designing interaction for creative pros /2

12 May 2015, 19:29

Part two of my LGM 2015 lecture (here is part one). It is a tale of cars. For many years I have had these images in my head and used them in my design practice. Let’s check them out.

freude am fahren

First up is the family car:

a catalog shot of a family car source:

It stands for general software. It is comfortable, safe and general‐purpose. All you need to use it is a minimum of skills, familiarity and practice—in the case of cars this is covered by qualifying for a driving licence.

In the case of software, we are talking casual and enthusiast use. A good example is web browsers. One can start using them with a minimum of skills and practice. After gaining some experience one can comfortably drive use a browser on a daily basis. If a pro web browser exists, then it has escaped my radar.

(It would make a very interesting project, a pro web browser. But first a product maker would have to stand up with a solid vision of pro web browsing; its user groups; and some big innovation that is valuable for these users.


When I think of creative pro interfaces, I think of this:

a rally car blasting around a corner on a rallystage in nature source:

The rally car. It is still a car, but… different. It is defined by performance. And from that, we can learn a couple of things.

speed, baby

First, creative pros work fast. They ‘wield the knife’ without doubt. A telltale sign of mastery is the speed of execution. I have this in mind all the time when designing for creative pros.

I vividly remember one of the earliest LGMs, Andy Fitzsimon went on stage and demonstrated combining pixel and vector in one image. The pace was impressive, Andy was performing nearly two operations per second.

Bam bam bam bam. At a tempo of 120 beats per minute; the solid tempo of marching bands and disco. That is the rhythm I aim to support, when designing for creative pros.

command and control

Second, creative pros really know their material, the medium they work with. They can, and need to, work with this material as direct and intimate as possible, in order to fulfil creative or commecial goals. This all can be technology‐assisted, as it is with software, but the technology has to stay out of the way, so that it does not break the bond between master and material.

The material I am talking about is that of film, graphics, music, animation, garments, et cetera. These can be digital, yes. However data and code of the software‐in‐use are not part of a creative pro’s material. Developers are always shocked, angry, then sad to learn this.

Thus Metapolator, has been designed for font designers and typographers who know what makes a font and what makes it tick. They know the role of the strokes, curves, points, the black and the white, and of the spacing. They are experienced in shaping these to get results. It is this material that—by design—Metapolator users access, just that it is organised such that they can work ten times faster.

dog eat dog

Third, it’s a competitive world. Creatives pros are not just in business. Also in zero‐budget circles there are real fun and/or prestigious projects where exactly those with proven creative performance, and ability to deliver, get asked.

Tools and software are in constant competition, also in the world of F/LOSS. It is a constant tussle: which ones provide next‐generation workflows with more speed and/or more room for creativity? Only competitive tools make masters competitive.

the point

Now that we got the picture, here is the conflict. The rules—the law and industry mores—that make good family cars may be a bad idea to apply to rally cars. And what makes rally cars competitive, may simply be illegal for family cars.

Every serious software platform has its HIG (human interface guidelines). It is the law, a spiritual guide and a huge source of security for developers. That is, for general software. It is only partly authoritative for software for creative pros. Because truly sticking to the HIG, while done all in good faith, will render creative pro software non‐competitive.

vorsprung durch technik

Rally cars contain custom parts, handmade from high performance materials like aluminium, titanium, carbon, etc. This is expensive and done because nothing off‐the‐shelf is sufficient.

Similarly creative pro software contains custom widgets, handmade at great expense—in design and development. For a decade I have witnessed that it is a force of nature to end up in that situation. Not for the sake of being cool or different, but all in the name of performance.

tough cookie

So, with loose laws and a natural tendency for custom widgets, can you do just what you like when you make creative pro software? Well no. It is tough, you still have to do the right thing. If this situation makes you feel rather lost, without guidance, then reach out and find yourself an interaction designer who really knows this type of material. Make them your compass.

picture show

To illustrate all this, let’s look at some of my designs for Metapolator.

of a glyph—surrounded by two others—all the points that make up its
    skeleton are connected by outward radiating lines to big circular handles

Speed, baby! Big handles to select and move individual points on the skeleton of a glyph (i.e. direct control of the material). During a brainstorm session with Metapolator product visionary Simon Egli, he noticed how the points could be connected by rigid sticks to big handles.

I worked out the design with big (fast) handles available for furious working, but out of the way of the glyph, so it can be continuously evaluated (unbroken workflow).

four sliders for mixing fonts, one is reversed and has its thumb aligned
    with another slider

This is a custom slider set for freely mixing master fonts—metapolation—to make new fonts. In this case four fonts, but it has been designed to easily scale up to nine or more; a Metapolator strength (vis‑à‐vis the competition).

One of the sliders—‘Alternate’—is in an “illegal” configuration; it is reversed. This is done to implement the rule that the mix of fonts has to always add up to 100%. There is special coupled behaviour between the sliders to ensure that.

The design of this part included a generous amount of exploration and several major revisions. Standard widgets and following the HIG would not deliver that every sliders setting maps to one unique font mix. Apart from a consistency goal, that is also about maximising input resolution. So I broke some rules and went custom.

a crossing 2-D axies system coupled to a single axis, with at least
    3 fonts on each axis, with a font family and a single font instance placed
    on them

This is also a metapolation control. In this case a three‐dimensional one involving eight master fonts. Working with that many fonts is really a pro thing; you have to know what you are doing and have the experience to set up, identify and pick the ‘good font’ results.

The long blue arrow is a font family, with nine or so fonts as members. The whole family can be manipulated as one entity (i.e. placed and spanned in this 3D space) as can each member font individually.

glyphs a, b and c set in 3 different fonts, with point selections across them

Final example: complex selections. Across three different fonts and three different glyphs, several points have been selected. Now they can be manipulated at the same time. That is definitely not consumer‑grade.

If that looks easy, I say ‘you’re welcome.’ It takes serious planning ahead in the design to allow this interaction; for the three fonts to appear, editable, at the same time; for deep selections within several glyphs to be possible and manageable—the big handles‑on‐sticks help also here.

vroom, vroom

In short: if there is one thing that I want you to take away from this blog post, then it is that image of the rally car. How different its construction, deployment and handling are. Making software for creative pros means making a product that is definitely not consumer‑grade.

That’s it for part two. Go straight to part three: 50–50, equal opportunities.

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2 comments · post a comment

at 13 May, 2015 05:48,Anonymous Rhema commented
I find this analogy to be very interesting. I can certainly think of tools that have been geared toward professionals, but they are do not seem particularly geared for speed. For example, consider MS Paint VS Photoshop. Photoshop can give experts fine-grained control, but I'm not sure it gets them there any faster (when possible) than MS Paint.

Are there any other pro interface products that cater toward speed you may have thought of? 
at 13 May, 2015 09:37,Blogger peter sikking commented
not saying that PS is perfect in this regard (it sure drops the ball when sticking tools in modal dialogs).

but a lot of PS has been grown/designed along this lines of “train with these tools and all its shortcuts (for a month) and you will be blindingly fast.” 

If you like to ask Peter one burning question and talk about it for ten minutes, then check out his available officehours.

What is Peter up to? See his /now page.

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