Axure RP Revisited 2017

Just for kicks, I downloaded Axure RP. I have been using Figma and thought, “I wonder how long it would take me to make this in Axure. 10 min later, I was giving it a try.

Meta Point
Whenever you are curious about something, just do it. Don’t wish for it, don’t hem and haw. Just follow Shia LeBeouf’s advice.

It’s amazing to me how many people think curious thoughts and then refuse to act upon them. OK, </soapBox>

Axure Review
Bottom line: Axure is by far the most flexible prototyping tool short of actually programming the UI. It is so ridiculously powerful that the limit is truly your imagination. <fullStop>

Design principle #3: Simple things should be simple and complex things should be possible.

Unfortunately, Axure does not follow this design principle. Everything is complicated. Everything.  The perfect use case for Axure is “Big company, lots of people, need to test the shit out of the UI”. For example let’s say you wanted to test the software that controls a big piece of medical equipment like a MRI machine. Axure is a great way to test a very realistic experience. The operator is likely NOT a designer. It’s probably a web developer taking designs and using Axure to turn them into a prototype.

If you are a SaaS designer, Axure is complete overkill. The learning curve is crazy high and the usage is quite clunky. Here is an example modal of making an interaction or as they call it a “case”.

That’s alot of stuff to look at. The main screen is pretty intense as well.

I finished my evaluation in about 20 minutes. I am uninstalling it, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s bad. It’s actually quite good for a different person in a different case. (Web developer in a big company that needs to heavily test).

I would suggest to them that an information architecture and graphic design update is needed. No one should use Arial…ever. Other than that, they could redesign the tool from the ground up for a more designer friendly case. Either way, they have not innovated since I reviewed Axure in 2010.

Maybe I’ll give it another try in 2023.

Removing Backgrounds from Photos

I have been an ongoing customer of Photoshop for the life of the product with steady upgrades every year. However, today, I canceled my Photoshop subscription. My main reason is that I just don’t use the program frequently enough. I basically use it to crop images or eliminate the background on photos. It’s not like I am an avid photo manipulator or a creative services production artist.

I Googled Photoshop replacement and found two options that look fine to me. and GIMP. I am trying the development version of GIMP right now. It’s taking a long time to boot up for sure. OK I’m in.

I hate it.

Ok to be clear, my use case is simple. I want to take a photo and remove the background. Here is the original:

In Photoshop, this is pretty easy with their selection tool. I tried in GIMP, it took a while to figure out the method. (Yes, I looked in the help system) The magic selection tool has thresholds, but I found it very difficult to find the edges in a way that wouldn’t take me an hour per picture. I gave up after ten minutes.

Next I tried Paint.NET. It’s a much smaller download and a nicer looking interface. It also had a magic selection tool, with tolerances. I followed their instructions but found it extremely hard to manage. You have to drag the tolerance and keep adding to your selection.

Finally, I just googled: Remove background from photo. Do you know what came up?  My old friend Microsoft PowerPoint. It has a tool called Remove Background under format.

First one on the left. Holy Buckets! I had no idea this was there. Again, I feel like Microsoft has this awesome design tool that NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT!

It took about 20 seconds of fiddling and voila.

In fact, I could have reverted to the original image at any time. It works like “crop” – non-destructive on the image. See, I can keep the rock below.

I could have messed around with the bottom a little more to make it smooth, but this was fine. It’s not a perfect feature. It could use a tolerance spectrum to make it less/more sensitive. However, this is WAY more power than people realize is inside PowerPoint.

Good on ya Microsoft!

A proposal for improving artboards in design tools

In Sketch, Figma, Adobe XD and others there is this concept called an artboard. It’s basically putting all of your different screens on one mega screen and you organize it as you see fit. You zoom in and out to go to where you want to go. Unfortunately, although its the new cool thing, I find the usability to be terrible. Here is a picture of my current project.

On the left hand side you have your different artboards (or Frames in Figma) and a tree of all the different content. I have an alternative proposal for all of these design tools. Introduce a new object called a “Page” which can contain one or more different artboards. Show one page at a time and organize them in a tree on the left. Here are the benefits:

It’s slow to have all those layers on the screen at the same time. I don’t need it. I don’t need to scan through them. I work on one screen at a time. By optimizing the content this way, you are loading less information into the browser and can make things work faster.

Linking the prototypes
One might ask how you link the screens together in prototype mode if they aren’t on the same screen. My answer is simple. Just drag the line into the tree and link that way. Let me show you my project with the links turned on.

Are you seriously telling me that this is helpful?  Oh, but wait, maybe if I just turn on the links for a single screen?

Still not helpful!  By having the links go to the tree on the left, then I could collapse the tree nodes to simplify my view.

Finding the screen you want
Once the project hits a certain size, I can’t find anything anymore. Having pages lets me organize my thinking. I would have sections of the application and probably one more layer of sub-sections. Then I would have each use case flow on one page each. Then my single flows are easier to scan and my sections are organized together.  I am planning on moving my artboards around to see if I can do this better, but for now, it’s pretty hard.

This really isn’t any better. I find myself wanting to put giant labels for the sections, which doesn’t help anyway

There are other minor benefits, but I think it would a major improvement in organization to have pages (and sub-pages) that separate the content in the tree. I would hope that this would actually make the products easier to scale in a performant way.

Sometimes I feel like most designers are using these tools for really simplistic projects, like a basic mobile app. I make big expensive software. I need a design tool that works for many screens.

Design Tool Sadness (2017)

I want the best of all my tools. Here is my perfect mashup:

  • Powerpoint
    • Table Editing
    • Text formatting
    • Ease of use
    • Storyboarding
  • Figma
    • Symbols
    • Constraints
    • Concurrent editing
    • Cool-factor
  • Adobe XD
    • Performance/speed
    • Large community
    • Stable financial resources

Yesterday, I was trying to wire up the prototype of the system I am working on and Adobe XD was sucking so bad that I literally screamed. Their symbols are garbage. Who the fuck thought that changing a symbol on one artboard should change it everywhere?  You can’t see the changes you are making and don’t realize you fucked up your whole system! I gave up and switched back over to Figma and started re-creating from scratch.

Today, in Figma, I was trying to make a basic table. It literally took me hours of figuring out the perfect way to set up the symbols so I can make other kinds of tables semi-quickly.  In PowerPoint it would have taken under a minute. In Figma, even with the symbols, each table will take a long time. In Adobe XD, they have this thing to “Repeat Grid”. It’s novel, but it totally is inferior to a simple table object. PowerPoint has had this for 20+ years. Why is this so hard?

So for today, I am back to Figma.

The whole things makes me sad. Why are design tools so messed up? Why doesn’t Microsoft make a designer friendly version of PowerPoint? Why can’t PowerPoint use Google Fonts to embed fonts? MS Office makes BILLIONS of dollars. Why can’t they improve it??

I seriously wonder how big the engineering teams are for Microsoft PowerPoint, Figma and Adobe XD. Are they all the same sizes? I hear that Figma has some good stuff in the works for the end of the year. I am hopeful.

Designing your prototype structure

It’s rare that you get to build a system from scratch. The early decisions you make will stick around for a long time. Last week, I built a new design system for my new job. For this project, I chose Adobe XD over Figma. When Figma releases new performance enhancements, I might change my mind, but its Adobe for now.  I refactored it a few times and have been thinking about the structure.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t think I have all the answers. I am doing this on my own and no one has shown me best practices. I am learning and exploring by doing. If someone has wisdom on this, please let me know

For explanation sake imagine you have the following general frame of an application.

In Adobe XD, I have the following tree to make the above frame.

Horizontal Rows vs. Columns
As you can see in the above structure, I broke the frame down into columns. That way, in theory, I could change the widths of the columns and resize the areas. Unfortunately, Adobe XD fucks this up pretty badly. It scales everything rather than allow me to lock the height/width of certain elements. Figma constraints definitely help there.

If I structured it as Rows it would look like:

Not only is it a little longer, I STILL need to break down the columns just to keep track of which section is which. I also never move the height/width of the rows. The row is always 100% wide and the height doesn’t really change.

So my learning is that the first structure (Column Structure) makes the most sense. However, the lack of constraints certainly makes resizing difficult.

There is a whole other set of decisions based on what things should be symbols and what shouldn’t. I’ll have to blog about that another time. Adobe needs to make some serious headway on their symbols. They suck right now. Anyway, there is probably 3 people in the world that this blog posts helps, so there you go.

Figma or XD (again)

I’m all set up at my new desk. I have a riches of monitor space. They are attached to arms so I can lift it up and show the work to someone standing next to me. My new laptop is the Dell XPS 13-9350. No USB port! Crazy, but its working well so far.

I’ve been working in Figma designing my new product, and I just got an email from Adobe announcing their 2018 line including the new Adobe XD. I am still so torn on which tool to commit to.

On the one hand, Figma has concurrency, constraints and a good component library.  On the other hand, Adobe is going to pour resources into their product. They already have the library somewhat matched.

If I take the long view, I should choose Adobe. They are going to win the war. They are too big with too many resources.

If I take short view, Figma is better now and I can always learn Adobe later.  However, I know me and I tend to stick with one tool for a long time.

This is a hard choice. If Adobe had their concurrent designing worked out then I would probably switch now. I am going to install XD now and just play with it for a few minutes.

I just noticed that it’s a 7-Day Trial.  Hmm. $10 per month or $119.88 a year. Are you serious Adobe? A 12 cent discount?! This bullshit alone makes me want to stick with Figma. That’s just lame. It would have been better to not include an annual option at all.

Sometimes Adobe makes it so hard to love them.

More (Unfortunate) Thoughts on Self-Driving Cars

I think the first big markets to pick up self-driving cars will be Long Haul Trucks and Taxi-Cabs.

Long Haul Trucks
It makes sense to transform shipping into a robotic effort. It’s cheaper and safer. However, I see one flaw.

People are assholes. – Glen

There was this robotic hitchhiker experiment where the little guy would travel around the united states. 2 weeks in, he was found decapitated in the woods. People are assholes. Not all people. Some people are assholes.

If there were self-driving 18-wheel trucks, some people would want to derail them or even hijack them. In fact, it would likely be the teamsters who are put out of work who would sabotage the new trucks. The solution is kind of stupid. You hire the teamsters who were put out of work to “guard” the trucks. So basically, these people would create jobs for themselves. They would say, “It would be a real shame if your self-driving truck was hijacked. Real shame indeed. You need our protection.”

I believe people would be terrible to the self-driving cars for the same reason they are terrible on twitter. It’s anonymous. People would not feel nearly the same shame from hurting a robot as they do with human beings.

This seems like a no brainer for Uber and Lyft. However, the same problem is going to happen. People will defecate and throw up in the car. They will break the windows and draw on the seats. They will spill their sodas on purpose because they will have no respect for the cab. It’s not owned by a human being. Not everyone will be rude, but enough people will ruin it for everyone else.

Of course, you can have the exact same solution. You hire someone to be a guard of the tax which is stupid. Why are we like this? What is wrong with us?  We are literally the worst.

If robots kill us all, they will likely have VERY good reasons. It’s because we are assholes. They will likely say, either you “people” start being nice or we are going to treat you like pets and put leashes on you.

We are so close to nanobot swarm conscious transferring virtual reality where we can all be gods. Can we please just keep it together for a few more decades? Please? Stop voting for numbskulls. Stop polluting. Stop killing each other. Man, we suck.