Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Every once in a while there is a song, book, or movie that inspires you adjust the course of your life. For example, when I first heard The Only for Me by Brian McKnight in college I was inspired to start a band which played jazzy soul music in coffee shops for a few years.
Edward Tufte book are like for me too. And, I'm not the only one. In fact, the Tufte followers are ever bit the cult that Mac users are. My introduction to the information graphics world of Edward Tufte was The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. This book helped me realize what I want to do with my career, which is distill complex information into simple, clear, and beautiful visual presentations. The book itself is beautiful which is, of course, a prerequisite for any book on graphics (never learn design from an ugly book). Tufte has a manner of writing that comes across like a grumpy preacher with a sharp wit and dry humor. The main point of his sermon is creating information graphics with more information and less decoration.
This book is aimed at graphic designers, but like any really great book, you can learn from it even if you are not the target audience. Basically, if you have ever created an Excel chart, if you ever plan to, or if you hire people to do so, you should read this book. Check it out and join the cult of Tufte.
By the way, the discussions on the Edward Tufte website are great too.
Friday, July 22, 2005
Speaking of brand… I noticed this Business Week report that Apple’s brand equity has risen 16%. What is interesting are the words they use to describe Apple: outpacing, breakthrough, iconic, innovation. I would add “cool” and “design conscious” to the list, but it pretty well sums up Apple’s brand.
I wanted to blog some of the marketing choices we have made to help build a brand of historic innovation, craftsmanship, and simplicity. First, is our name, “Bee Documents.” I wanted to find a name that was easy to say and was based on a real word. I like the "brand" that bees have going for them: busy, engineers, fond of flowers, and aggressive. It seemed like the potential was there to create a logo that would instantly make sense, like Apple’s logo which is very easy to remember.
Speaking of logos, I designed an ugly draft of the logo and then gave it to a designer who tweaked the spacing and made it look nice. It was a priority to have a logo that could be displayed in one color and would be readable at very small sizes. I’m very happy with it, though it may evolve slightly to reflect a more timeless look. It would be nice to have a logo that looks like it could have been used 50-100 years ago.
All our printed materials are on thick 100% cotton papers and use the Adobe Garamond typeface which is beautiful and historic. Every business letter, contract, and quote uses the same font, in the same size, with the same margins and spacing. We always use Adobe InDesign as a word processor as it does the right thing with OpenType fonts (Word and Pages do not). I’m thinking of printing my next round of letterhead, business cards, and blog cards with a letterpress (in black and white) to push the craftsmanship feeling even further. My wife and I sent out baby announcements a few months ago that were letterpressed from metal type onto thick cotton paper from the oldest paper factory in Italy and they turned out very nice. I’d love that kind of look for our marketing materials. The unfortunate thing is that the look is hard to translate into a web site. Maybe someday I’ll find an innovative graphic design artist that can build a web site look that better compliments the older print techniques. I like our web site now, but it would be better if it could more tightly integrate with our print branding.
The last thing I wanted to mention is personal branding. As a very small company, the people have as much or more brand value than the company itself. This is something that I realized a few months ago and started making more of an effort to brand myself. The blog is part of this, participating in user groups is part, and writing articles for other site/publishers is part. Think about Apple, or Microsoft, or Amazon. These companies have very public leaders who are an integral part of their companies brand (for better or for worse). I have come to accept that being a founder means developing a personal brand and reputation that contributed to the company brand.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
When say "brand" I mean of the perceived character of a company. Brand is the adjective word that customers and potential customers would use to describe your company. Shaping a brand is a combination of actual company culture and marketing so that people will connect with that culture. Hopefully the reality and the marketing are in sync or you are just one of those companies that manipulates customers rather than serves them.
I thought about branding very early on in planning Bee Documents. I knew that I wanted to build software for attorneys to manage complex information such as document archives. However, I'm a reluctant geek. I like software because I can take an idea from concept to finished product by myself in a short amount of time, but there is a lot of romantic qualities to the real world which just don't come across in electronics and software. For example, I love the smell of old books and the look of letterpress printing. I'm inspired by designs found in nature and have a strong dislike for clutter and cables.
I wanted a culture that valued both nature and historic forms of managing information rather than high-tech (even though we are using cutting edge technologies). I want the inspiration for our innovations to be people like Melvil Dewey, rather than Bill Gates. After all, I see myself as an artist in the creative sense (I chose to major in Music instead of Computer Science in school). It just so happens that my art is business tools instead of paintings.
The words I want people to associate with Bee Documents are words like: precise, logical, craftmanship, grounded, relatable, intuitive, and natural. The kinds of products I create should be the ones where people say, "Of course, I can't believe that didn't exist before!" We'll use the latest and most cutting edge technologies to build those products, but the customers should not have to worry about that side at all. Unfortunately, it is much more difficult to build high-tech products that are simple and intuitive as opposed to high-tech products that look and feel high-tech. But, since many companies fail in this area, it provides on opportunity for differentiation.
This blog is getting long enough, so I will continue in the next blog and describe how our brand goals affect our marketing materials and graphic design.
Before I sign off today, I wanted to provide a link to a great article on branding a law firm. I think is a great article and would have useful information for anyone branding a service based firm.
Monday, July 18, 2005
I now have over 170 pages of content that I have written for the Bee Documents' website! For the past week I have been working on reorganizing the way the pages are stored on the server.
Previously, all the HTML files were in one folder with the graphics in another folder. The advantage of this approach is that all the URLs are simple. For example:
However, with such a large amount of pages, it is hard to tell which graphic goes with which page and it is easy to get lost in the growing directory. Now, I am changing the organization to a hierarchical structure will make it easier for me to maintain.
The second, and more important advantage is that I hope to increase my rankings in Google search results. for over a year, I have been closely monitoring my web traffic and search rankings on certain keywords like "timeline software." I am getting pretty good at achieving page one results for the words that are most important to me and most of my new business comes for people finding me on the search engines. Having keywords in the URL can be a factor in the ranking and I want every possible advantage. For example, my new timeline URL will be (notice the word 'software' in the URL):
It is not an easy matter to rearange the entire site as it breaks all the internal links on all the pages. However, I am about 80% of the way done and will test the new site on my test server before making it live next week. I will also need to create redirect pages for all the old URLs since I don't want to break the links for external blogs and articles who are linking to my pages. It is a painful process but I figure that it is better to do it now rather than wait until I have 500 pages on my site!
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Parallel timelines are a powerful tool for comparing historical events in different categories (for example, art and literature). They can also be used to compare witness testimonies in the courtroom.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
I’ve been working on the Windows version of Bee Docs Timeline this week. Here is the current screenshot. Click it for a full size version:
First, I created a custom timeline control that handles a background color, adjustable foundation, and draws a text string. Then, I hooked up the toolbar buttons so that the font, font color, background color, foundation shading, and foundation height can all be adjusted. I also hooked up the zoom buttons so that the timeline can be zoomed. I also wrote some code that finds a nice starting location for the options window when it is opened.
Then, I went down the File menu and added functionality to each item. The software can now perform: New File, Open, Save, Save As, Print, Print Preview, Export Timeline (as PNG or TIFF graphic), Exit. I also added functionality for displaying the document name in the title bar and tracking whether or not a document is “dirty” so that I can display appropriate warnings when the application is exited.
Next, I am going to work on undo / redo functionality and add the ability to set the timeline size based on the print setup options.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Today, I recorded an iTunes enhanced podcast of the article which you can listen to by subscribing to my podcast feed in iTunes. To subscribe, search for "Bee Documents" in the iTunes podcast directory or click the purple iTunes button in the right column of this page.
By the way, the very cool music on today's podcast is by Danny Songhurst.
Monday, July 11, 2005
I started recording podcast versions of this blog last month for people who are on the go and would rather listen than read. All of my audio blog recordings are "iTunes enhanced" so that the relevant graphics and links are displayed as I talk about them.
I submitted my podcast to Apple the day that iTunes 4.9 was released and they have finally added me to their directory. If you have iTunes, you can check it out by clicking here. Let me know what you think.
Friday, July 08, 2005
This week, I mapped out all the purchases of Bee Docs Timeline over the past two months. It is really interesting to see the distribution of users all over the world!
I am located in Washington State in the USA, but there is certainly no concentration of users in this area (the purchase from Washington was my own). It appears that as far as developing and selling software, it doesn’t really matter where I am as long as I have my computer and an internet connection. This is exciting, as I have a dream of being able to live in different countries for a few months at a time to experience life from new angles. It seems like the business that I have created may allow me to do that. I can also have employees that are anywhere in the world too. Of course, there are probably complex legal ramifications to running a multi-national corporation, but it is an interesting possibility to think about.
It is also interesting (especially in light of the Live 8 concerts) to notice that there are entire continents where not one person has bought my software. Language has something to do with this as Timeline is only available in English for now, but economics and access to technology must be a big factor too.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
Many of the songs from this week’s Live 8 concerts are available as Quicktime videos from AOL.
I was checking them out but I don’t like to wait forever for a video to download only to have it go away when I close my browser. So, I figured out how to download the videos with the Automator application from Mac OS X Tiger. I thought I would pass this along as a tip and as an example of the cool things you can do with Automator.
Here’s the steps to take (if you are on Mac OS X 10.4)
Navigate your web browser to the AOL Live 8 video web site
Click the play button next to the song you would like.
A new window will open for the video.
When the video window has loaded all the text (you don’t have to wait for the video to load), view the source code for the web site. In Safari, you do this by selecting “View Source” in the “View” menu.
Find the URL to the Quicktime movie file. This file will end with “.mov” so you can search for “.mov” in order to find it. Click the screenshot for a bigger view and you will see what this looks like.
Paste the URL in a text editor to save it for the next step. Go ahead and grab some other movie URLs if you want more songs.
Launch the Automator application. Click the Safari Library in the left column. Find the “Get Specified URLs” and “Download URLs” actions and drag them to your workflow in that order.
Create a URL in the “Get Specified URLs” action for each one of the movie URLs that you copied from the AOL source.
Select a download location in the “Download URLs” action and click the Run button.
That’s it! Go have lunch or read a book while the movies download. After they are finished downloading, you can watch them at your leisure with the Quicktime player or iTunes and you can save them wherever you want on your hard drive.
Here is a link to a blog entry by Grant D. Griffiths, who is a lawyer working out of his basement. In this particular entry, he writes about his “paperless” setup. I love hearing about other people’s office setups, and what technology works in the real world and what doesn’t. Thanks Grant.
I’ve considered creating some software that helps people with scanned images, code, sort, and organize the documents on their hard drive. Imagine iTunes or iPhoto for documents with a Bee Docs’ twist. In fact, we’ve got most of that functionality in our Bee Docs’ Discover web repository, but it would fun to create a Mac application for that purpose. I’m not sure how big the market would be for such a product… I wish there was an easy way to find out how many Mac users are going for a “paperless” office like Grant describes.
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
I don’t know if any of you obsess about details like this, but it is really important to me that all my computers are tweaked to optimize efficiency. I am not only talking about having fast processors and lots of memory, I mean adjusting the settings so that I can work with minimum distractions and maximum comfort. One of the most noticeable graphics settings on any computer is the desktop background that you choose.
You know, the blue swoop of the Mac or the grassy hill of Windows XP are just not going to cut it. While I like having pictures of my vacations and family on my wall, I find photos to be very distracting behind my work. What I want is the ultimate computer desktop picture.
Let me describe to you the criteria for my perfect background picture.
First, it has to be grey. Any other color would clash with some of the content I work with. Grey is the perfect background color for any graphics including web sites, icons, and photos.
It can’t be distracting. I need to pay attention to my work, therefore, I need a background that fades into the background. For this reason, I clean all my files and shortcuts off my computer’s desktop at the end of every day.
Consistent! I regularly work on three different computers: an Apple PowerMac with 20” monitor which is my main workstation, my Apple PowerBook laptop, and my HP Windows XP machine for Windows software development. It is important to me that all three machines look and work as similar as possible, including the same background image. This not only looks nice but helps me to minimize changes to my work style as I move between machines and operating systems.
Look cool. It just doesn’t look cool to have a solid color (grey of course) in the background. I like to have a little texture. I also wanted to put my logo on the screen in a way that doesn’t look distracting, but is nice if I am giving a demo or have one of my computers at a trade-show display.
Here is the best desktop background that I have come up with so far. I created it in Photoshop using various noise, coloration, and blur filters:
I like the subtle fur look and it meets all my criteria. If you would like to download the high resolution version click here (1680 X 1050 - 920kb). It looks best if you center it on your screen with no scaling. Also, if you have multiple computers, the image will look the most consistent if you have scaling turned off.
Let me know if you like it.
Friday, July 01, 2005
This week, I have been working on a Windows version of Bee Docs Timeline. Today I laid out most of the user interface elements and created toolbar icons that are appropriate for Windows. This is the instant gratification part of programming as you can get something that looks like a fairly complete program with a day or two of work. Here is a screenshot of the user interface so far:
For the sake of comparison, here is the Mac version. They are pretty similar except for the toolbar icons and option drawer. You can click on either screenshot for a larger version. By the way, the toolbar icons for the Mac version of Bee Docs’ Timeline are courtesy of Seattle’s Mac hero, Mike Matas.
I’m predicting that most of my code for drawing the timelines will be fairly easy to port to Windows. After all drawing a line from point A to point B is a pretty similar operation on any platform. Therefor, I am going to save that part to the end. Next, I am going to work on printing, page size control, saving and loading data, etc… After all that is working, I will write the code to actually draw the timelines.