The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Keynote is King

My past month has brought something new to my workday. I’m a big advocate of writing for any role involved in a SaaS product, but it’s imperative for customer success. And while I’ve had the privilege of writing onboarding campaigns, interacting with customers over email and live chat, sending marketing emails, and summarizing research results in my roles, there is one bit of work I have never done.

Write UI copy. And as it turns out, I freaking love it.

This past month, while our team polished up the first phase of Conveyor in preparation of our private beta, I’ve been reviewing and tweaking the copy for all areas of the product. This has been a big, challenging undertaking. And a fun one!

While I’d love to chatter on about the importance of micro-copy and looking for opportunities to delight in this type of writing, today I want to focus on how to organize an endeavour like this. If you have a product of any size, there is a lot to keep track of. And if there is one thing you want in the copy of your product, it’s consistency.

Once I started to dig in on just seeing what our current copy was and all the bit of the product that include copy, I realized I needed some structure to this work. I immediately read a handful of posts to get some insight here, including re-reading a lot of John Saito’s work, but did not find any in-depth tutorial that laid out a good foundation, toolset, or process.

And so I just reviewed my tools on hand. OmniOutliner and Ulysses got some consideration, but since I would need to share my copy suggestions with my teammates, I went with Paper.

Paper from Dropbox is one of our current favourite tools at Wildbit. We’ve been using it since it first debuted and it just continues to improve. People are using it for so many different types of work (see this example from Noah Stokes and the Creative Market team).

And it has been working fairly well, especially the auto-generated table of contents in the sidebar. Since Conveyor is a Mac client with a full set of cloud services and a web front end, there’s a lot of different places where I need to review copy (as the screenshot below indicates — it does not all fit in the small vertical height of my MacBook screen). I love the ability to work on a bit of copy for the web app, then hover over the sidebar to flip to a corresponding screen in the Mac client. Consistency, remember?

But as time has gone on, this Paper doc has begun to get a tad unwieldy. There have been a couple of times where I wondered if I had missed the best tool at my disposal. Keynote.

And this past weekend, I was reading through the transcript of the second episode of Craig Mod’s new podcast, On Margins (yes, I rarely listen to podcasts and am very thankful for people who publish a full transcript). He was interviewing Frank Chimero, two great minds of our generation, to discuss making books.

Of course, in a 45 minute conversation, a lot of sub-topics pop up and they touched on Keynote. And their dialogue well captured what I love about this app. They begin to talk about their creative process and large walls and putting up materials to meditate on, to move around as the creative juices do their thing. And Frank says this:

And then I buy blue painter tape, and I’ve got a bunch of index cards. And just stray print outs from my crappy little inkjet printer, and I just sort of go to town on it. And sometimes it’s up on the wall, other times I like spread it out on the floor on a table and I’m just trying to sort out these notecards.
Because I have this loosely, blurry idea on my head and I’m trying to find the patterns and all of these things that I’ve been collecting that seem like they’re related somehow. So, the meaning emerges out of that. So, after that, I actually, maybe write a little bit in just like a text editor but I actually go into Keynote. Because what it allows me to do is to get all the images and the quotes arranged in a specific order. And also, I can nest them, I can sort of create a little hierarchy.
So, it becomes almost like a visual outline for me instead of a text outline that you would do in Google Docs or Word or something like that. And that works really well for me, because I can just sort of push things around and type up a quote or I can do a speaker commentary. There’s presenter notes inside of Keynotes so I can just write a full paragraph.

Craig closes this part of the conversation this way:

Keynote really does kind of turn things into objects in a way that text editors don’t. That sort of invite you to move things around in a way that, even in like Google Docs for example can click and drag on images. But I hate doing it, (laughs) like it doesn’t feel good to do it. Keynote I’m constantly shuffling stuff. The nesting works so well with tabs and shift tabs to unnest stuff. Apple really nailed something about tactility in Keynote. To me it feels the closest to like having a wall on the computer, in the same way you can move notecards around on a blackboard or whatever.

I love the descriptions of their process and how Keynote fits into that. It really is one of the most enjoyable tools I work with.

A lot of my teaching material starts in Ulysses as a bunch of bullet points, quotes, and the occasional group of sentences. But it’s when I start fleshing out things in Keynote that it all comes together. One would think that it’s not conducive to the type of usage they describe above, but for some reason it works.

Back to my work with the copy for Conveyor. Paper has been working, but I wonder if Keynote would have been better. I could create the clean outline structure with nested slides, then add suggested copy changes in the speaker notes. It’s certainly not the use case its designers likely had in mind, but that’s the power of a well thought out app. And it’s nothing new for Keynote.

This is one my favourite apps in my tool belt and one I do not mention often enough.