Like most, I learn a lot more by doing things wrong before doing them right. Maybe, I can save someone some of my learning pain, I mean curve!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

iSketchnote - a new toy!

Well its a rainy Saturday down here in Houston. So, I decided to pull out a new toy that was delivered yesterday - an iSketchnote.  I signed up on KickStarter for iSketchNote some while back and honestly had forgotten about it.  As with many KickStarter projects, they were a little behind their timeline.  iSketchnote is a digitizer table that comes with a set of ball point pens.  You place a normal sheet of paper on top of it, write/draw/sketch on it with their pens, and voila it becomes digital.  Their software can export your creation as a finished producing using PNG or SVG files, or you can export as a short MP4 to allow someone to see what you creation come to life.  The digitizer can also catch this and save it to a micro-SD card when you are not connected to your iPad, PC or Mac.

I've only been playing with it for an hour so far, but I like what I see.  I am an engineer by trade and like to sketch my thoughts out on paper as part of my creative (err yes, engineers are creative :) process.  Often, I then scan them to digitally memorialize them.  In theory, iSketchnote can save me a step by digitizing in real time - or at least I think that is what I thought when I originally signed up!

The software, apparently still in its early phases, is pretty simple - probably primitive if you are a graphics designer.  But, the software is more than sufficient to do what I need with my one or two color pen sketches of concepts and notes.  However, it is apparent to me that the designers of the software spent their budget on coming up with a slick graphical interface with a result similar to Miller Lite - looks great but less filling!  At least this is the way it appears on my Mac.  I have yet to test with my iPad and PC.

What is less filling?  To start with, once I captured my wonderful digital creation, I wanted to save it. So I did what most people would do, I looked for a save button on the screen - Nothing, Nada, I mean not a hint! So I fell back to the age old Mac standard, there "must" be a File option on the menu - Nope, Zilch again.  I went through the very rich menu that they had - yes both the Apple mandated - iSketchnote and Help menus.  Again, Nyet, Nein, No, not a thing.  So, I fired up new age thinking. The creators of the application purport to be cutting edge User Experience Designers.  Heres a quote from one of them "No need for bulky manual or to spend several hours to tame technology, we have worked to ensure that the technology adapts to the human, not the reverse!" So, there MUST be a easily discoverable way to save my marvelous creation. Quel fromage?

As will most western users of a computer, I start in the upper left hand corner looking at each and every graphical element.  I see pen controls, controls to connect to the slate, the drawing canvas ... and finally, I get to the lower right hand corner and see and irregular orange pentagon, maybe a tab of some sort, with an arrow pointing up and left.  I move my mouse over it, no pop up, no hint. To be fair there are no Mouse Over event balloons on any of the other controls.  This control much more mysterious because I have no idea what it does.  So I click on it. Voila!  I see "Export sketch" and click on it.  A dialog pops up to let me choose my export format PNG, SVG and MP4.  I happily select PNG, choose my resolution and click OK.  D'accord, C'est magnifigue. Mis, où est mon PNG?

To make a longer story shorter, I searched on their support web site and found a note posted just yesterday telling me to look in the "Images" folder.  Since I use English as my primary language on my Mac, I do not have a default Images folder.  I have a Pictures folder.  Lo and behold, when I opened Pictures folder, I found my PNG with an auto-generated name on it.

In the end, I didn't have to pour over a bulky manual for hours, but I did spend about half an hour investigating the application and my filesystem to find a two sentence note that took me 15 seconds to write.  The moral here, for the modern day User Experience Designer, is to provide your user with an interface that is easy to use and discoverable.  This means, use every ounce of your creativity to make it easy for them to do something that they have not done before.  I had not used this digitizer and this software to capture input before.  It was amazing easy to do so.  But, and I do me BUT!!!  Do not make the use look for a new way to do something that they already know how to do - save their creation to a file!!

One last related moral here.  I don't know any of the truly brilliant individuals who came together to design, build and deliver this hardware/software solution.  I am guessing, that the software designers wanted to create an user experience that was as identical as possible across their three target platforms - iPad, Mac and Windows.  This is a noble goal that I have see repeatedly in hundreds if not thousands of examples of failed software solutions over the last 30 years.  Successful software, uses standard platform features, yes I mean "conforms", unless there is a very good reason not to do so.  Hubris, "my way is best" is not a reason.

As an example, I personally do not like the standard File Save dialog on the Mac.  It is pretty much the same dialog from 20+ years ago.  In Windows, the functionally equivalent dialog has evolved many times over the last 20+ years.  Additionally, it can be extended by developers!  However, I know that every application on a Mac will use this same File Save dialog box and that I can access this in a Mac application either by clicking on a Save (aka Export) control in the app - usually located proximate to the upper left of the screen - or by selecting File Save from a menu.  So, don't give me your new better way when the old way works and I know how to use it.

And one last point - yes I know I have used last one time before in this blog :) - Take advantage of discoverability features that exists on some platforms but not on others.  Since the iPad lacks a pointer, it does not provide a Mouse Over event.  However, the Mouse Over event exists in both Windows and Mac.  Use it!!

That's enough for now.  I know it has been several years - 4 to be exact, since I last type a message here.  I guess that was my last rainy Saturday.  I will try to make it shorter next time!



PS:  Why do I need to set a resolution on an SVG?  Doesn't the "S" stand for Scalable? :)


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About Me

Houston, Texas, United States
Geek, sometimes its biting the head off of a chicken, sometimes its getting hit in the head while working on something :)