Saturday, November 8, 2014

Real World Review - Lowepro Slingshot 202AW





I really enjoy the Lowerpro line of camera bags. I have this one and its bigger brother. Both work beautifully. They're flexible and well designed.   Definitely a 'must-have' for photographers and videographers who want to go light but carry a lot of gear...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Stop the Unreadable UI Insanity!!!

I've long been a real proponent of readable, functional and easy on the eyes user interfaces. Heck, I spent a large part of my life as a UI designer in the IT world and also as a VP running IT departments that did a lot of development.

Those who know me understand my eyes aren't the best out there, but I'm not blind and can see pretty well except at night... So this is not a gripe about catering to disabilities. But this is a gripe about ridiculously designed UI that are hard to read, tiring and eye damaging (yes, eye strain can damage the eyes with prolonged use).

Years ago my biggest complaint in elearning tools was Adobe Captivate. Version 5 and 5.5 were this side of unreadable. It was plain awful to work on for 8 or more hours a day. Eye-strain was a given and not just for me, but for our staff of 20-50 year olds. They all complained of eye-strain, headaches and tiredness after a full day of development.  And they all had 20/20 vision!!!

Adobe finally capitulated and version 6 had more contrast and became 'usable'. Versions 7 and 8 mostly followed suite and it's not that hard to work on Captivate for long periods now.

Articulate started the trend of making the UI look like Office (first 2010 and now 2013). Lectora also thinned the fonts and grayed things up a bit. Not terrible but could be better.

Microsoft, particularly with Office 2013, has one of the worst UI color schemes around with almost no useful contrast. Things are plain hard to read for many. One of our younger graphic artists gets headaches working with PowerPoint, Articulate and others due to the low contrast (she has 20/20 vision). With all the billions that Microsoft has they came up with a lame color scheme for the Office products with no thought as to how functional or not people would be using them. My theory is that people use them, complain but don't complain loudly enough... I wonder how many lens prescriptions Microsoft is responsible for?

We recently upgraded to the new Articulate Storyline 2 and it's pretty cool! Great new functionality, improved workflows and overall a good release. We love working with Storyline. BUT, we hate (read that with extreme prejudice) the new UI. It is hard to read, no contrast and unfunctional for long (or even short periods) of time.

Here is Microsoft PowerPoint 2010:




Articulate Storyline 1



Articulate Storyline 2



PowerPoint sets the trend for awful UI design (I still don't think the ribbon menus are all that effective).

Articulate Storyline 1, while not great, was a tad better than PowerPoint.

Articulate Storyline 2, is much worse than Storyline 1 and surpasses PowerPoint in unreadability. 

If you know anything about photography, you know that auto-focus lenses use contrast to determine difference between objects. If you have very gray scenes, as in some fog or dusk, the cameras have a much harder time grabbing focus as contrast is very low. Cameras were patterned after the way our eyes also focus. While our eyes are a bit more flexible in lighting conditions than cameras, our eyes also require contrast or they will take much longer to acquire focus.

In our eyes, contrast and focus is acquired by squinting, or using the many tiny muscles around the eyes to try to make an unreadable image sharper. Many tests have been done to film people as they struggle with very bright screens, light interfaces, a lot of gray, etc.  Invariably, the eyes squint a lot more and the muscles around the eyes get tired. The lack of blinking that occurs while people focus continually on light screens  dries the eyes and causes other issues. 

In essence, no contrast UI is simply bad for the eyes whether you can read them well or not. Some of the people in our office can read them without a problem but when asked to pay attention to their eyes they realize they're squinting a bit or their eyes are getting dryer faster.

Solution?

Really quite simple. Use thicker, darker fonts. That's it!!! How hard is that???

But in our form before function world that seems almost impossible.

What reads better to you?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

UI Prototyping Tools

One of the most important elements of software development is a good user interface or UI. While the adding, editing, processing, reporting and deleting of data is foundational, a good GUI can make the difference between a successful and a failed UX (user experience).

All good software starts with a good UI design. And in the world of mobile apps that is even more crucial than ever before. Ease of access, readability, functionality, colors, etc. all contribute to an app's appeal and usefulness.

One way to get started quickly in the app design process is by prototyping.

1. Fluid - a web-based prototyping tool  that's fast and easy.
https://www.fluidui.com/

2. Concept.ly - a web-based tool which allows for collaboration and feedback. Currently free. http://www.concept.ly

3.Pidoco - rapid prototyping tool: https://pidoco.com/en/lp/paper-prototyping?piwik_campaign=en_P61_paper-prototyping&piwik_kwd=paper%20prototyping

4. Hot Gloo - free wireframe prototype tool: http://www.hotgloo.com/

5. Mockflow - super easy wireframing mock-ups: http://www.mockflow.com/

6. Keynotopia - PowerPoint-based templates & graphics for mobile UI development: http://keynotopia.com/

Happy prototyping!!!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Giving is a Global Thing...

I've always believed in giving without expecting anything in return. It just makes sense and a random act of kindness can often reap enormous rewards in business or simply for your soul and well-being.

My friend, Yury Uskov, CEO of iSpring, did something recently which touched my heart, brought tears to my eyes and showed me, without words, what a caring and kind man he was. Not only that, generous too. He would be embarrassed by this blog because he's a humble man, but some things should be shared.

In this season of giving and Christmas, his action reminds me of what giving is all about.

I worked the iSpring booth as a guest the past DevLearn 2013 show in Vegas, One of the people in the booth is a young and brilliant man named Brian. Brian suffers from ADHD but it does not impair him, on the contrary, it helps him be quite brilliant. But many people don't understand brilliance and passion so he feels alone sometimes.

As Brian and I talked during dinner at the show it became apparent that his intelligence and energy level needed an outlet. We talked about many things but one thing came up and it was music, and how much he used to love drumming. Being an ex-drummer myself (a bad one I might add), I understood where he was coming from. Brian felt music was a great thing for him and how he missed it. Dinner ended and that was that.

I sent a note to Yury afterwards and mentioned what a great time we had at the show and how Brian and I had chatted for a long time. I said, quite in passing, if you ever want to give Brian a good gift, get him an electronic drum set. I also sent a link to one from Alesis that I plan on buying as well. The link was so that Yury could see what I was talking about not knowing if Yury was a musician or not.

A very short time later I got a note from Yury that Brian was to receive a special gift in a few days... a drum kit! Not only a drum kit, but the expensive one I had mentioned. I teared up. It was a selfless act and I can imagine the smile on Yury's face as he hit the Amazon "Place order" button.

Brian was also very touched by this act.

Yury is a generous man but I don't think he thought twice about it. His comment to me was that it was a good holiday in Russia and giving was a good thing and brought good luck too.

Giving is the simple act of sharing and empowering someone. For that, Yury, I thank, commend and respect you. Well done!

Give something to someone or group that needs help this Christmas season. It's a good thing to do...

Happy holidays!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

SO... So... So.... So WHAT?

There are many linguists who say that language evolves with time. The language we speak today will be different 100 years from now.

One thing they really don't talk much about is the entropy of language. Modern English, for example, seems to be in full entropy vs 'evolution'.

I'm not talking as much about the written language as I am the spoken one. Written language changes more slowly while the oral language quickly evoles, or devolves, based on trends, fads, common vernacular, etc. But, beware, as people become more illiterate, the verbal language will more quickly infiltrate the written one...

I was watching several video podcasts and some news interviews today. One thing was sadly noticeable and, after a while, completely annoying. What was it?

So, I was watching podcasts so I learned some things. So what was I watching? So they were all about technology. So they were pretty cool. So, the news interviews were, so, revealing so I really understood what they were saying. So it was great today!

What word do you see at the beginning of every sentence in the paragraph above?  If you guessed, "so", you'd be so correct!

I'm not sure when this trend started but it is almost more annoying than 'like' every other word... Why do we have to use 'So' all the time? We don't and it shows a lack of vocabulary, sentence structure and verbal communications skills. It is a verbal crutch, a filler word used incorrectly all the time.

Do you use 'so' before every sentence you utter? If so, STOP!!!

It wouldn't be as bad if only illiterate people used it. Oh no, while illiterate people far overwhelm literate ones, 'so' is used equally by the college graduates (including PhD and Doctors). It is used by lawyers, podcasters, and just about anyone that says anything verbally.

Verbal crutches are a real problem in spoken as well as written language.  I have seen a lot of instructional design storyboards making extraordinary use of verbal crutches. Some of these include over-use of:

Now let's...
Basically...
And now...
So...
Like... or ...like...
Press Next to continue (on every single page!)

and there are more of these... But this is a good start.

Typos are another issue (of which I suffer from on occasion... But that's another topic.

Please pay attention to the verbal crutches. They will say a lot about you to others and it may not be what you think...j

And, make it a point to avoid using, 'so'...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Best eLearning Tool is... is... hmm?

Since I started down the road of eLearning development back when the "e" in eLearning meant "electricity", the time honored question has been, "Which is the 'best' authoring tool?"

Well, times have changed and tools have come and gone. Each year we can say that the best authoring tool is...

WAIT!!!

We're asking the wrong question! In fact, we're answering a question that can never really be answered to anyone's delight.  The authoring tool shoot-out can get as crazy as a religious or political debate. It often simply becomes a discussion about preferences, fanatical loyalists or arcane feature sets.

Can anyone really answer the question of what makes an authoring tool the best one? Or for that matter, what constitutes a 'good' authoring tool. I suspect we'll have as many opinions as there are users (except for loyalists to whatever tools which are often blinded by their own loyalty and need to belong to something/anything).

That being said, we have tons of blogs and awards given to the "best" authoring tools all the time.  But, does this have any value? More often than not these awards are based on popularity or hype versus any scientific method.

In fact, you cannot scientifically ever say which tool the best one is. Why? Well, there is one variable that can never be controlled or made constant: the author/developer.  You will never find two authors knowledgeable in two tools with exactly the same skill set, same problem resolution abilities or same  level of dedication to any specific tool. Therefore, any attempt at rating the "best" tool is an exercise in futility and being "partisan".

Now that we know that we can never truly identify the 'best' authoring tool, let's look at which tool is the best for you (here's where things get tricky and the ground starts shaking and the heavens part and, ok, you get the picture...)

The best authoring tool for you is the one you curse the least at (expletives deleted).

Now that was simple, wasn't it?

All authoring tools will do things you like and things you don't like. Some do it better than others.  Some do it worse than others. What is 'it'? It, is whatever feature you think is important to your development that you've got to have. 'It' could be animations, it could be text processing, it could be layout or it could be simply that it loads quickly or doesn't blow up on you.  It, is variable and your tastes and desires will change over time. So judge 'it' carefully for 'it' is evanescent and temporal... If 'it' is great today 'it' may suck tomorrow when a better 'it' filters into your consciousness...

So when someone asks you, "Which authoring tool do you think is the best one?" The correct response is, "It depends..."

I know this post won't stop the war for long,if at all. But stop for a moment and realize that it's a non-winnable  war with many casualties along the way.Enjoy the tool you work with and strive to make it better. And do keep your eyes open for 'better' tools that may solve your needs more appropriately in the future.

What's my favorite tool? LOL, it depends!!!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

5 Great Voice-over Talent Recommendations!

Running a media and eLearning development company, www.relate.com, you can imagine we have a need for voice-over talent... and we do!

Following are five of the best and easiest to work with voice talent artists you could ever ask for.


Jason Bishop
www.bishopvoice.com

Jason is a very talented professional voice talent with decades of experience. He reads beautifully and the way you want. He has a great recording studio and delivers on time and budget all the time. And his voice is strong, deep and engaging.



Matt Baker
www.mattspeaking.com
You've probably heard Matt's voice on numerous Discovery channel shows, commercials and more. He's a fun guy to work with, great voice, good equipment and a pro in all senses.




George Washington III
www.voevolution.com
George has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard. It's warm, pleasant, engaging and, to boot, he's darn easy to work with. He even sings beautifully! George reads well and delivers on-time and budget.




Perry Norton
www.panright.com
I love Perry. Enough said! Seriously, Perry is adorable! She has a beautiful voice and is very talented in how she uses it. From serious to cartoon, she does it all. Great gear in her studio and a wonderful reader, actor and always on-time and budget.




Linda Joy
www.lindajoyvoiceover.com
Linda is, well, WOW!!! She is so talented and easy to work with. She's also bilingual (English/German). Linda was Disney's voice in Germany for many of their movies and you'll probably catch a little of that background in her voice-over work. She reads wonderfully and is very easy to work with and the consumate professional. Don't tell Perry, but I love Linda too... :)

These are five of the best VO people in the industry and you wouldn't know it by their humility. Great talents, one and all and an asset to any project you have.  Enjoy!