Category Archives: Creative Culture

Susan Weinschenk’s 100 Things You Need to Know About People Books

Designer book cover

Three years ago, I highly rated Susan Weinschenk‘s book Neuro Web Design, which explained how to apply psychology principles to web design and build websites that are more appealing, easier to use and more memorable. Susan has written two more books that continue to apply psychology to technology and appeal to designers and presenters. Both follow a similar format: 100 Things Every ____ Needs to Know About People, with 100 ideas grounded in psychology and applicable to designers’ and presenters’ projects.

As with Neuro Web Design, both 100 Things books are well-researched. Susan has a deep knowledge of various studies and psychological findings and explains them without being too technical. The studies are also quite interesting and revealing in themselves, and I liked reading those before anything else. The book designer also did a good job building charts when needed to illustrate psychological concepts. The rest of the books’ design is colorful, incorporates useful sidebars, and provides a “takeaways” callout at the end of each section to communicate the most essential points.

Presenter book cover

Susan also does a good job connecting psychological truisms with scenarios in the design and presentation worlds. The “completeness” ratings you see on online profiles—such as a LinkedIn or Dropbox account—plays into the fact that “people are more motivated as they get closer to a goal.” “People read in a certain direction,” so be sure to stand beside your presentation so you can be the point of entry in how attendees “read” the stage. Rule 18 in the designer’s book—”People read faster with a longer line length, but prefer a shorter line length”—even explains the differences between text on a webpage and text in print, and it’s all based on recent research. These books are based on evidence and tied directly to our industries.

However, Susan doesn’t always do a good job connecting the rules specifically to the designer’s or presenter’s world and some don’t apply to our work as well as others. “People can be in a flow state” and work with focused attention, but this applies to any work—not just designers’ work. Same thing with “people can’t multitask.” I think the book for presenters is more focused on aspects of presentation than the designers’ book is focused on design. Ultimately, I think every point Susan makes is useful but some are more useful than others.

Still, both books are great material and a good value. Designers and presenters sometimes build their products by the book and don’t always think about why some approaches might work better than others. Susan’s books help you understand the “why.”

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People
100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know about People

Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.
Published by New Riders
US $34.99 for Presenters, US $29.99 for Designers
Rating: 9/10
Buy Designer and Presenter from Amazon.com

Adobe Unveils Captivate 6 with HTML5 Support

Last week, Adobe announced the release of Adobe Captivate 6, which is their application for building electronic learning projects like quizzes, tests and teaching tools. HTML5 programming, HD video capture and some PowerPoint and quiz enhancements are added in the new version.


Captivate 6 box

PRESS RELEASE

SAN JOSE, Calif. — June, 15 2012 — Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq:ADBE) today announced the immediate availability of Adobe® Captivate® 6, a significant upgrade to its industry-leading eLearning authoring software for rapidly creating a wide range of interactive eLearning and HTML5-based mobile Learning content. Designed with today’s mobile learners in mind, Captivate 6 enables eLearning developers, corporate trainers, educators and other business users to help deliver dynamic, SCORM- and AICC-compliant course content that is accessible anytime, anywhere.

“Today, learners expect engaging eLearning options on their iOS and Android devices – static presentations shrunk to fit mobile screens aren’t enough,” said Naresh Gupta, senior vice president, Print and Publishing, Adobe. “Captivate 6 gives subject matter experts and content creators the ability to deliver eLearning content to mobile devices that is as robust and interactive as the content delivered to desktops.”

Captivate 6 enhancements improve mobile access and boost learner’s engagement – top features include:

  • HTML5 Publishing with Pause and Resume Capabilities: Publish interactive HTML5 eLearning content that is accessible from both iOS and Android devices and leverage mobile presets to help ensure seamless mobile distribution. By publishing eLearning content as both SWF and HTML5, learners can begin a course on their desktop, pause and later resume on a different device.
  • HD Screencast: Quickly create HD-quality demos within the new “capture-as-a-video” workflow. Edit video and add transitions, smart shapes, audio and captions. Insert another video in a picture-in-picture format and publish it to YouTube – all within the same UI.
  • Attractive Out-of-the-Box Assets: Select from a wide range of preloaded actors and set them against customizable backdrops to give content a more personal touch. Include additional interactivity by inserting smart learning interactions, such as widgets, animated rollovers and more, with just a few clicks.
  • Enhanced PowerPoint Roundtripping: Import PowerPoint 2010 slides along with objects, animations and multimedia into eLearning projects with better fidelity conversation workflow. Easily update pre-existing PowerPoint content, which will be automatically synced via the dynamically linked import feature.
  • Enhanced Quizzing: Utilize pre-tests to assess the knowledge, skill level or training needs of individual learners. Based on results, direct learners to the appropriate section and use post-tests to gauge what resonates. Allow learners to revisit a relevant section after answering a quiz question incorrectly and, if necessary, discourage guesswork by penalizing for wrong answers.

With Captivate 6, trainers and educators can individualize eLearning modules by recording voiceovers and other sounds that automatically play back when a learner clicks on a specified object. Course designers can also ensure that eLearning content maintains a consistent look and feel using customizable, professionally designed themes. Improved LMS integration helps eLearning developers effortlessly publish content to leading learning management systems, including Moodle, Blackboard, Plateau, Saba and SumTotal.

Quotes

Dustin Tauer, vice president, Training and Development, Easel Solutions

“Many of our customers want to access eLearning content on mobile devices but getting content there has been a challenge. Now, HTML5 publishing with Captivate 6 makes it easy to extend eLearning to mobile devices without forcing the author to learn new programming code.”

Eric Fields, senior eLearning consultant, Learning and Development, Coventry Health Care Workers’ Comp Services

“Adobe Captivate 6 HD screencasting provides a seamless workflow for all my video capture and editing needs. I no longer need additional software, which means no more incompatibility breakdowns and procurement delays working with multiple software packages.”

Damien Bruyndonckx, multimedia assistant, IHECS, Haute Ecole Gallilee

“Advanced interactions and the new collection of characters in Adobe Captivate 6 streamline how I develop interactive, fun, and engaging content that humanizes eLearning, and energizes learners to improve their scores.”

Helpful Links

Pricing and Availability

Adobe Captivate 6 is immediately available through Adobe authorized resellers and the Adobe Store for an estimated street price of US$899. Captivate 5.5 and Captivate 4 users can upgrade at a discounted price of US$359 and US$539, respectively. Qualified education users can purchase Captivate 6 for US$299. For a free trial, visit www.adobe.com/go/trycaptivate.

About Adobe Systems Incorporated

Adobe is changing the world through digital experiences. For more information, visit www.adobe.com.

BOOK REVIEW: Jerod Foster’s Storytellers

Storytellers cover

There are two types of photography books: the nuts-and-bolts variety with detail on apertures, lenses and lighting setups, and the artistic variety that attempts to explain the ephemeral aspects of photography like creativity, inspiration and storytelling. Storytellers by Jerod Foster is in the second category and the book contains almost 300 pages devoted to the art of photographic storytelling.

There’s lots of beautiful photography in Storytellers and I found myself enjoying the pictures as well as the writing. The photographs are not just Jerod’s either but other photographers who are profiled and interviewed in the book. Note that Jerod and several other photographers in the book are based in Texas, so there is a noticeable emphasis on Texas photography in Storytellers.

The test with any artistic photography book is to transcend the mundane aspects of photography and describe the creative photographic process in a way that rings true. Storytellers doesn’t always pass the test—it’s a fun read and I learned some things, but some of the processes Jerod describes in the book are typical things like shot selection, composition and the use of light. These are all important topics and certainly related to storytelling, but I felt that it danced around the heart of the art of storytelling.

I studied and wrote on creativity back in my college days and I’m convinced the most illuminating writing on creativity can be applied to all creative art forms and be made to “fit” with minimal changes. Storytelling techniques apply to writing and music as well as photography. While reading Storytellers, I had a hard time applying some of its lessons to those other art forms and so the lessons appealed to photographers and not always to storytellers.

Storytellers is still a very fine book and fine art photographers will certainly enjoy it. It’s well-written and contains some very nice shots. I think the book will also help photographers understand how their craft builds stories and how to hone their storytelling craft. My main complaint is the lack of focus on storytelling and overemphasis on nuts-and-bolts photography topics that are probably covered in more detail in other books.

Storytellers
Jerod Foster
Published by New Riders
US $44.99
Rating: 8/10
Buy on Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: The Twitter Book, 2nd Edition

The Twitter Book cover

Back in 2009, Twitter was relatively new: celebrities were picking up their first million followers, businesspeople wondered how it could make money and everyone seemed to ask why anyone would care to “tweet” their mundane activities. Tim O’Reilly—the founder of the O’Reilly publishing company and a devoted Twitter user—and Sarah Milstein—an early Twitter user and speaker—wrote The Twitter Book, one of the first comprehensive books about Twitter in 2009. I reviewed the book then and thought it was “the definitive resource for Twitter users,” though I noted a book—ink on paper—could never stay current. Be sure to read my review of the first edition, if only for the dated comments about Twitter’s “arcane technology” and “a lot of people don’t actually know what [Twitter] really is.”

Late last year, Tim and Sarah published the second edition of The Twitter Book. It looks very much like the first edition: the cover image is practically the same and you’ll find images on the verso pages and text on the recto pages, exactly like before. Since the book covers topics for beginners as well as advanced users, a lot of the early chapters haven’t changed much. They are still well-written and useful to grasping the concept of Twitter and how to use its basic features. I’ve always been impressed by Tim and Sarah’s evangelism of the Twitter platform—they are passionate about its various uses and try hard to dispel the notion that it’s a niche media for tech geeks or those glued to mobile devices. This notion was more prevalent in 2009 than it is now.

My main criticism against the first edition of The Twitter Book still stands in the second edition: the book fails to catch all the great tools being created around Twitter, and can’t cover the ones created after publication. Interestingly, when the first edition was published, desktop Twitter apps like Tweetie and Twhirl were popular; today, Twitter’s own app has supplanted those and I find more growth in online analytics services (like Twittercounter) and online apps built on the API (like fllwrs.com). Neither Twittercounter nor fllwrs.com are in The Twitter Book, and more tools will be released in the future.

One suggestion from my review that Sarah Milstein actually commented on was the number of long, full URLs in The Twitter Book. Shortened URLs make perfect sense in a book like The Twitter Book, and the first edition did not take advantage of them. In the second edition, most URLs are actually still full URLs but almost all of them are not long anyway. URLs like http://business.twitter.com/ are not hard to remember or type. There are some bit.ly’d links throughout the book, such as http://bit.ly/dooce-maytag, which show that the suggestion was indeed used for the longer URLs.

The second edition of The Twitter Book is an updated resource on Twitter and most of what I send about the first edition applies to the second. I think the book has more competition from online news sources in 2012 compared to 2009, but if you want to read about Twitter and it needs to be ink on paper, pick this book up and enjoy.

The Twitter Book, Second Edition
Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein
Published by O’Reilly
US $19.99
Rating: 10/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Design By Nature Teaches The Designs Around Us

Design by Nature cover

Most designers today create their work on a computer, but the best designs seem to have a timeless quality that appears again and again. These timeless designs often have roots in nature. Our notions of space, color and juxtaposition are informed by the world we live in and what we see around us since birth. However, designers staring at a screen all day often forget this natural inspiration.

Maggie Macnab has written a revealing book, Design By Nature: Using Universal Forms and Principles in Design, that outlines the natural principles at work around us helps us apply them to design problems in our daily work. I really appreciate a book like this in the workplace because I’ve always found nature to be a rich source of inspiration in many different ways. Maggie takes very basic concepts—pattern, shape, color, juxtaposition, symbolism and many more—and illustrates them at work in our natural world and also in our human-made, designed world. It’s very intriguing and “rings true” with what I feel in my own work.

Design By Nature is well-written and is structured appropriately—I never felt lost or thought I needed to jump ahead to get a critical concept. There are also some small “Putting It Into Practice” exercises sprinkled throughout the book that aren’t too difficult or require technical skills but make you think about your process and get in touch with the designs inherent in nature.

I also enjoyed the guest designer sections that focused on a designer’s work. A lot of them are written by the designer and talk about their process, past clients and projects, and their thoughts on design. I wish they focused more on the “design by nature” theme because many of them read like typical manifestos on design. The best ones focus on a particular project.

I also want to point out something which bothered me while reading Design By Nature: Maggie uses a lot of her own work and her students’ work to support her principles and ideas in the book. That is okay but I would prefer to see a diverse range of designs used to support the book’s teachings, and from a variety of artists and designers. The range of work in Design By Nature is sometimes just too inclusive of the author’s own inner circle.

Despite this, I really enjoyed Design By Nature and I would recommend it for many graphic artists and designers, especially those with a fine arts or an environmental arts background. Their work is probably already based nature even if they don’t realize it, and understanding the natural process of design is vital to successful creations.

Design by Nature: Using Universal Forms and Principles in Design
Maggie Macnab
Published by New Riders
US $44.99
Rating: 9/10
Buy from Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: 344 Questions Is A Massive Self-Help Quest

344 Questions cover

There’s a small but interesting intersection in the publishing world where self-help, creativity and design meet to produce books designed to help creative people achieve more. The Artist’s Way is one such popular line of books. Another one I particularly like is It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be. Such books are often full of self-help goodness but also sometimes a bit zanier than your usual self-help offerings.

Stefan Bucher’s 344 Questions: The Creative Person’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival and Artistic Fulfillment cranks the zaniness up a notch. The book is written for people looking for a catalyst for improving their creativity, and offers questions that lead you to new insights about yourself and what makes you most creative. These are the kinds of exercises that any creative person should do now and then. Not many people actually look for self-help like this until they are feeling defeated and their creativity or business is flagging, so a book like this is always timely.

The book doesn’t have any answers, just questions in elaborate hand-drawn diagrams with lots of arrows and word bubbles. This makes the book unique. The reader has to supply the answers, and there’s many blank spaces to write in this book. Stefan expects the reader to madly mark up this book with thoughts, ambitions, questions and other notes to spark insight and ideas. It’s the kind of non-linear thinking that creative people presumably enjoy, though more analytical types of people might find it meandering.

The book’s title is 344 Questions but there are actually over 1,800 questions, which gets to my main gripe against the book: it’s overwhelming and fragmented. Consider this stream of questions:

  • How do you get through tough times?
  • Can we focus on the immediate essentials?
  • What foods make you happy?
  • What TV shows distract you?
  • What music perks you up?
  • Do you have an emergency supply of all this stuff?
  • Do you have friends who will listen to you?
  • What are their phone numbers?
  • Do you have friends you’ll listen to?
  • What are their phone numbers?
  • On a scale of one to ten, how bad is [your current difficulty]?

This is all on just a half-page. This page will seem magical if it provides you an epiphany (maybe you’ll realize you don’t trust your friends enough to listen to what they say) but if not it can be tiring. “Who cares if a professional commitment is a sacred oath?” It takes a particular individual, perhaps one in search of answers and willing to provide them with a little coaching, to appreciate this book. I recommend it for such people, and for the others I would recommend something more like The Artist’s Way, which delivers a more methodical framework for building creativity in the your work.

344 Questions: The Creative Person’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival and Artistic Fulfillment
Stefan G. Bucher
Published by New Riders
US $14.99
Rating: 8/10
Buy from Amazon.com

Pantone Announces Cloud-Based PantoneLIVE Service

Last week, Pantone and X-Rite announced the new PantoneLIVE color service, a cloud-based product designed to deliver standardized color palettes across all points of production workflows and ensure consistent color throughout. The Pantone library of colors has historically provided that kind of color consistency but changes in workflow structures, printing methods and substrates have made it difficult if not impossible to be exact every time.

The PantoneLIVE webpage currently doesn’t say a whole lot—the service doesn’t go live until June 15—but designers and pressmen will find the Heinz and Chesapeake case studies, which describe some promising results across a large workflow and multiple projects. In both cases, color matching across all their printed products was the goal. Along with the cloud service, it appears that color auditing and services beyond the cloud product are an important part of PantoneLIVE. These services are also lucrative: a color audit starts at $4,500. The price points for the cloud service are pretty good—designers can buy into PantoneLIVE for $99 per year, preproduction departments for $2,000 per year and production departments for $2,650 per year.

In its press release, Pantone is promoting partnerships with three companies integral to the PantoneLIVE service:

  • Sun Chemical, the preferred ink partner
  • Esko, the supplier for PantoneLIVE’s database systems
  • Windmöller and Hölscher, which is incorporating PantoneLIVE access into its EASY COL on-press color matching

I don’t know how effective or useful PantoneLIVE will be for a company’s existing press and inks. I think the additional services, such as customized operating procedures created by Pantone and X-Rite, might be needed to perfectly marry PantoneLIVE with existing workflows and equipment.

Press Release

Pantone and X-Rite Introduce PantoneLIVE;
Allows Brand Owners to Manage Color in the Cloud

Delivers color DNA based on real ink, on real substrates with
real printing processes for predictable, repeatable results

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., March 1, 2012 – X-Rite, Incorporated (NASDAQ: XRIT) and Pantone LLC, today unveiled PantoneLIVE™, a cloud-based color service that provides instant access to essential brand color standards. PantoneLIVE is the first service under the Pantone Digital Business Unit, a newly created division of X-Rite that is the byproduct of Pantone’s expertise as the world’s color authority and X-Rite’s color science and technology leadership.

From chocolates and champagne to soda and stilettos, the past year has been wrought with cases of counterfeiting, deception and consumer confusion – all tied to the ubiquitous colors that uniquely identify brands. Cadbury and Veuve Clicquot were involved in high-profile legal battles to own their brand colors, while Christian Louboutin fought to trademark its signature red soles. With color so critically tied to brand identity, inconsistent brand color can lead to a lack of consumer confidence and lost sales.

In a recent survey conducted by the Pantone Color Institute*, more than 70 percent of creatives noted that brand color definitions, accuracy and consistency in creating products or packaging are important to their business, while 42 percent indicated that color-related challenges have a negative impact on their company. “Nearly 50 years ago, Pantone brought consistency and a common language to an industry that lacked standardization. Historically an analog process, reliant on centuries’ old color alchemy, printing and production have advanced with technology in the digital age,” said Ron Potesky, senior vice president and general manager of Pantone. “PantoneLIVE digitizes the process, taking it from visual and subjective to consistent and repeatable – significantly reducing production timelines and improving the bottom line.”

“PantoneLIVE represents a transformational change in color management for brand owners across their entire supply chain,” explained Tom Vacchiano, president and CEO of X-Rite. “Our own Dr. Sonia Megert, whose vision for the digital supply chain led to the development of PantoneLIVE, will head the new Pantone Digital Business Unit.”

“Globally consistent color standards are essential to brand identity. With supply chains made up of hundreds of different facilities scattered around the world, corporations struggle to control and maintain color consistency,” said Dr. Megert. “PantoneLIVE is a dynamic ecosystem, open to all supply chain participants, which delivers consistent color across the entire packaging workflow – from design concept to retail store shelves.”

Brand color standards are the principal component of PantoneLIVE and are derived from real ink on real substrates using real printing processes. This allows brand owners to predict how corporate spot colors will reproduce on a wide variety of substrates including brown corrugated, clear film and white polypropylene. A brand’s color assets, analogous to a brand’s color DNA, are managed and maintained in a secure cloud-based data repository to ensure accurate color communication – to any supplier, around the world.

“The benefits of using PantoneLIVE are clear,” says Nigel Dickie, director of corporate and government affairs for Heinz (see Beanz Meanz Heinz and Knowing about Color case study). “The digital tools gave us unprecedented control and consistency from different print processes and materials. Across all of our packaging formats we saw a reduction in color variance of 50 percent and saved time by establishing one color target that can be applied to all our Heinz Beanz designs. The results with our Beanz packaging have been so remarkable that we plan to extend PantoneLIVE to additional product lines, including Heinz soups and Spaghetti Hoops.”

While accurate color is important to the brand identity of consumer packaged goods, protecting brand integrity in the pharmaceutical industry is crucial as counterfeit drugs put the health of consumers at risk. Chesapeake (see Accurate Brand Colors Help Stem Drug Counterfeiting case study), a global producer of consumer packaging for many of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, turned to PantoneLIVE to increase consistency in its customers’ packaging. When it comes to pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter medications, even the slightest variation in packaging color can make a product suspect and the brand vulnerable to counterfeiting.

On one job, for example, Chesapeake was able to reduce color variation by 84 percent and improve process controls, which led to zero rejections from the print run and 100 percent client approval. PantoneLIVE is creating another positive impact on Chesapeake’s business. The company previously stocked as many as 3,000 different inks in its Leicester, U.K. plant and now stores only 537 without reducing color choices.

PantoneLIVE is connected to a large portfolio of software, containing real-world color data for hundreds of thousands of colors, and is supported by the latest color measurement technology. This is combined with professional services including workflow and color rationalization audits, and customized operating procedures from Pantone and X-Rite. Custom and bespoke spectral data, as well as metadata, are used to digitize brand colors. Digitized palettes are then expanded to create independent color standards to allow for accurate color reproduction on a variety of substrates.

Brand color data, equivalent to a digital color swatch, is stored in a secure, cloud-based portal that lets brand owners and other approved members of the supply chain manage digital rights and facilitate color communication across all materials in the production process. This centralized color communication process promotes consistency and helps achieve speed to market efficiencies from initial design to final production. The portal also provides direction to suppliers to meet brand requirements related to color quality.

Industry Support

While users of any manufacturer’s ink will be able to take advantage of PantoneLIVE, Sun Chemical (see Sun Chemical press release) is the preferred ink partner. Esko (see Esko press release), a global supplier of integrated solutions for packaging, sign and display finishing, commercial printing and professional publishing, is also a preferred partner supporting PantoneLIVE. Both companies worked closely with Pantone and X-Rite to develop PantoneLIVE. Sun Chemical’s technology and color data are the foundations for PantoneLIVE, and this technology is integrated into Esko’s solutions.

In addition, Windmöller & Hölscher, a leading supplier of flexographic central impression and rotogravure printing presses, is recognized as the PantoneLIVE technology partner, serving the flexible packaging industry. In this unique capacity, Windmöller & Hölscher will extend the capability of their EASY COL on-press color matching solution to incorporate access to the PantoneLIVE ecosystem, thereby allowing converters to reduce press set-up times and in turn assure the quality of important brand colors on press.

Pantone and X-Rite are continuing to work with leading vendors to integrate and enhance their solutions with PantoneLIVE. This approach will offer customers real value in the color management and color communications process, while leaving much of their current investments in place.

Pricing and Availability

Access to the PantoneLIVE database starts at $99 USD (£63 GBP, €76 EUR) annually for a designer, $1,150 USD (£730 GBP, €885 EUR) annually for preproduction and from $2,000 USD (£1,275 GBP, €1,540 EUR) to $2,650 USD (£1,690 GBP, €2,040 EUR) annually for production. A color audit for a brand owner starts at $4,500 USD (£2,870 GBP, €3,460 EUR). Additional fees apply depending on services and scope required. PantoneLIVE solutions will be available June 15. For more information, please see www.pantone.com/live.

About X-Rite

X-Rite, Incorporated, is the global leader in color science and technology. The company, which now includes color industry leader Pantone, develops, manufactures, markets and supports innovative color solutions through measurement systems, software, color standards and services. X-Rite’s expertise in inspiring, selecting, measuring, formulating, communicating and matching color helps users get color right the first time and every time, which translates to better quality and reduced costs. X-Rite serves a range of industries, including printing, packaging, photography, graphic design, video, automotive, paints, plastics, textiles, dental and medical. For further information, please visit www.xrite.com.

About Pantone

Pantone LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of X-Rite, Incorporated, has been the world’s color authority for nearly 50 years, providing design professionals with products and services for the colorful exploration and expression of creativity. Always a source for color inspiration, Pantone also offers paint and designer-inspired products and services for consumers. More information is available at www.pantone.com.

REVIEW: Adobe Digital Publishing Suite

The Overlay Creator

The Overlay Creator panel is the DPS component that InDesign designers will spend most of their time in. The Overlay Creator panel, a plugin that works with InDesign CS5 and later, is the interface for adding multimedia and interaction to InDesign files for inclusion in digital publications. You can add a variety of interactive features to InDesign documents, not all of which are new to InDesign:

  • Image Sequences display multiple images, which has a variety of applications including time-lapse sequences, animated clips and 360-degree views. Image Sequences can auto-play or respond to user “scrubbing.”
  • Audio & Video insert audio and video assets into InDesign documents. Thanks to the multimedia features that have been added to InDesign in the past few years, adding audio and video is easy to do and the media controls generated by InDesign are good.
  • Hyperlink overlays will add links to your digital publications that link to online content, articles within the publication and more. Quick tip: Apple provides a method to write hyperlinks that send SMS text messages. Apple has a URL Scheme Reference that explains how to build these links.
  • Like the Image Sequence, the Slideshow overlay displays a slideshow in digital publications. Think of Slideshow as a traditional slideshow, incorporating InDesign elements including text and graphics, while Image Sequence is more of a “flip book” slideshow format with only images.
  • Pan & Zoom is one of my favorites, allowing users to pinch and expand images in digital publications. The designer has to think ahead when using Pan & Zoom and insert large images in their graphic frames. These can be scaled down to the desired default view, but the digital publication will retain the full-resolution image so it can be blown up when the user enlarges it. The DPS does not enlarge images on its own.
  • Panorama will combine multiple images into a panorama. This can be tricky because the user needs to load six photographs into InDesign with the right angle and order so it can be stitched together automatically. There are also some esoteric settings in the Overlay Creator including field of view and limit vertical pan. Reading through the instructions and a little playing around with the controls will help users grasp the Panorama overlay, and there are tutorials online for shooting images to be stitched into panoramas.
  • Web Content, which used to be called “Web View,” will embed online webpages or an HTML file within digital publications. It’s really surprising and very cool to see a webpage loaded in an InDesign publication, but it works and users can even interact with the webpage. The process is actually fairly easy to implement.

Creating interactivity with the Overlay Creator does a good job of condensing extensive interaction into a panel with a few settings, but I think Adobe’s development team can make the process more intuitive, particularly with bringing multimedia onto the page. The current InDesign has a lot of panels to sift through and the Overlay Creator adds quite a bit more chrome to the package. Keeping track of all the user interface elements involved with Overlay Creator was my biggest challenge, not bugs or a lack of interactive features.

The Folio Builder

The other component of DPS that resides in InDesign is the Folio Builder panel, where users combine articles into .folio files for publication and also finalize the document’s orientation. Working with articles and folios can be a mundane task but this part of the process is where designers can see their work on a tablet for the first time through the Content Viewer, an Adobe app available on the desktop or on the Apple App Store, Android Market, BlackBerry App World and for webOS.

Articles can be pulled from multiple documents, so you can build a horizontal and vertical version of a publication and combine it into one app in the Folio Builder. Creating two versions of a publication is not ideal, but it’s necessary if you want a publication that changes orientation properly. Adobe seems to be at least on the right track in creating “liquid layouts” in InDesign that will re-orient themselves depending on the orientation, which would be a wonderful new feature. Here’s a demo of the technology at Adobe MAX.

Adding articles and pushing folios up to the Content Viewer is most of what the Folio Builder does, but there are also some sharing features which I think is very important in a production environment. The Folio Builder panel’s menu has a Share option which will let users share a publication with other users who have an Adobe ID. You can also append a subject and message to the share notice. This is very useful but I would also like an interface in the DPS website where you can set up groups of multiple users so you can grant rights and share folios with groups of people at once. This is what I do when developing Facebook applications. Even though you can share to multiple individuals at once in Folio Builder, groups and shared rights make collaboration easier.

BOOK REVIEW: Scott Berkun’s Mindfire

I’m a fan of Scott Berkun’s books—you can read my reviews of both Confessions of a Public Speaker and The Myths of Innovation—but Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds is the first that I discovered by word of mouth rather than a press release from O’Reilly, Scott’s regular publisher. This is because Mindfire is Scott’s first self-published book, which he did because “I want to publish books in the future that no publisher in its right mind would release” and so he is learning to do it himself. I can only imagine what kind of topics Scott plans to write about!

Mindfire is a compilation of short essays from Scott’s previous online work, including his blog at ScottBerkun.com. Avid readers of Scott’s website will recognize a lot of the material. The book itself looks good: I like the cover design and the interior is clean though maybe a little large on the type size. The content is also well-written, engaging and thought-provoking. Scott covers a wide range of topics, from motivation and time management (“The Cult of Busy” is a great opening chapter) to workplace dynamics and evolving your thinking and your products in the face of change. Scott structures Mindfire around his three ultimate takeaways: motivation (“gasoline”), leveraging catalysts (“sparks”) and building long-term success (“fire”).

I enjoyed Mindfire a lot and would recommend it for many readers, but the book falls a little short when compared to his other books I’ve read. Here’s my reasons:

  • No matter how much structure Scott wraps around the book, Mindfire is still a collection of self-contained essays and they don’t share a central theme. Some artforms can get away with this (“Greatest Hits” albums are often popular) but others don’t. The television “clip show” is a prime example. Scott does the best he can but Mindfire just isn’t as cohesive as I’d like it to be.
  • One thing I enjoyed in Confessions and Myths of Innovation was Scott’s knack with using anecdotes to illustrate his points. Those anecdotes were always fun to read and enlightening. Mindfire needs the same anecdotal evidence but it’s usually nowhere to be found. I think this is because these essays were designed to be short bursts of insight perfect for blog posts.
  • The “short burst” format is sometimes too short for me. I thought the best entries in Mindfire were the long ones because they had the most detail and fully-formed concepts. In contrast, a chapter like “Book Smarts vs. Street Smarts” is not much longer than a page and concludes well before it should. I’m not against short segments in books, but only if everything is said that needs to be said. Mindfire left me wanting more sometimes.
  • Books composed of online material always have to compete against their online counterpart—in this case, Scott’s blog. I always ask if the book brings something unique to the reader besides a cover and pages, and I don’t think Mindfire does that. Scott planned to include new essays in Mindfire but eventually gave up on the idea.

Mindfire is a very fine book and would be very useful for anyone working in a creative industry—designers and developers would be ideal—or anyone in business who wants to light a fire underneath themselves. The book isn’t perfect but it’s very good and the price can’t be beat.

Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds
Scott Berkun
US $14.95
Rating: 9/10
Buy from Amazon.com

REVIEW: Adobe’s Touch Apps for Android

Last month, Adobe released its line of Adobe Touch Apps for Android tablets. Adobe has been testing the mobile and tablet software markets for some time now, first with Adobe Ideas for iOS and Photoshop Express, then the Photoshop SDK and the three Photoshop-related touch apps for iPad, then with Adobe Carousel which also runs currently on iOS, and now with six apps for creative professionals on Android tablets:

  • Adobe Collage, where users can build mood boards with images, text and graphics,
  • Adobe Debut, suitable for presenting graphics and concepts to audiences,
  • Adobe Ideas, a vector application suitable for creating and marking up images,
  • Adobe Kuler, which provides an interface for picking and refining color schemes,
  • Adobe Proto, where layouts for websites can be constructed, and
  • Adobe Photoshop Touch, a tablet-based version of Adobe Photoshop.

I’ve worked with all six and I think the suite of apps are a mixed bag: some really stand out for their usefulness and ability to leverage many tools available in the Android SDK, while others are not as helpful and robust. I can’t tell whether some of the apps are hamstrung by limitations in the APIs or were designed by Adobe to focus on a very specific set of features.

The crown jewel: Photoshop Touch

PS Touch image

Photoshop Touch is probably the Adobe Touch app being promoted the most, and it got a lot of love at the Adobe MAX developer conference in October. Many Photoshop users—including myself—have been wanting “Photoshop on a tablet,” and I think Adobe delivered. Photoshop Touch has a lot of Photoshop’s tools, effects and adjustments, including some I wasn’t expecting (such as Warp). There are a few Photoshop tools that aren’t present, including some animation tools such as the Animation panel. But Photoshop Touch stands out as the most feature-rich and robust of all Adobe’s Touch apps.

I also think Photoshop Touch has the most robust user interface, and incorporates a helpful menu bar at the top of the screen. All the Adobe Touch Apps have a top menu but most only show a few icons and don’t have submenus. Photoshop Touch needs an extensive UI like this, and even though it’s packed with features it’s not hard to use. The only criticism I can make is that some tools aren’t in the same place they are in Photoshop, and Photoshop users might find this counterintuitive. I think the Photoshop Touch development team sometimes strayed too far from the example set by Photoshop.

ps-touch

The results you can achieve with Photoshop Touch are remarkable, particularly with the Scribble Selection tool which lets you mark areas to keep and remove. The app figures out the rest with very good accuracy. This tool reminds me of Photoshop’s old Extract filter, which was removed from that product a couple years ago and still hasn’t been given a suitable replacement. Most of major features are borrowed from Photoshop—layers, brushes, text, adjustment filters and effects are all integrated into Photoshop Touch. One missing feature is the layer mask, which I think is a major oversight. Fortunately, Photoshop Touch exports its files in a new .psdx format, which Photoshop can open with a plugin, so you will be able to bring the full power of Photoshop to your Photoshop Touch projects.

PS Touch image

Photoshop Touch performs best as part of a workflow that also includes Photoshop, though you can do exceptional work without it. Creative professionals who use the Creative Suite extensively will find Photoshop Touch to be a solid extension of their Photoshop tools into the mobile space.

Impressed by Proto

The other Adobe Touch app that really impressed me is Adobe Proto, a web wireframing tool for web designers. Like Photoshop Touch, it has a robust set of tools and a UI that also includes gesture shortcuts. For example, draw a box on the canvas and an HTML div element is created. Draw a “play button” triangle and an HTML5 video element is created. The gesture UI is very easy to work with and I wish Proto was not the only Adobe Touch app that implemented it, but each app has its own development team and the Proto team happened to be the only one to weigh gestures important enough to include in the initial launch. Proto’s gesture UI makes creating website wireframes quick, easy and even fun.

Proto image

Proto projects can contain multiple pages and link between them, and there’s a lot of emphasis on basic HTML elements, form elements and navigation powered by jQuery, the ubiquitous JavaScript framework. Projects can then be pushed up to Adobe Creative Cloud—Adobe’s upcoming cloud service for creative professionals—and then brought into Dreamweaver or any other programming application. I’ve looked at the code Proto renders out and it’s fairly basic but functional, consisting of HTML5, CSS and jQuery as needed. Each page in a project gets its own CSS file, which is not usually advantageous.

Proto image

Proto is a solid wireframing app that provides a lot of tools despite its restrictions in the tablet. Developers need to apply some design work to the output and perhaps clean up some of Proto’s code, but I think Proto can provide a decent starting point for many projects.

Two new apps: Collage and Debut

Collage image

Adobe Collage is a fun tool for producing “mood boards,” which agencies and design teams sometimes use to bring images and text together to communicate a concept for development. Collage leverages the tablet interface very well, including support for multi-touch gestures that brings a tactile behavior to the mood board experience. Moving items around with your fingers is different than using a mouse and a monitor. Collage also interfaces with the tablet’s camera so you can take pictures of your environment and make it part of your mood boards instantly. There’s a small set of tools as well for markup, including a vector brush, text tool and a drop-down menu for duplicating, deleting and stacking elements. You can also include playable video into your mood boards, but they play in a new window and not on the project board itself.

Collage image

Unfortunately, there are not many more features in Collage and I find it to be lacking a few features. Why not include a microphone or allow importing video from the tablet camera? Both of these could really bump up the personal experience of creating projects in Collage. Also, Collage files are currently imported into Photoshop by converting them into a PSD file that can’t be converted back into a Collage file. The converted PSD doesn’t retain video elements either. I think there’s a few kinks to work out in the Adobe Touch Apps/Creative Suite import/export process.

Debut image

Adobe Debut is the least powerful and weakest member of the Adobe Touch Apps family. Debut is a presentation tool that imports graphics and images from various sources and lets users swipe through them. It’s the kind of feature that can be handy in a client meeting or a portfolio presentation. Debut’s best feature is the breadth of sources it can pull images from, including from the tablet’s camera, the Creative Cloud, Google and Flickr. The Creative Cloud gives access to users’ Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator files, which is a real plus for creative professionals. You can also toggle Photoshop file layers on or off when importing. A vector markup tool allows Debut presentations to be marked up on the fly, which can be handy in client meetings.

Debut image 1

However, the fact that I’ve just described the extent of Debut’s functionality goes to show how little it can really do. Collage can do pretty much anything Debut can do except present multiple slides, which is what makes me think Adobe should combine these two apps into a more powerful mood board creation and presentation app for client experiences.

HP’s EliteBook 8460w Still Durable and Tough, Inside and Out

Last year I reviewed the HP EliteBook 8540w, which for me really showed how technology design could go in a different direction than Apple’s spare, minimalist approach. I’ve been a Mac user for years and the EliteBook showed me how some users need tough, sturdy hardware—which designers seem to avoid sometimes in favor of the elegant.

Many changes have happened this year in the computer hardware industry as tablets continue to affect the form factor of our computers. Laptops are becoming smaller and sleeker, and Apple is rumored to be applying the slim MacBook Air form to the MacBook Pro line. Other PC manufacturers like Dell and Asus have responded with similarly thin laptops. HP might do the same, but for now their current EliteBook 8460w remains a thick and durable piece of hardware.

The system configuration is powerful enough: 4GB of RAM, a 300GB hard drive and a 14-inch 1600×900 display all make the EliteBook 8460w a capable machine even for Photoshop work, though an extensive video project probably needs more screen area and more memory. As with the previous iteration, the EliteBook 8460w has plenty of ports and inputs including a fingerprint reader and four USB ports. I’ve never needed more than three USB ports when traveling so I tend to think all of the EliteBook’s ports are overkill, but other users may have several devices to connect and no USB hub to make things easier.

HP touts the EliteBook’s durable design, which still meets the MIL-STD 810G military standards for resisting various environmental effects such as drops, dust, temperatures and shocks. Not a lot of changed from last year’s EliteBook design but I am glad to see the difficult touch buttons at the top of the keyboard have been replaced by physical buttons. The brushed gunmetal case looks striking and stands out among Apple’s silver laptops and the plain plastic cases I see on other PC laptops. The EliteBook 8460w just looks like a machine that’s ready for work.

According to HP, the standard battery in the EliteBook 8460w lasts up to six hours and 30 minutes. I get different readings on the actual machine: at one point it said it was at 60% but had over six hours of life remaining. That makes it sound like the battery can hold 10 hours of power, which would be excellent, and it is corroborated by this user. However, I’ve only put this EliteBook through light to moderate testing, and haven’t tried to tax the system. Working with graphics or video will use more battery life. But it looks like the EliteBook 8460w’s battery performs very well—better than my MacBook Pro’s.

The EliteBook’s chunky design and moderate weight (almost five pounds) make me wonder how it will stand up next to the crop of sleek laptops hitting the market. I mentioned how the industry is moving toward smaller and thinner laptops and also tablets. I rarely see blocky laptops like the EliteBook 8460w at developer conferences and in designers’ cubicles, so where does the EliteBook belong? Since it’s military-grade hardware and even dubbed a “mobile workstation,” I think the EliteBook line belongs in physically demanding locations including military installations, construction sites and jobs requiring lots of travel. The EliteBook 8460w would excel in all these situations. Designers who worship at Apple’s altar may find the EliteBook form factor practically barbaric, with its extraneous ports and blocky exterior, but the computer itself is strong enough for most design jobs and it could serve designers pretty well.

I think the EliteBook 8460w can be a designer’s workstation, but the laptop’s design might not be everyone’s favorite. I personally need a laptop that’s lightweight and thin because I’m often carrying other devices with me, and can’t carry a bulging laptop bag everywhere I go. But if I was in a line of work where durability was more important, the EliteBook line would be a strong contender.

HP EliteBook 8460w
HP
US $1,329
Rating: 9/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Andy Hertzfeld’s Revolution in the Valley

Revolutions cover

Not long before Steve Jobs died in October, O’Reilly published a second printing of Andy Hertzfeld’s Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How The Mac Was Made. This book was first published back in 2004, and before that most of the material was (and still is) available at folklore.org, which Andy still maintains. I’ve always loved the stories at folklore.org and this book continues to be an engrossing and very vivid retelling of the events that made many of us computer users.

For those who don’t know, Andy Hertzfeld was a member of the original Macintosh team and designed the Mac’s system software. Users like me who really got to know the Mac in the early 1990s with System 7 will remember the Control Panel, Scrapbook and other built-in applications. Hertzfeld wrote many of those. In Revolution, Andy’s writing style seems effortless: descriptions are vivid, dialogue and the “storyline” seems intense all of the time, and there’s a real plot throughout the book as the initial Mac team is brought together, hangs together as they build this “insanely great” new personal computer, and eventually moves on one by one. It’s a moving story and Andy tells it very well. (I should also note several other Mac team members like Steve Capps and Bruce Horn contribute some great stories.)

I couldn’t put Revolution down for a couple weeks: the stories and characters are so engrossing that I was reading through the book even though I’ve read many of the stories already on folklore.org. I think the story of the Macintosh’s development is so rare—when a great group of characters and geniuses come together to build such an important device for our generation, the stories that come out are bound to be phenomenal. Of course, one of the greatest characters in the book is Steve Jobs himself, who comes across as a driven, egocentric genius but without the business acumen he gained after being booted out of Apple.

Unfortunately, there’s not much new material in the book that isn’t already on folklore.org. The best new takeaways are Andy’s written notes, which really illustrate the day-to-day work behind the Mac, but I wanted even more images. I’m also not a big fan of the book’s cover, which looked dated even in 2004 and even more so now in 2011.

Fans of the Macintosh, Apple, or the PC industry in general should have a copy of this book, even if they have folklore.org bookmarked on their browser. The stories have an inescapable, timeless quality that both geeks and regular people can enjoy. If you ever used a Mac from the mid-1990s or earlier, Revolution might mean even more to you.

Revolution in the Valley
Andy Hertzfeld
Published by O’Reilly
US $24.99
Rating: 9/10
Buy at Amazon

BOOK REVIEW: The Manga Guide to Relativity

For a change of pace, No Starch Press sent one of their Manga Guide books, which explain high-level fields like physics and molecular biology but in a manga comic-book format. I read The Manga Guide to Relativity by Hideo Nitta, Masafumi Yamamoto and others.

The book is unique in that it combines a university-level topic like relativity with a storytelling format like manga, which should not be considered juvenile just because it’s telling the story with pictures and word balloons. The artwork is typical manga style and it’s well-done, though I’m not a manga reader and others who are might think other artists are better.

I was really impressed how the concepts of relativity are explained with clarity. You really can learn more about a topic like relativity with a comic book like this. Not only that, but each section is followed by a few textbook-style pages that explain the section’s content in a more traditional American style. Unfortunately, I’m not a relativity theorist either so I can’t point out any flaws in the book’s teachings. But the content did align with what I know about relativity and I learned some new things about the field.

Non-Japanese readers and manga newbies might find some of the artwork and manga style off-putting. For example, the lessons on relativity are set up by a subplot (shown above) where the student body president is learning relativity in summer school so the rest of the students don’t have to. The weird part is the school’s headmaster will make the boy his personal “secretary” love-slave (my interpretation) if he doesn’t learn relativity. Re-read that sentence again to make sure you read it right. And in another wild plot twist (spoilers ahead!), the school’s superintendent turns out to be a young woman who transforms into various forms including a purse doggy and a Power Ranger-looking robot warrior. I don’t know if all this is typical in manga, but I know it’s not typical in American books.

The Manga Guide to Relativity is fun in any case, so pick it up if you enjoy learning about science and also enjoy manga (or don’t mind jumping into a totally new writing and reading style). It’s only twenty dollars so it’s not priced like most books I review here on Designorati and a good buy for anyone who enjoys learning about the sciences.

The Manga Guide to Relativity
Hideo Nitta, Masafumi Yamamoto and others
Published by No Starch Press
US $19.95
Rating: 8/10
Click to buy at Amazon.com

Day 1 Announcements From Adobe MAX: TypeKit, PhoneGap, WoodWing and DPS Single Edition

Adobe Acquires TypeKit and PhoneGap

Adobe has bought TypeKit and made the web font service a part of their Adobe Creative Cloud’s services. Jeffrey Veen came on stage and talked about the challenges of fonts on the web but showed how some websites are achieving very professional typography now through Adobe technology. I’ll agree to that—I use TypeKit on my own websites, and it’s easy to deploy and works across all browsers.

Jeffrey also said almost 60 foundries contribute to TypeKit. This includes Adobe, but they don’t offer the entire 2,300-font Adobe Type Library. Maybe that will come later. Jeffrey demoed some new features of the TypeKit website, such as rendering previews to show how fonts will look in different browsers and easier search tools.

I wonder what will happen to current TypeKit customers. Will they have to buy the Adobe Creative Cloud to maintain their websites’ fonts? I hope not, and I don’t think that would be practical for TypeKit’s users.

Adobe also announced the acquisition of Nitobi Software, which produces the popular PhoneGap platform for building mobile apps for multiple platforms including Android and iOS. PhoneGap leverages HTML5 and JavaScript, so I expect this would be rolled into Dreamweaver, Adobe’s HTML-editing software.

WoodWing Moves Users to Adobe Digital Publishing Suite

This announcement might have surprised me the most today. WoodWing Software, whose editorial workflow products allow for digital publishing to tablets and devices, has entered an agreement with Adobe to incorporate their Digital Publishing Suite with WoodWing’s Enterprise Publishing System. The Digital Publishing Suite will now be the only option for WoodWing customers to publish to tablets.

It sounds like WoodWing’s editorial and designer workflow will remain pretty much the same: users will use their Content Station and InDesign plugin to build the digital editions. At that point, .folio files will be created and uploaded to Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite platform for packaging, distribution, monetization and analytics. WoodWing’s Reader Application and Content Delivery Service are ended effective immediately. Customers will transition to the Digital Publishing Suite by November 2012.

Digital Publishing Suite Now Available In Single Editions

If you’ve wanted to publish a one-shot digital publication or a book, you’ll be happy to know Adobe today announced the Single Edition in the Digital Publishing Suite. The service, which takes interactive InDesign documents to the iPad, has until now been an enterprise-priced service for large companies and big periodical publications. Now companies can pay for just a single publication and get all of the Digital Publishing Suite’s features, including distribution through the Apple App Store, monetization and analytics.

It will cost $395 per publication, which immediately establishes it as a business product. Single Edition is not for people wanting to publish a family memento or maybe a church cookbook—but niche publications could very well benefit from its features.

Day 1 Announcements From Adobe MAX: Adobe Creative Cloud And Adobe Touch Apps

Today Adobe announced a variety of newsworthy items, mostly acquisitions and new products that will greatly impact creative professionals. Ironically, “Flash Platform” was not mentioned once at this event, traditionally Adobe’s largest for Flash developers, but I and other press colleagues think more developer news will be announced at tomorrow’s keynote.

Adobe Creative Cloud Combines Apps, Services and Community

This was the big-picture announcement: Adobe has a new service called Adobe Creative Cloud that combines their desktop products, tablet and touch applications, a community website with cloud storage, and a variety of services. The Adobe Creative Cloud’s discrete components will be detailed separately below, but the outline includes:

General pricing and availability of the Adobe Creative Cloud will not be announced until November 2011. The product itself looks absolutely beautiful, and is what I expected from a company like Adobe responding to huge changes in mobile computing and data distribution. Apple and Amazon are doing the same thing in the cloud computing landscape. However, right now we don’t know what a service like Adobe Creative Cloud will cost, so until then we can’t judge how successful it might be.

Another complication is the fact that the Creative Suite 5.5 products have been available with a subscription since May. Will that option go away now that users can subscribe to those and more through the Adobe Creative Cloud? I doubt it will—I know the CS5.5 apps and suites will still be available as standalone products and for sale through the conventional way, and I expect Creative Suite subscriptions will also continue. I also think you can look at the prices of those CS subscriptions, add a bit more money, and have an idea what the Adobe Creative Cloud will cost.

Adobe Touch Apps Released, Includes Photoshop Touch

Adobe has been investing considerable resources into tablet and mobile applications, first with Adobe Ideas and then with Photoshop Touch SDK apps like Eazel and Nav, and the iOS-only Carousel. Today Adobe announced six new “touch apps” currently on Android, which will all be available to Adobe Creative Cloud subscribers.

  • Adobe Photoshop Touch brings basic Photoshop features to tablets, including layers, adjustments, selection and background extraction among other features. Out of all the apps this is the only one to be named after an existing desktop product, and I predicted a “Photoshop on the iPad” product at some point. However, Adobe has made a strategic decision not to put too many Photoshop features into Photoshop Touch and so the app is nowhere near as powerful as its namesake. This was out of both necessity and UX considerations, but I think it will hurt its reception by users.
  • Adobe Collage helps creative people combine imagery, drawing and text to create storyboards and basic layouts. I see this being more useful in the conceptual phase of a creative project, and it doesn’t take the place of Illustrator or InDesign.
  • Adobe Debut is a client presentation application for displaying project materials in meeting situations. Photoshop and Illustrator files can be displayed, among other Creative Suite file formats.
  • Adobe Ideas is a vector drawing application whose files can be opened in Illustrator or Photoshop for refinement. As with Collage, it can’t take the place of Illustrator and it’s useful for off-site work when a laptop isn’t an option.
  • Adobe Kuler is a tablet-based version of Adobe’s existing kuler application, previously just a web and AIR application. Users can build and share color palettes.
  • Adobe Proto builds wireframes and prototypes for websites. It’s the only app that incorporates gestures in a major way: users can draw an “x” to insert an image, or squiggly lines to create headlines and text. There are roughly 16 different gestures already created for Proto.

All the touch apps integrate with Adobe Creative Cloud and share projects and assets in the cloud, so projects can be touched by multiple apps. For example, a project can be conceived by a project manager in Collage, passed on to a designer who builds the color palette in Kuler, then to a web developer who wireframes the product in Proto, and approved by the client in Debut before moving on to final production in Creative Suite. All these apps are also built with Adobe AIR, so they could technically be deployed on the desktop, but the apps’ user interface is designed for small devices and touch screens.

All apps will be available separately for $9.99 each.

Conclusion

After all these announcements, I wasn’t sure if life will be easier or harder now for the traditional creative professional—those who design or develop with Adobe products and have been using the Creative Suite products for years. The Adobe Creative Cloud moves resources to everyone, not just the creative professionals, and the touch apps seem like they are designed for creative users who aren’t necessarily the ones putting publications to bed or deploying code to the web. Even Photoshop Touch, whose namesake is Adobe’s flagship product, feels lightweight and lean. Adobe seems to be focusing on a larger creative audience, and it could complicate things for creative professionals.

However, I like the direction Adobe is taking in marrying everything through the cloud—it had to happen eventually, and the opportunity is huge for business and also for creative productivity. The notion of web fonts being available in the cloud via TypeKit makes sense not only for web fonts but for all fonts—imagine being able to license the entire Adobe type library without installing files on your own network. Out of all this news, the Adobe Creative Cloud has the most implications for Adobe and for consumers.

The Nomad Brush Brings Artistry To The iPad

The iPad is a perfect digital “canvas” for artistic work like on-site sketches and quick paintings en plein air, but the tablet doesn’t respond to input like pressure or variable stroke width. The stylus market is growing but also fairly limited—a lot of iPad styluses I see are modeled after pens or felt markers. There aren’t many brushes for iPad, which is what makes the Nomad Brush so exciting.

Nomad Brush

The Nomad Brush is a true brush for the iPad with a head of synthetic and natural bristles. Don Lee, creator of the Nomad Brush, tells me capacitive screens like those on the iPad have a small charge and the brush’s fibers create an electrostatic anomaly that can be tracked by the touchscreen controller. My first experience painting with the Nomad Brush was really exciting—it seemed like I was really putting paint onto paper, even though I knew I was using a dry brush on a piece of glass. The technology is very impressive.

brush heads

The bristles are top quality and feel very soft, like a sable brush. They won’t scratch the iPad surface either. The head glides on the surface and has good snap, but I am reviewing the original long tip (Don has since released a short-head version designed for smaller touch devices). I expect the short tip would have a lot less snap to it. The handle is made of carbon and walnut, with a walnut cap at the end showing the Nomad Brush logo. It’s a stylish design. The handle is only roughly six inches long, which makes it more portable—it can fit in an iPad’s case—but it doesn’t have the length of a real brush and it doesn’t taper, so it doesn’t handle in the hand like a painter’s brush. If I could ask one thing of Don, it would be a Nomad Brush with the same handle I’m used to in my painting brushes.

brush cap

The painting experience with the Nomad Brush is more natural than the usual “fingerpainting” one does on the iPad, but it still feels unnatural to me. I don’t blame the Nomad Brush for this, but the touchscreen technology. For example, it doesn’t detect the brush head’s width so I can’t taper or fatten my brushstroke while painting. This makes the brush tip fairly moot—a fan brush and line brush would show the same stroke on the iPad. When this changes, we’ll be a lot closer to the perfect natural painting experience on the iPad.

I really enjoy the Nomad Brush and would recommend it to anyone painting on the iPad. It’s a stylish piece of technology and at $24.00 it’s not very expensive. There’s room for improvement but not much!

Nomad Brush
US $24.00
Rating: 9/10

BOOK REVIEW: Secrets of Corel Painter Experts

Secrets of Corel Painter Experts

Secrets of Corel Painter Experts is a thick book for what is basically a showcase of great Painter artwork, and there are only 17 featured artists so each one gets several pages to show their talent. I review some of these “showcase” books from time to time—fewer tutorials, more spectacular art to show off—and this one really impressed me with its breadth and depth of work as well as some decent tutorials.

Interestingly, I’ve seen many Photoshop books and I get less excited by the end results than those I see in Painter books. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many mind-bending, “wow” Photoshop images that nothing surprises me about Photoshop anymore. Painter is less-known and artists sometimes start with a blank file so I see fewer Painter projects and I am really impressed when I see a perfect blend of imagery and painterly technique that Painter does better than anyone else.

With that in mind, Secrets of Corel Painter Experts obviously impresses me with the quality of work. There’s an ecliptic mix of painters, illustrators and photography pros in this book so styles differ and I like some more than others, but they are all excellent. I particularly enjoy the illustrators (Mike Thompson, Dwayne Vance) and the fantasy/comic painters (Wonman Kim, Brian Haberlin). Brian’s chapter happens to show artwork from an upcoming sci-fi/fantasy graphic novel called Anomaly, which looks awesome. I will be reading it because of the art in this book.

I was a little surprised to see small tutorials included in every chapter. They are not long but each one is related to the artist’s work shown in the book and I am really glad they were willing to share some techniques with readers. The tutorials themselves are only really long enough to give the germ of an idea or technique, but serious readers will be able to make good use of them. A DVD is included with Secrets of Corel Painter Experts, but I’m disappointed because they don’t really support the tutorials. The DVD basically contains gallery pages of the artists’ work, a demo of Painter 11 (now out of date with the release of Painter 12). Some artists have also included some brushes and textures they use.

Painter users should definitely pick this book up. It’s also a good buy for fans of digital illustration in general, because the work shown here is excellent and has a variety of subject matter. It can be a little expensive at just under $45, but it’s a high-quality book from top to bottom.

Secrets of Corel Painter Experts
Daryl Wise and Linda Hellfritsch
Published by CENGAGE Learning
US $44.99
Rating: 9/10

HP Announces New Workstation and EliteBooks

Hewlett-Packard announced some new hardware today:

  • The HP Z210 Workstation, an entry-level workstation designed for a broad market segment that works with images or video and
  • An update to the HP EliteBook w-series, which encompasses three new laptops designed to be rugged and strong enough for professional tasks.

HP Z210 Workstation: Compact, cheap and capable

The HP Z210 Workstation seems to be a good fit for designers working with basic CAD graphics and projects in Adobe Creative Suite. What I like about the Z210 compared to a Mac Pro is its versatility: a mini-tower and smaller compact box are available. In contrast, the Mac Pro only comes in one size: large. The smaller form factor is priced at US $569 and the mini-tower is $659, so both are fairly cheap and still more powerful than last year’s HP Z200 product.

From the press release:

The HP Z210 SFF is 65 percent smaller than the HP Z210 CMT. Both sizes offer the choice of high-performance, enterprise-class Intel® Xeon® E3 and second-generation Intel Core™ i3/i5/i7 processors, surpassing PC offerings and increasing overall performance by up to 20 percent over previous-generation processors.

“Built for professionals, HP Z210 workstations with the new Intel Xeon processor E3 1200 family are changing the definition of the entry-level workstation,” said Anthony C. Neal-Graves, general manager, Workstation Unit, Intel Corporation. “This processor’s greatest innovation is how it integrates the CPU and graphics engines on the same die. That means visual and 3-D graphics capabilities that were once only available to entry workstation users with discrete graphics cards will now be accessible to anyone with an entry workstation powered by the Intel Xeon E3 family with Intel HD Graphics P3000.”

The HP EliteBook w-Series

Today HP announced three new laptops in the w-series: the 8760w (17″ display), 8560w (15.6″) and 8460w (14″). Last year I took a look at the 8540w, which preceded the 8560w model. That computer was a well-built and capable mobile workstation and had some pros and cons compared the MacBook Pro. The models announced today have some improvements:

  • A revision to the EliteBook’s industrial design gives it a circular gun-finish on the cover, backlit logo, and actual buttons for the QuickLook and QuickWeb apps that don’t require booting up the machine. Previous models used touch-sensitive glass strips instead of actual buttons, but I remember you had to press them pretty hard to activate them. Going back to physical buttons makes sense.
  • The EliteBook w-Series supports five displays.
  • The touchpad is now glass instead of plastic and it’s twice as big.
  • The 8540w I tested had a variety of access points on the laptop’s base; HP has simplified and streamlined the base for this new lineup.
  • The 8760w can support up to 3TB on three hard drives and some powerful video cards, such as the NVIDIA Quadro 5010M with 4GB video memory.

The EliteBook 8760w and 8560w both offer DreamColor displays. I learned in the press demo that DreamColor was developed in collaboration with DreamWorks Animation, the well-known computer-generated animation studio. In testing, DreamWorks measured their displays before and after a nine-month project and they didn’t lose their initial calibration in a measurable way. The EliteBook I tested a few months ago had a very nice DreamColor display with good color, but of course I didn’t test it over the course of nine months.

The HP EliteBook 8760w, 8560w and 8460w start at $1,899, $1,349 and $1,299 respectively, and are expected to be available in the United States in May.

BOOK REVIEW: Best iPad Apps for Discriminating Downloaders

I’ve realized the iPad makes it very easy to download a crazy number of apps: so many apps are free are extremely cheap—making the “freemium” an art form—and the biggest hurdle to downloading apps is maybe the download’s wait time. The result can be an iPad choked with tens if not a hundred apps or more. I have over 60 and could download a lot more if I didn’t exercise some self-control.

Best iPad Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders by Peter Meyers attempts to be a survey of the best iOS apps for a large variety of needs. The book is well-written, with a not-too-dry style that’s still informative. Peter is the first tech author I’ve reviewed who has a master’s degree from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and I’m based in Iowa, so I naturally liked him right away.

A book that surveys the “best” of a changing application landscape is naturally going to have flaws, not only from others’ differences of opinion but also from the daily addition of new apps to the iOS ecosystem. Best iPad Apps picks no obvious clunkers as far as I can tell, and Peter has picked a lot of apps for a lot of potential activities so it’s thorough too, but it can’t cover everything. There’s a best game “for killing pigs with birds,” which is so obvious it borders on stupid, but there’s not a best first person shooter game or a best console game franchise port (Dead Space HD might be my pick for that one). Productivity and work apps are well-represented but the one app I’ve yearned for—a replacement for Apple’s lousy Mail app—is not represented. Other articles online suggest there are no native iPad email apps—perhaps disallowed by Apple—but online email like Yahoo! and Gmail offer several features Apple Mail does not, and it’s accessible on the iPad with Safari.

If you ignore the inevitable shortcomings, Best iPad Apps becomes simply a great guide to some of the best apps out there. If you have a bit of time on your hands one weekend, I recommend sitting down with your iPad and Best iPad Apps and downloading a bunch of these apps to try out. There’s a variety of free, cheap and expensive apps so you don’t have to spend money to get the best—snatch up as many free ones as you like and try the expensive ones if they seem really useful. This tactic makes Best iPad Apps a great buy for a new iPad user who has no idea what apps to buy first—and with so many to choose from, and a less-than-ideal search experience in the App Store, I think a guide like this is useful and timely.

Best iPad Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders
Peter Meyers
Published by O’Reilly
US $21.99
Rating: 8/10

REVIEW: Adobe Captivate 5 for Mac

captivate-box

Adobe Captivate 5, released last July, is the first version of Captivate to be available for Mac OS and so it’s the first version to be on the radar of many creative professionals who produce eLearning material through other products like Flash but don’t work with Windows. The Adobe team did a very good job porting Captivate to the Mac—it looks and feels just like its Windows counterpart—but creative users might be a little surprised by the differences between other creative pro apps like Flash and Captivate, which reminds me of PowerPoint.

The user interface

I’ve noticed two different user interface strategies at Adobe in the past couple years (excluding their video applications, which have their own interface design). Creative pro applications from Adobe either have an older user interface with multiple panels and many settings—think Photshop and Illustrator—or a newer, cleaner interface with a sidebar and fewer panels, segmented to show and hide groups of settings easily. Flash Catalyst CS5 is a prime example of this newer design, and Flash Pro CS5 uses some elements of both.

Captivate 5 offers a new user interface based on the newer version, and it’s very clean and easy to use. Like with Flash Pro CS5, the Properties Inspector is the main panel in the sidebar that provides most of the controls needed for everyday operations. I happen to like the older user interface, but that might be because I’ve used it for years in Photoshop and other Creative Suite apps. However, I prefer to have a lot of controls at my fingertips and the Captivate user interface is clean to the point where it might be a little dull and not as useful. For example, the alignment controls are in the menu bar—there’s no Align panel, which is common in other apps.

On the other hand, PowerPoint users might find Captivate 5′s user interface familiar. The panel layout reminds me of PowerPoint’s, and tools and settings are sometimes in similar positions. Ultimately, I think Captivate’s roots in the PC market and its connections to PowerPoint influenced the direction the user interface took. It’s an improvement over Captivate 4.

One more note that relates to user experience: unlike its predecessor, Captivate 5 now allows multiple Captivate projects to be open at the same time. I think it goes without saying that this is a vital improvement and one that will be universally praised.

New editing features

captivate-effects

The Effects menu (in the Timeline window) has several effects for transitions and other events.

Captivate 5′s killer feature is, of course, being available to Mac users for the first time. That in itself makes Captivate 5 notable. But PC users looking to justify an upgrade will want to look at the new features, which are mostly productivity enhancements that are major improvements and also longtime features of other software on the market:

  • Master Slides are simply slide masters that can apply a consistent layout to a group of slides. PowerPoint has had slide masters for years and in Captivate they provide a tremendous benefit.
  • Object Styles, a longtime feature of other creative apps like InDesign, allow users to save and apply design and typographical settings to elements.
  • It’s kind of buried in the Effects panel, but new animation effects are really nice—the list of effects is fairly long and they provide some original transitions I’m not used to seeing in other applications. Related to this is the new Widget API, which are all built with ActionScript 3 starting with Captivate 5. There’s several new classes that respond to more behaviors like a slide change or a video event. Captivate 4 had widgets as well, but they have been improved in Captivate 5.
  • Span & Synch Video allows a video clip to play across several slides and still allow navigation and slide changes. Captivate 5 has an Edit Video Timing dialog box where slide transitions can be synchronized with the clip.

captivate-master

Master slides allow consistent design application.

captivate-styles

Styles can be applied to several kinds of elements in Captivate 5 to make designing faster and less prone to errors.

Things like animation, master slides and styles are not new. Captivate has followed a winding road of evolution since starting out as a screen recording utility (Flashcam) and demo-recording tool for Flash (RoboDemo) before it was acquired by Adobe and turned into an eLearning application. This might explain why Captivate has lacked some basic presentation and layout tools until lately. I think Captivate 4 was the first version designed for layout and presentation, and Captivate 5 has gone maybe twice as far to solidify that purpose.

captivate-videobox

When video is inserted into a project, the slide duration can be made to match the video or the video can span multiple slides.

captivate-video

A spanned and synched video shows up in the slide filmstrip (left) and can be previewed across multiple slides.

New distribution features

Captivate was designed to support the collaborative nature of eLearning. Captivate 5′s major new features is integration with Acrobat.com and its use of Acrobat.com as a learning management system. Connecting with LMSes was an important feature of Captivate 4, but the collaborative nature of Acrobat.com and its various online apps also makes it a nice solution for eLearning if a LMS isn’t already in place.

The Acrobat.com experience is basic but useful. The eLearning product is basically uploaded to Acrobat.com and from there users can log in and participate. As with everything on Acrobat.com, a free Adobe account is required. The benefit of Acrobat.com is its tracking and reporting features, which record and report users’ scores within Acrobat.com and without a LMS. Unless you require a standards-compliant LMS, Acrobat.com provides a solid solution.

Conclusion

Captivate 5 is ground-breaking if only for the reason that it’s on the Mac: many creative pros who have been building eLearning products with Flash or PowerPoint now have another option tailored for the job. I also think Captivate 5 has several major improvements that aren’t necessarily original but are time-tested and very useful. I think there’s other areas that can be improved, particularly if Adobe wishes to make it more desirable for the creative pro market, but considering its short time as an eLearning product I think it has come far.

Captivate 5
Adobe Systems
US $799/ $299 upgrade
US $1,799/ $599 upgrade with eLearning Suite 2
Rating: 9/10

BOOK REVIEW: The Myths of Innovation Is Far-Reaching, Yet Simple

I was impressed by Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker last year and was excited to get a copy of his 2010 book The Myths of Innovation. Scott has a knack for simplifying the most complex and philosophical topics and writing his findings in a colorful and interesting way, and not necessarily on technology subjects. I wanted to read The Myths of Innovation because I think business and entrepreneurial subjects—which I believe “innovation” is one of them—are some of the hardest to define and resolve, and there’s so many business and self-help books out there on such topics.

The good news is that The Myths of Innovation beats most of them in clarity, originality, writing quality and usefulness. The myths themselves are outlined concisely—”People love new ideas,” “The lone inventor,” “Your boss knows more about innovation than you,” and so on—and Scott makes it seem deceptively easy to see how these myths cloud our vision on what innovation really is and how to achieve it. Everyone seems to think it’s important, and many business leaders talk about it, but very few really understand it and even fewer properly achieve it. Read the book’s epilogue to get a sense of how much “innovation” is spoken about.

As in Confessions of a Public Speaker, Scott’s writing style is clear, colorful and full of great detail. I am truly amazed how many anecdotes, stories and citations he can make in his books, on everything from the mouse prototype to Guernica to the Great Potato Famine–and all these things have something to do with a specific point about innovation. The Myths of Innovation is one of the few books where the footnotes provide great reading material—and Scott often makes them funny or otherwise noteworthy.

The last three chapters, consisting of about 20 pages, veer from the scholarly tone of the rest of the book and dives into some real-world techniques for developing an innovative mindset. These include keeping a journal, getting into improv comedy, developing a pitch for your idea or ideas, and even focusing on death (as a reason to fully use the time you have). For me, these chapters fall a little flat and I think it’s because so many other books in your bookstore’s business section provide these same kinds of tips and I’ve heard many of them before. Some of them have been helpful. Some have not. And what works for Scott might not work for you. I believe they are good material to have in a book like this, but the effectiveness of tactical material like this varies with the reader.

The Myths of Innovation, despite my minor complaint with its last section, is a compelling and exceptional book and I highly recommend it for businesspeople—both corporate and creative—who want to look at their approach to innovation with a critical, philosophical eye. I can’t see how anyone would go wrong reading this book.

The Myths of Innovation
Scott Berkun
Published by O’Reilly
US $17.99
Rating: 10/10

Comparing the HP EliteBook 8540w and the MacBook Pro

elitebook

I’m a designer so a lot of friends assume I use a Macintosh, which is true. Some also assume I’m a Mac fanatic, which I disagree with: I have used Macs in my work for several years but I started with a Dell PC and have used PCs in various workplaces. I happen to think the Mac operating system is better and Macs provide a subtly better experience for creative pros in particular.

This article is about the 15-inch Hewlett-Packard EliteBook 8540w and how it compares to my 17-inch MacBook Pro, an older model from late 2006. This won’t be a full review—there are reviews out there better than I could write, such as this one—and I won’t be making a purchase recommendation. Consider this article a look at an elite PC laptop by someone who’s only used a Mac laptop in the workplace.

Construction

The HP EliteBook 8540w is built like a truck and takes the term “hardware” seriously. The EliteBook line is the top of HP’s business laptops and I expected solid craftsmanship, but while many PC laptops I come across are slick and plastic the EliteBook is built with brushed aluminum and is very tough. HP calls it their “DuraCase.” The MacBook Pro weighs a little more (3.1kg vs. 2.9kg) but it has a larger monitor. The 15-inch MacBook Pro from the same year weighs 2.5kg. Their sizes are pretty much the same except the MacBook Pro is significantly thinner and a little wider and longer.

elitebook_case

The EliteBook’s DuraCase looks and feels tough. The MacBook Pro is durable too but not to the EliteBook’s level.

The EliteBook looks like a hunk of iron compared to the MacBook Pro, but the EliteBook also accommodates more jacks and connectors in its body. This is an example where HP focuses on function while Apple focuses on form, which should surprise no one. The EliteBook also complies with the MIL-STD 810G military standard, which sets requirements for resistance to vibration, water, dust and temperatures for products used by the U.S. Department of Defense. The well-known Panasonic Toughbook line of laptops meets the same requirements.

Keyboard and Touchpad

One feature I really appreciate on the EliteBook is the extended keyboard with numeric keypad. Numeric entry is so much easier with a keypad, and it also has a specific creative purpose: the page layout application Adobe InDesign requires numbers from the keypad for its character/paragraph styles’ keyboard shortcuts. I have never understood why InDesign does this, but it has been this way for years. Apple won’t produce a wireless version of the extended keyboard, and it’s not on any MacBook Pro.

elitebook_ui

The EliteBook has an impressive user interface, with multiple touch and mouse inputs and a full keyboard and numeric pad. See the blue lights above and to the left of the keyboard? Those are the buttons for the quick apps (see below).

The EliteBook also provides two touch input devices, the Touchpad and also the “TouchStyck” button in the middle of the keyboard. Combined these provide seven buttons—if you count the TouchStyck—and a trackpad. Apple is notorious for limiting the number of input buttons on their hardware. My MacBook Pro has one button and a trackpad, and the newest models don’t have a button at all. They register taps on the trackpad as a button click. The EliteBook keyboard and touchpad can look a little cluttered with all the buttons and input devices, but it does make the computer more versatile and adapt to users’ preferences. However, it’s likely a user will gravitate toward the one input element they like the most.

Power Adapter and Cord

The EliteBook’s power supply/adapter and cord is not very portable or easy to use, which makes traveling with it difficult. The power supply is like a brick compared to the smaller and lightweight Apple equivalent. I’m not sure it would even fit in my laptop bag! The other thing I noticed is Apple’s power supply has its own plug so I can plug it into the wall and not use the other cord. HP’s power supply has no plug so the other cord must be used.

DreamColor display

This EliteBook 8540w sports a new DreamColor display, which is designed to provide more accurate color reproduction. The DreamColor whitepaper (PDF, 3.2MB) explains all the display’s technical details but my personal impression with this DreamColor display is positive. The thing I really notice is the EliteBook puts out much more brightness than the MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro is four years old though, so these can’t really be compared, but I don’t think the MacBook Pro was as bright as the EliteBook even when it was new. In terms of color, the EliteBook looks like it does a better job of capturing very strong colors including fluorescents and those on the fringes of the RGB and Lab colorspaces.

QuickLook and QuickWeb

One more thing the EliteBook can do that the MacBook Pro cannot is boot specialized applications without booting up the entire unit. This really surprised when I first learned about it, but HP has put this in its laptops before. The two apps are designed to provide timely information quickly without booting up:

  • QuickLook is an Outlook-like interface for calendar, email, contacts and task lists. It caches Outlook data while the computer is running so when it’s launched it can access some data without booting up. QuickLook cannot send mail, but the goal is to give the user information immediately and it can save changes to events, contacts and tasks and sync them with Outlook later.
  • QuickWeb launches a Linux environment and web browser for fast Internet access. This for me was the more useful of the two applications, and the user experience was good.

I should point out these apps don’t boot up instantaneously, but they do avoid the load times associated with Windows. These apps are useful but today many mobile devices and phones have instant connectivity, the same data and push/send capabilities. I wonder if the EliteBook’s apps will lose usefulness as mobile devices continue to develop.

Conclusion

Apple is known for its product design and also for following form over function, but Mac fans wouldn’t have it any other way. However, the EliteBook shows that Macs aren’t the only PCs that are well-designed and I would say the EliteBook was designed with its purpose in mind. It does make for a big and clunky product in some ways but I understand the benefits of this. I found the EliteBook to be a useful laptop and professionals who want an excellent machine for work should look into it.

BOOK REVIEW: Talent Is Not Enough

I think sometimes the designers who stand out in the marketplace, land the most prestigious clients and make the most money aren’t those who have the most brilliant talent. Instead, they’re the ones who can build a brand and a business around their work and handle it professionally. Creative people aren’t always the best businesspeople and so many can struggle with the business side of graphic design.

I used books like the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook when I started my design business, but Shel Perkins’ Talent Is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers might be a better book than any I had. It’s almost 450 pages long and very focused on the business of design, and the advice Shel gives is solid. I think it can really set a designer up for business success.

There is some breadth to the topics covered in Talent Is Not Enough: marketing, human resources, cash flow, office management and intellectual property are all covered in the book. Many are essential topics, though some business types—such as sole proprietor—will find some chapters not very useful because they don’t apply to them. I’ll also say that some topics—marketing in particular comes to mind—are not fully covered in this book and should be supplemented with other books and information.

The other criticism I have of the book is it glosses over what I think are the two questions always asked by new creative professionals: “How much should I charge?” and “How should I write my contracts?” The chapter on pricing models is short and doesn’t give any dollar amounts, which is hard to quantify for everyone but help new designers the most. The aforementioned Graphic Artists Guild Handbook did share hourly rates, and it really helped me start my business. It also shared some boilerplate copy for proposals and contracts. Talent Is Not Enough does share contract boilerplate as well, and the copy is well-written, but it’s not clearly marked in the book. Placing the legal documents in an addendum might be helpful in a third edition.

Despite these quibbles, Talent Is Not Enough is a very fine business resource and updated for our times with the second edition. I have over ten years in the industry and I learned new things from this book. A designer just starting out will gain a good business foundation by adding this to his or her other repertoire of books on business development.

Talent Is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers
Shel Perkins
Published by New Riders
US $39.99
Rating: 9/10

-able Peppers You With Tips For Success

I first saw Scott Ginsberg speak a few years back at a funeral directors conference (don’t ask) and then last year he happened to be the speaker for the local young professionals organization that I was a part of for many years. Scott has made a name for himself by permanently wearing a name tag and being a guru on approachability and networking, and in his new book, -able, he is branching out.

The last book of Scott’s that I read was How To Be That Guy, which was specific to business networking and finding one’s business niche. -able covers the broader topic of setting oneself up for success, mostly for business but the tips can also be applied to other aspects of life. I think this plays well for many businesspeople, most of whom in my experience are as competitive and driven outside of work as they are when at work. I think these driven readers will really enjoy -able.

-able is written in a scattershot manner, with 35 chapters on all varieties of accessibility—being findable, engageable, sellable, retweetable, sought-after-able and many others, some of which are real words. They’re also connected to some really zany metaphors:

• “Be more spread-able than syphilis in a steam room”
• “Be more yes-able than Brad Pitt, down on one knee, naked, holding a seven-carat diamond”
• “Be more request-able than ‘Freebird’ at a Florida State frat party”
• “Be more addict-able than crack, but without killing millions of people”

Scott’s prose is an uninhibited kind of writing that you either enjoy or you don’t.

The material itself is thick with several tips for success for each chapter. There’s so many tips and ideas that some tend to repeat themselves, but repetition is the key to learning. Some of Scott’s anecdotal evidence is colorful and interesting, and it’s always worth reading. I do wish though that Scott had more focus in -able, and I don’t think it would have hurt the book if there were 25 strategies instead of 35, larger type, and more writing on implementation and overcoming obstacles. Everyone wants to have top Google rankings and be a master networker, but it’s not easy or everyone would do it. By itself, -able shows the way to success but doesn’t always explain how to capitalize on the knowledge. Perhaps that’s something we all must figure out on our own.

-able is an intriguing book and it certainly has more polish than How To Be That Guy, which was written almost five years ago. Readers who digest these tips and apply them in their daily lives will see real results. But I also think the book is a shotgun blast of good tips that can apply to a variety of life’s situations, and—like a shotgun—the effectiveness of the blast depends on your aim.

-able: 35 Strategies for Increasing the Probability of Success in Business and in Life
Scott Ginsberg
Published by HELLO, my name is Scott!
US $19.95
Rating: 7/10

BOOK REVIEW: resonate Combines Timeless Storytelling And Presentation

Two years ago, Nancy Duarte‘s book slide:ology proved to be a great resource for perfecting the visual aspects of presentation—it was well-designed, thorough and the visual material was striking. I didn’t expect anything less from one of the foremost experts on presentation. Nancy’s newest book, resonate, explores the engagement and storytelling aspects of presentation and has the same hallmarks of design and colorful writing set by slide:ology.

I’m a big advocate of stories and storytelling, not only in presentations but in communication in general. I actually have a “creative communications” presentation that I have given a few times. A good story is naturally more compelling and persuasive than just a collection of facts or bullets, and this clearly applies to presentations.

resonate brings strong evidence that a good story makes for a good presentation. There doesn’t seem to be as many case studies in this book as in slide:ology but philosophy from the likes of Joseph Campbell, Syd Field and Aristotle are used to illustrate the storytelling process. The jump from screenwriting and storytelling to presentation design and content is explained in detail and supported well by the case studies.

If there’s one complaint I have about resonate, it is that the art of storytelling is not covered enough in the book. Nancy covers a wide range of material and pages are spent on motivating audiences, improving presentations through practice, using presentations to change the world and not for “evil,” and other topics peripherally related to storytelling. I don’t think I can ding resonate for including these because they are important to the ultimate goal of presenting better, but I think there is more to be explained about the storytelling process and more techniques that could be explored.

resonate is another exceptional book from Nancy. I don’t know where she will go from here as an author—the two aspects of Duarte’s “VisualStory™” method already seem to be covered by slide:ology and resonate—but I hope there’s more aspects of presentation she is ready to write about. resonate was a real treat to read and review.

resonate
Nancy Duarte
Published by Wiley
US $29.95
Rating: 10/10