Friday, August 19, 2005
We were recently approached by the folks at Exbiblio. I am going to help them build software to demonstrate their futuristic document technologies.
I can't say much more about it now (top-secret, y'know). However, I think it will be great a great partnership as both Bee Documents and Exbiblio are focussed on making documents more useful and more powerful but we are coming at it from different angles. I look forward to showing all of you what we are working on someday soon. It is pretty exciting technology.
And fear not, we will also continue to release and update our own software products such as Bee Docs' Timeline and Bee Docs' Call Out. There should be new releases for both of those products by the end of the year.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
I had a request to discuss branding of business / legal communications such as letters, proposals, contracts, nasty-grams, etc. In the past, I have done some consulting work typesetting documents for legal firms, so I'll give you a list of the first few things I always do to clean up documents. Following these steps with all the documents you send out should help you present yourself much more professionally:
Use 1 font size per document. - Do a "Select All" and choose a font and size for your document. Having different fonts and sizes makes documents look sloppy.
Eliminate double spaces. - Do a "Select All" again and perform a find and replace. You will want to replace every occurrence of two spaces with one space. Repeat until there are no more occurences. Get over your habit of putting two spaces between sentences. There should only be one space there. Look at any book or professional periodical if you don't believe me.
Minimize the use of bold. - Italics, full caps, or small caps are all better than bold for emphasis. Bold breaks up the page and looks sloppy. Whatever you do, do not use bold, italic, caps, and a larger font all at the same time. One form of emphasis at a time is enough. If you want to call attention to a larger section, try pulling in the margins for that section.
Don't Justify! - Justification is a very tricky thing to get right. You need a good tool (like Adobe InDesign) plus a lot of patience and skill, otherwise it comes out badly spaced. Microsoft Word, in particular, does a terrible job of justification. Please use normal left alignment or center alignment and your documents will be more readable. Remember, just because a feature is in your toolbar doesn't mean you should use it.
Avoid "Times" - Yes, "Times" is the default font in Word, but it really isn't a great font. Try Book Antiqua, Helvetica, Baskerville, or Palatino instead. If you are willing to invest in a new font, take a look at Adobe Garamond or Aldus, two of my all-time favorites.
Send PDFs - Don't send Word files to anyone outside your company, use PDF. There are a lot of good reasons, but here are two: 1) PDF files can not be edited, 2) They will look right even if the received doesn't have the same fonts installed on their computer.
Those few simple steps should take about 2-3 minutes on each document and will really improve the look of your documents. If you want to take things to the next level, you should read The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. It is an inspiring book and has a lot of practical (and some not so practical) advice on making type look good.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
I'm sorry for blogging less frequently in the past few weeks. One of the things that I have been doing is reading a lot. I'm definitely using my Amazon Prime membership (which gives you "free" 2-day shipping on all your orders for an annual fee). Here are some of the books I've read in the past 30 days:
The Zen of CSS Design - I'm always looking to improve my web sites. Lot's of inspiration here. I like the principles of using HTML as it was originally intended which is to give context to information while using CSS to control it's appearance.
Windows Forms Programming in C# - I finished this one a few weeks ago but have used it as a reference as I develop a windows version of my timeline software. Not the perfect book, but it is the most useful of the 6-7 C# books that I bought or borrowed. I'm frustrated by the entry level nature of all the books I've found so far. They all say things like "of course you will want to implement undo / redo functionality in your software" but they do not suggest a way of doing it. It is hello world or design theory books. I've pitched my idea for a book to fill this gap to O'Reilly Media. If I'm lucky, maybe they'll let me write it. One of my life goals is to write one of those books with an animal on the cover. Has the honey-bee been taken yet?
OpenGL Programming Guide - I've been learning how to do 3D programming for Bee Docs' Callout. This is a good reference, but it didn't really start to sink in until I looked at a lot of existing code on the net. Now that I have seen it in practice, the book is making more sense.
Mathematics for Computer Graphics Applications - I remember thinking in college Calculus, "Boy, this is more fun than times tables but when am I every going to use this." Well, 10 years later, as I am developing 3D interfaced, I now need to use it! I bought this book to brush up my math skills. I just received it in the mail a few days ago but it looks good on the initial flip through.
Tiger Development Documentation - I've been getting up to speed on the latest and greatest Mac technologies. You can download these PDF books off of Apple's website and print them out. I read the Quartz, OpenGL, Core Data, and Core Image ones over the past month. These are really well written and frequently updated. Go Apple!
Harry Potter - I also read the latest Harry Potter book. Ms Rowling is going to have to write a 2,000 page volume to get all the loose ends tied up in the final installment. I think what makes these books great is the solid characters. She really seems to have captured the child / teenage mind in Harry, Ron, et al.
Stephen King, On Writing - Just finished this audiobook. Interesting to hear writing advice from one of the most popular writers of our time. I'm not a big fan, but am always interested by what Mr King is up to.
The World is Flat - Also listened to the audiobook for this one. Great conversation starter. Read or listen to the first two chapters if nothing else. Globalization is one of those things that you should have at least a high level awareness of, because it is going to affect all of us in one way or another.
Well, there you have it. Now you know why I haven't had a lot of time to blog.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Thank you to those who posted comments or send me feedback regarding the Document Presentation motion design I posted earlier this week. A few of you asked how the software will be used.
Here are the steps in a typical document presentation workflow:
You can open any PDF or standard graphic file (PNG, TIFF, JPG, GIF, etc...). Spotlight will be great for finding PDF files containing specific text.
The document will be displayed in the center of the window, or you can view in full screen mode.
When you drag a selection box around an important region, that region will zoom in similar to the quicktime files I posted in the last blog.
The zoomed call out will be smart enough to avoid overlapping or being cut off by the edge of the screen. However, you will be able to drag the call out or full page to a new location if you wish.
You will be able to reverse the callouts to view the entire page alone as it was originally displayed.
Finally, you should be able to export the call out animation as a Quicktime movie for cross-platform use with Powerpoint or Keynote.
That is how the basic workflow will go. I am also looking into providing a means to add document annotations like highlights and sketching. I would also like to add support for multiple pages / callouts but these advanced features will be a lower priority than having a very intuitive and high quality single call out functionality as this is probably what people will use 90% of the time. In fact the more advanced features may come in a second version or a "pro" version. January 1, 2006 is my goal for the first commercial release date, but that depends on how our other projects go.
Of course, none of these designs are final. In fact, the reason that I am posting them on the blog is to get customer feedback on them, so please keep up the insightful comments!
Monday, August 01, 2005
As regular readers of the blog will know, we are currently working on new document presentation software for Mac OS X. The basic idea of the software is that if you project documents on a screen during a presentation (such as a trial), then you need a good way to open documents, display them on the screen, and highlight portions of the document for discussion or comparison. When I say "a good way", I mean that it should be simple to use and the presentation should be clear and professional.
This software will use 3-D motion graphics to show a document "call out," which will direct the audience toward a specific section of the document. For example, you may want to call out the total price on a scanned receipt. This week, I have been experimenting with prototype designs of the motion graphics. The following movies show the evolution of the design. The movies require Quicktime 7 to view. Right click the movie link to download them:
Movie 1 (332 kb) - This is the traditional call out. The selection region simply zooms in. The weakness of this method is that the original page is covered up and you loose the original context of the region. It has the advantage of being nice and simple though.
Movie 2 (460 kb) - This was an attempt to fit both the call out and original page on the screen at the same time. The call out comes forward while the original page goes backwards. Notice how we are using shading to enhance the perception of depth. The weakness of this design is that there is enough going on at one time that the eye is distracted. The viewer thinks "that is cool" but is not focused on the call out.
Movie 3 (464 kb) - A very simple design (simple is good), is just to zoom the entire page so that the selected region fills the screen. The final product will probably include an option to do zooms this way.
Movie 4 (448 kb) - I recently started experimenting with a combination of the full page zoom and the call out. This example shows the entire page zooming in, then the full page goes back to the background leaving the call out front and center. I think it is a visually appealing design that is not too distracting. Unfortunately, the call out still covers the full page.
Movie 5 (676 kb) - This is my favorite so far, the full page zooms in and out leaving the call out as in Movie 4, but we are also using a horizontal tilt and non-centered call out so that the original document and call out can be seen at the same time.
Take a look at the movies and give me your feedback as a comment. If you display documents during presentations, let us know what kind of the documents, what kind of presentation, and your ideal method of performing document call out / zooming. Thanks!