Taking Notes with Evernote !

evernote_web_new8

     In this digital age, where people grow plants online feed them water digitally.  It is  no wonder that most of us use digital medium for taking notes or scribbling ideas instead of using traditional pen and paper.  Everyone has their favourite application for taking notes.  I have my favourite application and it is called ‘Evernote’.  I can gladly say that ‘Evernote’ is all what you need for taking digital notes.  And, this post is about why I love its features for taking notes. 

a. Usability:

    –  Unlike every other note taking application, it just takes a minute or two to figure out the interface of Evernote and how it works.  It is such simple.  Consider each new note as a paper or a section, you can organize them into notebooks in the application.  The navigation flow between the notes and notebooks are simple yet smooth using almost the minimal CPU and memory resources. 

b. Cross-Platform Support & Synchronization :

     – Every note that you take synchronizes to a evernote server as a backup.  Evernote has applications for every platform out there say Windows, Mac, Web Application and many mobile device platforms.  So, you can use your own means to take notes in Evernote – PC, Web or your Mobile Device. 

c. Intergration with other Note-Taking Applications:

     – Evernote nicely integrates all the actions that you do in the other related applications like ‘Evernote Web Clipper, Skitch, Food and People’ into seperate notebooks in Evernote iteself. So, you just have to access or search only on Evernote to find something that you have added from other related applications. 

d. A Step Further:

     – To top it all, Moleskine and Evernote has teamed up and just introduced a Hybrid Notebook in which all you write, jot, draw, scribble and sketch are available digitally on Evernote as a seperate notebook. 

Happy Noting, Everyone.  Thanks. :). 

Image Courtesy : http://blog.evernote.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/evernote_web_new8.jpg
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ZBrush – A Modeling Tool with an Artist Friendly UI

ZBrush InterfaceZBrush's Interface

     ZBrush is a sculpting and texturing tool which is now quite a competition to Autodesk’s tools for animation – Maya & Mudbox. Though ZBrush can get complex with its advanced features, it has the most artist friendly interface that I have come to know.  The learning curve for knowing the layout of the interface and how the tools works is not quite as complex as other sculpting tools, I would say.  I have tried to break down the usability features of the interface to show you how they play in minimizing the same.  So, here we go. 

a. Paletting :

     – Like a ‘Traditional Artist’ (either Painter or Sculptor), you would like to have the necessary colors or tools that you would use while painting in your canvas.   You can do the same in ZBrush.  The necessary menus and tools can be paletted into the left and right side sections called ‘Palettes’ of the interface.  (2 & 3).  The beautiful thing of this all is you can create ‘palettes with-in palettes ‘ called Sub-Paletting. 

b. Spotlight & Lightbox Section (File Preview with Description ):

     – How many times have been frustrated to open a file with previwing it or navigating out of the working interface to access them.  You can do them all minus all the frustrations without leaving ZBrush.  There is a section called Spotlight & Lightbox (4 in the picture) below the canvas (5 in the picture) in the interface where you can see the preview of what a tool does or the file that you are accessing.

c. Color Theme:

     –  The contrast and color scheme of the interface is balanced and has a aesthetic prowess from all the other similar tools.  The color scheme is kind of similar to the Gordon Freeman’s HEV Suit from Half-Life.  (And, that is also one of personal reasons to like the interface). 

d. Icons & Buttons:

     –  ZBrush’s Buttons are neatly layed out and clearly describes what is clickable and what is not at the point of time you are looking at it.  The Icons of the tool clearly describes what the item does.  I think the designer’s invested a considerable amount of time in crafting each and every part of the icon.  

e. Customization:

     –  The software package is completely customizable.  It has inbuilt scripting language called ZScript where you can build on adding additional features to ZBrush. 

      Thanks to Pixologic (the makers of ZBrush) for giving us all a wonderful sculpting tool to play with.  Kindly, drop in your comment and views about the post in the comments section.  Thanks.  :). 

Image Courtesy : http://www.digital-design3d.com/3d-design/images/zbrush.jpg

The Chrome’ium Shine

     Google Chrome is very new player when compared with the many standard and existing browsers who play the age-old ‘Browser Wars’. But now, 34% of the internet traffic is through Chrome.  And, no wonder why.  It is by far the best browser that I have used with the many simple and usable features that I have not identified with the others.  Google is based on the ‘WebKit’ layout engine, the same which powers Apple’s Safari.  The following are the outstanding features that I have noticed with Chrome when comparing with the other browsers that I have used.

a. Simple Interface  : 

     The first point of attraction in Chrome is the simplicity of the interface and its elegance.  (1 in the Picture).  Less buttons.  And, everything on the interface conveys the user its functionality without needing any label for it.  It simply conveys the user what to do and what not to do with it.

b. Synchronization :

     Almost every internet user has a Google account nowadays with an exceptional few.   (2 in the Picture).  Google has rightly integrated the feature of synchronizing web data with the user’s Google Account.  The user just have to do is – Sign In.  All your browser Bookmarks, Open / Closed Tabs and Application Data will be synced to all your chrome browsers where you have logged in minutes.

c. Browser Apps & Extensions :

     If its iOS on the mobile market for its iTunes AppStore, it’s Google on the browser apps.  (3 in the Picture).  Chrome simply owns the web with its many number of Browser Application and Extensions.  Life is much more simpler when you sync your To-Do List across all your devices.

d. Interface Customizability :

     With its support for Themes and Extensions, you choose your theme for dressing up your Chrome browser.  Either its Halloween or Christmas, or its just your mood.  You simply change the theme to match your style.  The interface of Chrome is customizable.

e. Speed & Efficiency :

     Beauty without Brains does not matter, Right ? This browser has both.  It is very powerful and efficient.  You can see it for your own when you just search for ‘Browser Benchmarks’ on the Web.  The web page load times were much lesser when compared with the other browsers that I have used.

   To simply summarize, Google’s Chrome browser is “Simple, Efficient, Human and more than everything ‘Usable’ “.

Thanks. :).

Image Courtesy : 
http://mac.filehorse.com/download-google-chrome/screenshots/
http://blogoscoped.com/archive/2010-05-20-n19.html

Breaking Rules by Knowing Them

     There is this one professor who always impresses me in every class.  Once, when a student asked him “Why do we need to know all the ‘Rules’ when all these just limit our creativity when Art is just creating by breaking the rules”.  He simply answered, “When you don’t know what rule to break, then what can you really be breaking ? The ‘Art’ itself ?”.  I think his reply is applicable to every creative field.  I simply see ‘User Interface and Experience Design’ as a creative field.

   The design rules and principles that we have studied in class are definitely meant to be followed but also to be broken when you are doing something useful for the people and innovative.  As this wonderful class is coming near to a closure for this semester, I have compiled a list of rules that we have studied in this class and mentioned where it is meant to be used.  It is upto you to use them or break them.  I hope this post would serve everyone as a reference in the future and a guiding light for using the rules.  The following are the few Principles that we use in User Interaction & Experience Design :

a. Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Web Usability Principles :

– They can be used in Web Interaction Design & Mobile Application Design.

– Some of the rules can be extended to Offline Application & Game Interface Design.

– More than everything, Nielsen’s principles are focused on Usability which should be followed while developing prototypes for any application.

b. Gestalt Principle for Screen Design :

– The principles are applicable to any Screen Design.

– Since, Gestalt Theory suggests the visual arrangements of the components on the scrren, though all the principles cannot be followed, the Gestalt Theory provides a visual grid / template and an idea for placing the components in any screen design.

c. Visual Information Principles by Edward Tuefte :

– The principles should definitely be followed when you about to convey your user some information or any form of data not just limited to numbers.

– Most importantly, when using mathematical charts and statistical data.

d. Principles of Alan Cooper :

– In Web, Mobile and Offline Application Design.

– Though, Alan Cooper tends to explain the usability principle mostly oriented towards Web Interaction Design.  From my perspective, all those principle are general usability principles except a few strictly.

e. Information Foraging Theory :

– Though, not necessarily a rule.  Information foraging theory should guide in designing an application where the user in search for some information and querying for some results.

– Remember – ‘Like every other being in this world, our User is also ‘Lazy’.

f. Universal Principles of Design by Lidwell, Holden and Butter :

– The Universal Principle of Design are general rules which are applicable to any kind or variety of design.  They should give a good framework before beginning the design.

– Most importantly, these rules can be used for analyzing a mock-up design.

g. KISS (Keep it simple stupid) :

– As it says, just keep it simple.

and more than everything,

h. Common Sense :

– Use this in every context and part of the product design.  You know what your product is going to do more than anyone.  Don’t just follow your instincts, but also use your common sense.

     The post is entirely about my views on using the principles and the way I am using them.  I am just suggesting the ways in which the principles can be used.  Let me know your views and what do you think about the posts in the comment section.

Thanks :).

Image Courtesy : http://www.brandmill.com/featured/rule-break-stupid-rules/

Scott Forstall and The Skeuomorphic Design

Scott Forstall

     Three weeks ago, Scott Forstall, the Senior Vice President of Apple Software was fired from the company.  And, Sir Jonathan Ive, who was taking care of Apple’s Hardware Design will take over his position.  In his new position at Apple, Jonny Ive will be the head of ‘Human Interface’ in which he will be taking care of both Hardware and Software Design which was formerly headed by the legendary Steve Jobs.  That’s Good News.  But the Bad News is that Scott Forstall had been fired.  Rumours say that Forstall had been fired from the company because he refused to sign the apology letter for the failure of Apple Maps.

   As far as I have seen in the news articles that I have read, many have been talking in the sense Scott Forstall leaving Apple as a ‘Good Thing’.  But, I would say ‘No’.  They wrote that they did not like ‘Skeuomorphic Designs’ that Mr. Forstall had been creating in the iOS.  I will come what Skeuomorphic Design later.  They all have been writing like that they never ever liked or loved the Softwares that Apple had been creating under Scott Forstall’s Lead. He created the world’s best mobile operating system, iOS.  It’s not just iOS, it’s ‘The iOS’.

   Did not they like it and praising Apple for the same ?  Did not they use Calendar feature of iOS which was using ‘Skeuomorphic Design’ ?  Apple’s iPhone has been the best because of its Software and not just the hardware.  I am not getting any philosophical here but it is a good thing to see the best side in everybody.  If one product fails, does your reviews have to be so stinging  ?  It is a question that I am posing for the entire Interface Enthusiasts and Technology Appreciators.

   So coming to ‘Skeuomorphic Design’, what is ‘Skeuomorph’ ? According to Wikipedia, A skeuomorph or skeuomorphism is a design element of a product that imitates design elements that were functionally necessary in the original product design, but which have become ornamental in the new design.  We  have read earlier in one of our class readings of CGT 512 (Once upon a time, remember ???), by Donald A. Norman about using age-old  traditional representation for the new products.  In Skeuomorph, it is simply the part of the design itself.

For example, Artificial Leather Grain on the Calendar Icon of iOS and in many other applications.  I tried to research more on the question that whether a Skeuomorphic Design a Good thing or Bad.  After hours of Google search, I can just say that it just depends on the context that we are using the design and the current mind set of the people.  It’s not a question of ‘Why ?’ but ‘Who ?’.  Being in this industry of creating software for people, we can never ignore the question – Who we are dealing with ?  Like most of the answers, the answer is ‘It Depends …’. :).

Thanks. :).

One ‘IDE’ to ‘Code’ them All !

     If you are a Programmer or been into programming then Microsoft’s Visual Studio needs no introduction.  For new comers, Visual Studio is an Integrated Development Environment for programming by Microsoft Corporation.  In general, an IDE is a application which provides the programmer with features such as Code Editor, Debugger and build automation tools.  I have used many IDE’s but personally I have felt that the Visual Studio is the best in both in its Features and in its Usability.  I’ll explain why in this blog post.

The following are some of the best features of Visual Studio IDE as far I have explored the application :

a. Customisability :

     – Like Maya and Unity, the interface customization features are all there in Visual Studio with some cool additional features.

b. Intellisense :

     – IntelliSense feature of Visual Studio allows user to auto-completing code parts by suggesting Classes, Methods, Functions or the Variables used by the User.  This is a very handy feature and the most important feature which makes Visual Studio, an outstanding IDE.

c. Extensibility :

     – If a Developer does need an additional feature which is not in Visual Studio, he can code the additional feature using Visual Studio and add it to the application like a Plug-In or an Extension.  Is not that ‘Cool’ ? :).  I have even seen a team come up with an extension for integrating Python programming language as an extension into Visual Studio with all the Intellisense features.

d. Auto-Formatting :

     – Everytime you type a word in the code editor it gets auto formatted by the editor, so that the developer can just concentrate on the logic rather than formatting the code lines that he had typed.

e. Other Features :

     – Apart from the above mentioned features, Visual Studio has additional feature sets which makes it a well rounded application.  Those features are Build Automation (creation of Setup Wizards), Unit Testing Features (Testing Code Quality), Debugging, Profiling and Mobile Application Development etc.,

   Though, I cannot talk about all the features of the largest IDE in the world, I covered most of the important features of them.  Kindly mention your thoughts about this post in the comments section.  Thanks. :).

Image Courtesy :
http://pinpoint.microsoft.com/en-gb/applications/text-sharp-extension-for-microsoft-visual-studio-2010-12884929811
http://www.latestdigitals.com/2012/02/24/microsoft-visual-studio-11-to-incorporate-new-tools/