it, it's the team at iA.
I admit that it took me a while to jump in and make the purchase. After all, I've grown tired of paying for upgrades to apps I already own. On top of that, early reviews were a little scathing, despite what the App Store blurb and iA's site had to say about it.
Without quoting anyone specific, the general sense was this:
What a waste of money! The various states of each document are just a change of font and colour! You lose your notes.
The basic complaint was this: Writer Pro took what iA Writer offered and added 4 different fonts and shades of colour to differentiate what phase of the writing workflow you were on, as well as syntax highlighting. And since the workflow seemed to not fit the needs of people, customers were dissatisfied.
To be fair, both Dropbox and Markdown support will be added. This has been clear from the launch.
Add to this the fact that Writer Pro was lacking two features of it's predecessor (Dropbox integration and Markdown preview), early adopters seemed to feel like this was a bad $20 decision.
And I must admit I was a little skeptical that it would fit as well. As anyone who writes is aware, we all get to the end destination (a published piece of writing) in different ways. Software that claims to fit your workflow rather than forcing you to mold to its interface should usually be taken with a dose of skepticism. But again, my time with iA Writer allowed me to give the folks at iA the benefit of the doubt.
I can count the number of times I used App Store comments to evaluate a potential purchase on one hand. But this was one of them.
Near the end of December, I made the purchase and immediately started to use Writer Pro in place of Writer. I did so even though it had been confirmed that a document started in Notes mode would simply be in the exact same state when converted to Write mode. The font and colour of the icons change, but your content is exactly the same.
I wrote several blog posts and Sunday school lessons in Writer Pro. My flow was like this: create a new document, start plugging away, then get close to a finished product. Nowhere in there was changing the status of the document useful. I tend to take my close to finished priduct and put it into the environment it will live in. My site for blog posts, Keynote slides for adult Sunday school. I prefer to see how it looks in the end destination. Any tweaks are made there.
Suffice to say, my experience was like many others. Nothing in Writer Pro improved my writing experience. And the lack of Dropbox support and Markdown preview actually meant Writer Pro was a worse tool for me than Writer. To be fair, I expected this. A tool with a specific workflow will always take getting used to. You do have to evaluate your workflow, then adapt to the tool (hopefully only a slight adaptation).
The overall reaction to this aspect of the service seems to have taken iA a little aback. They've since changed their marketing of the app on their site, stating that the workflow is intended to be document based. What does that mean exactly? Simply this: you create a document for your notes & research, then a new one when you're ready to write.
Fair enough, but it only raises more questions for me. How do you refer to your notes when writing? Did they intend users to create yet another version of the same document for editing? Reading? The more I think of the vision, I can only assume the intention was that people would buy versions for each device. You refer to your notes on your iPhone or iPad while you write on the desktop. The application seems not to have been intended as a purchase for only one device. Their introductory blog post indicates this may be the case:
Mostly, the iPhone was used for taking notes. In direct opposition to that popular “consumption device” claim, the iPad is a relentless drafting machine. Editing functionality like Syntax Control will prove most useful on a Mac.
So, having time to use Writer Pro (on one device) and read through the documentation again, I come away with the feeling that the application was intended for a particular type of writing. The vision is for long form pieces, books and papers perhaps. The workflow certainly seems a little lacking when it comes to blog posts or other types of shorter content.
I'll be straight up; I've not even used this once. Not that it couldn't be useful … I think it could. But it hasn't been a part of my workflow in the past and I haven't yet made myself change my writing habits.
My focus when considering purchasing Writer Pro for use as my primary writing environment was the workflow aspect. In time, my opinion may change as I (slowly) put this part of the application to use. There are others who feel this aspect of Writer Pro does not actually improve your writing.
But I'm going to give it a chance. It doesn't hurt to have this type of information available.
To be perfectly honest, I have hopes that this app will be a part of my toolset in the future. My time using iA Writer assures me that the talented folks at iA know what they're about. Writer Pro will improve and I can imagine it being my main writing tool at some point.
Just not yet.
I've observed developer Jared Sinclair via his blog over the past several months. Like many things online, I can't quite recall what took me there the first time, but I subscribed and have enjoyed reading his site. He has a passion for good software and this comes through in his writing.
Over the months, he's been posting about his then-to-be-upcoming RSS reader. That app, Unread, was available last week. Although happy with Reeder, I was interested to see what Jared had come up with.
Upon seeing Jared's announcement that it was available, I checked the app out. I was surprised to see that it was for the iPhone only. Jared posted shortly after his design decisions for Unread … you read that and I get the impression that he's the type of developer that creates apps I would enjoy.
But as a reader, I only use my phone to read when I'm in between places. And that reading is very shallow, a cursory look at items that would be consumed in more depth at some later time. So I had hoped that there would be an iPad version as well.
My other thought when first looking through the screenshots and reading the app description was that Unread was intended for articles to be read in-app. When I say this, I mean that this particular feed reader is designed in a way where you consume the content in the application. And while I love Whitney and the design is lovely, I've long been of the opinion that an author's works should be viewed in the environment that he/she created.
And so I closed the app store link and went on my way.
8 days later, I must say that I purchased Unread and have been very happy with that decision. What led to this change of mind? First, there was the review of my buddy Shawn Blanc. I respect his opinion when it comes to software and he made a few points that kept me thinking about Unread.
It’s not that there’s anything in particular. There’s just a simple elegance to it. The app is well designed and nice to use.
When I finally purchased the app, the first few minutes proved Shawn's points to be true. The app is clean and easy to use. It's a very pleasing experience overall.
But what caught my attention the most was the lack of stress I felt when reading with Unread. Let's be honest; when it comes to reading blog articles, stress seems like an odd word. A feeling that should not apply. But I believe it is a symptom of the environment. In many of my RSS apps, it feels like an inbox, one I need to prune every so often. This amidst the busyness of my work queue, my task manager, Twitter, and IM notifications. I need to get through that list of unread items quickly.
Because of the design, Unread does not have the same feeling. Why? Because Jared understands modern apps and computing environments and did not want to repeat it. In his design decisions article, he alluded to this point:
I think it’s important to reiterate what I wanted Unread to be. I didn’t make it to be a feature-for-feature replacement for an app you may already be using. That would make Unread merely a thin coat of paint on old ideas.
But before that, months earlier, he shared his vision for the app while he was still building it.
Most RSS apps are patterned after email. Noisy parades of dots, dates, and tags trample over their screens. Their source lists look like overflowing inboxes instead of stately tables of contents. Toolbars bristling with options obscure the text. Putting it bluntly, using these apps feels like work.
Well said. And his solution:
I made Unread because I wanted to get back to a more deliberate style of reading. I designed it for times of quiet focus. With warm typography and a sparse interface, it invites me to return to the way I used to read before I fell into the bad habit of skimming and forgetting.
In my initial trial of Unread, I was enjoying what Jared was describing (although I had forgotten his words above until I started writing this post). But something still felt off. There was a slight discomfort, like a t-shirt that has a great design, but doesn't fit quite right.
I examined this closely. I had to look at my RSS habits to understand why I felt uncomfortable (beyond the regular discomfort of trying a new app). It became obvious quickly. My RSS feeds have three different types of content; articles to read, items to process, and items of an educational purpose, to be archived for later reference.
The first type work perfectly in Unread, which is, as Jared intended, a lovely reading environment. The second type do not fit well in this app. I'm talking about my Dribbble feed, my office porn, and font examples in the wild. These are items that are, for lack of a better word, processed. They are not read at all and I realized are best handled on my desktop.
The third tend to go to my read-it-later service to collect dust and die … but they simply also need to be processed and handled differently than my articles to read.
Once I recognized the different types of items that I had collected via RSS over the years, the solution was obvious.
And so I now use Unread to enjoy good reading from authors I admire. I will sometimes read the article in Whitney in Unread, sometimes in the built-in browser with the owner's intended environment. Both are enjoyable in the app and I recommend it to anyone.
Just remember Jared's vision if you decide to the $2.99 plunge:
The point of Unread is to give you an opportunity to change the way you read. Its design can only take you halfway there. I urge you to prune your subscriptions down to the writers you care about most.
That's basically what I did. I unsubscribed from items that I was processing in RSS. I still do that, but I simply use a group Bookmark in Safari to run through those every day. And if while using Unread I come across an item I want to refer to at a later date, I add it to Reading List (an in-app option — thanks, Jared!).
Reading in Unread is a joy. I'm glad I gave it a chance.
I had the privilege of attending the most recent edition of Type Camp, lovingly titled Web Type West. The simple fact of being at a conference can be enjoyable on its own. Being at one where the entire focus is a topic you're very passionate about … the enjoyment is greatly magnified.
All quotes here are potentially paraphrased. My handwriting is neither fast, nor overly legible … room for error. My apologies to the speakers if I missed a word or three. Hit me up if there's a grievous error!
There were four speakers I was familiar with and was looking forward to the most. But others were also entertaining and informative. Here are some highlights!
With a focus on accessibility, splorp displayed his love for the base on which the web was built and viewing sites in Netscape 4. Seriously.
In the first days of the web, text came first.
Current processes involve adding layers of additions to your primary content.
Grant gave some great examples of non-semantic, meaningless HTML from sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Text marked as bold in the HTML, yet is not bold. Empty tags.
On using Netscape for his evaluation of sites:
He summed up his talk with his tips on building for the web:
The web is text!
An interactive designer I was not familiar with, Zara made some good points in her talk.
Clarity in the organization of content is often ignored.
Amen! Further to that point:
Typography is the invisible workhorse of interface design.
She also listed her thoughts on the basic tools that any kind of designer has at his/her disposal. These are:
Of course, using the first three well will result in a decent hierarchy. She also discussed the three modes of interaction that users or readers will have with content:
She focused on how the tools we have available can be used in different ways depending on the user's needs in different contexts. These three modes of interaction will require that the four tools be used accordingly.
Her talk could be summed in one of her final statements:
A strong hierarchy is a critical element in creating content.
Typography is an opportunity to care.
It was clear from the start that Brian was sharing something he has a passion for. Along with his children and beer, typography is what "gets him up in the morning".
Logic & whimsey. Head & heart. They give us an opportunity.
I enjoyed Brian's talk the most because he was coming from the perspective a front end developer.
A highlight in my design career was rediscovering my love for the baseline grid.
His talk started with Part I Scales, Modular, and Otherwise … topics that made my heart flutter. The good news is that there was no Part II, leaving him talking about grids, scales, and how to use Sass to make this all easier.
And the purpose of it all:
Having a grid in place can enable the designer and developer to talk more about principles than pixels.
The talented stewf started off with some definitions. What is a typeface? A font? And why are there so many and why should I care? His answer could be summed up as such:
Typography can immediately evoke feelings, emotions, and cultural attitudes.
And so, making the right choice for each and every project is vital. He spent a good bit of time in his talk using the analogy of a typeface being like a chair.
A page is like a room. Type is the furniture.
It's a good analogy and he interspersed examples of lovely type with examples of lovely chairs throughout the talk. He focused on how form and function must be balanced and this is important for both typefaces and furniture. Gridbutts were also mentioned.
And so, how do you choose the right type?
It depends on the user. It depends on the context.
He also discussed how we still need new designs in type because new uses are being discovered. And as classic chair designs are being improved upon, so are classic typefaces. A great talk from an expert in his craft and my other favourite for the day.
Last, André Mora spoke about he importance of well laid type on the web. He's passionate enough about this that he does not use Read It Later services or Reader modes. If a site does not look good or read well on its own, he does not visit it.
I don't have any take away quotes from his talk, but I appreciated his recipe for a successful web project:
The whole is better than the parts when all the above are carefully considered and done well. And last, André finished his talk with one of the best points of the day, encouraging designers to:
Read what you design!
There were two other speakers I was able to take in. One was Kevin Larson, a member of Microsoft's Advanced Reading Technologies team. I must admit, this was one talk that had not piqued my interest. But Mr. Larson did a fantastic job describing the process they went through creating a font that was as readable as possible — the content was fascinating. If you care about words, language, and we process it, check out his essay here.
Sadly, due to a lack of flight options and a Sunday morning teaching engagement, I had to duck out before the last two speakers were finished. One was Luke Dorny and I was very sorry to miss his talk. It sounded like a winner!
If you have any interest in typography, Type Camp is an event I highly recommend. Even you're not passionate about it, bringing good typography to the web and understanding this fundamental aspect of design is vital for anyone working on the web.
And so I give a big thank you to Shelley and her team for bringing Type Camp to Vancouver and for a great event!