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Conversation regarding the architectural design process, and the technologies used.

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PDF Expert App Review

What’s in a name? In this case, almost everything.

PDF Expert.

Who has the moxie, pluck, gall, cojones, pride – whatever – to call anything they are marketing as expert? 

The folks from Readdle do, and they make a strong effort to live up to the hype.

This post is not a tutorial on everything this app does, but it is an attempt to share how we use it.

Do we compose original PDF documents on our iPads? No. Practically none.

Do  we manage everything we do in all our PDF’s on our iPads? Nope.

What we do, however, is use these devices to converse (there’s that word again) throughout the design process with our clients and within our office. This app – PDF Expert – goes a LONG way to make that happen.

Do you have oversized documents you need to include in your process?

Do you have multi page documents you need to use?

Do you need to markup, sign, share, extract from, and otherwise include in your design process? Do you need to show, share, and issue documents to others?

Do you need to sign a document? Insert a photo? Share a website? Memorialize a document?

Build, assemble, alter, rotate, break apart, or otherwise manipulate a PDF document?

How about reformat something into a PDF document? Yep, this app (now with a companion app) does this.

In meetings?

On site?

On the go?

On the fly?

Without a net?

This app does that. You’ve heard there’s an app for that – this is it. Before I go too far into this post, let me say I think the name is silly. But I’m beyond that and no longer hung up on the name…because the app works. Hard, well, and consistently. It delivers.

I know there are others – BlueBeam, to name one – but as I posted earlier, when you find one that works, well, stick with it until something undeniably better comes along.

In this regard, I’m still waiting on a better PDF app.

Be aware that Readdle makes a family of apps for productivity; while we aren’t involved in the typical business process, we don’t utilize everything they offer. A companion app, PDF Converter, is used much like a plug-in. This app converts almost anything to PDF and allows use and full function in PDF Expert. This app is crazy simple and connects through menu functions with PDF Expert seamlessly. You can convert almost everything you see on your iPad screen into a PDF – websites, photos, text documents, whatever – and open directly to PDF Expert for your use. If you use PDF Expert, you will want to use PDF Converter.

As an aside:

1.  I have heard great things about Documents and how it allows filing and saving to folders with iPads that has been, until now, a frustration. I’m looking into this app and may adopt it in the near future, depending upon how and IF it works with our NAS here in the office.

2. In my experience, Readdle has been a company that communicates. We have, on occasion, needed to talk to them and they listened.

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 11.54.41 AM

I’m including another short video for this post; I’m finding it shows so much more than I can type. In full transparency, I just wanted to show how we use the app, and in what ways,but my first take was over 30 minutes. I know you don’t want to sit through (and miss) an entire sitcom while taking all of this in, so I’ve attempted to edit, clip, and otherwise shorten the summary video.

Consider how you present and share ideas as you review the video (PDFexpert has a couple of “modes” – my word in this case.) We leave it live and find it more engaging and immersive.

Try it. I believe not only will you like it, you will find your clients also like it and want to participate in meetings with you.

Regarding PDF’s, and their use in communication in the design process, it does not get better than this.

Noteshelf App Review

Noteshelf.

This app is one of my primary go-to apps.

Please understand, I am getting no compensation for this post. No free sample to try, no perk. I’m writing this blog because on many occasions I am asked, how are you doing this? or what app are you using to do that?

I cannot simply tell them which app I’m using without explaining how they work and why I’m using them. So here goes…

Again, if you know of an app you want to share with me, please do!

So, Noteshelf.

This is the little app that could – and can, and still does.

Earlier I stated some points that apps have to deliver on:

  1. Deliver consistently.
  2. Work well.
  3. Play well with others.
  4. Stay current.
  5. Let me be the author/creator and have my identity.
  6. As much as possible, coordinate and link to my desktop.
  7. Do not let me down.
  8. Communicate well with others.

This app does this and more – it is so intuitive it’s freaky sometimes. The user interface is wonderful. The ease of use is wonderful.

What’s not to like? Well, some may have a list:

  1. No search within the app. I haven’t needed it.
  2. No handwriting recognition. No need for that, too (although it may have that by now…).

What it does is let me record, draw, type, sketch, import images, mark them up, and create a document. Specifically, notebooks (hence the name Noteshelf, I suppose).

The couple of things I wish it did, but doesn’t?

  1. Import video. Not needed much, but as you can send out the “pages” to others, doing so with a video imbedded would be GREAT. If an image is good, why not a video, right?
  2. Work in layers on a page. As you note and draw and type and import and highlight and mark up, you will at times wish you could do so on layers. Maybe it’s coming…
  3. Alternative page sizes. The app has pages that are essentially 8 1/2 X 11 portrait and I wish it could do larger format sheets. It does landscape now, but still could use oversized sheets (type D, E, E1, etc.)

That’s about it. It pretty much does everything else.

What’s so great about it?

Of the items referenced above, item 5 – let me be the author and creator – is a game changer. What I do in Noteshelf is on my letterhead. Mine. Not some by-line created in Noteshelf, mine.

Noteshelf lets me create and share with my identity – and share with everyone at the same time with no additional formatting, titling, etc. It’s like I’m working on my letterhead all the time because if I want to I AM – and you can, too. This is simply great!

While out in the field, in the office, on a plane, on a construction site, where ever – you are working if you want to. On your letterhead, title, or border, you can send out to any and everyone you want to – instantly.

Have job site observations? Send them out on the site. Client meeting notes? Send them to your client while you’re still across the table from them.

There almost no end to what it can do in your mobile device – pending my wish list, of course.

Need to share something you did in another app? Do it it the other app, take an image of it, and upload it into Noteshelf. You can mark it up, erase, type over, highlight, and format as needed to share with others. The point of this is to share.

Share knowledge, direction, instruction, and clarity of ideas in your design process. Noteshelf scores in doing this.

Make your work yours.
Make your process yours.
Then share it.

You’ll find this is a daily app.

The app of my eye.

I have covered posts concerning connection, management, training, and concepts of software and apps used in our design process – now it’s time for a more detailed look at the individual apps themselves.

Below you’ll find a video of the apps on my iPad that I have attempted to integrate into my conversations. There are a lot of apps – only two games – but mostly photo manipulation, text, note-taking, and sketching apps.

MANY of these apps are award winners and great in their own right.

MANY of them have followers who swear by them. I found myself not swearing by them at times and maybe sometimes swearing at them – so they went.

If they work for you, that’s wonderful…keep reading.

All have their merits, but I have found that after I install an app I either warm up to it quickly or I do not – it gets uninstalled quickly, so as not to take up valuable space, and ceases to be a distraction on my desktop or iPad.

Yes, I use an iPad – Pro, even, and the Apple pencil – and I love it. Let me say that Apple has rocked the computer and computing world. For this, I tip my hat to them.

While I have not purchased Apple stock, I believe my office has invested Apple into our company. I will feel good about this until they appear not to be the best investment for us to make. I hope the apparent trend of them not placing a priority on desktop computing does not make us consider other alternatives, but it is looking like that may be the case with news of Apple closing desktop computing departments, OS divisions,  and offering no real meaningful developments and performance upgrades for quite some time. However, they are setting the bar consistently high in the mobile device aspect of our design conversations and processes.

The result?

While we may be considering alternative devices and hardware (and resulting software) for desktop office applications, we are NOT regarding our mobile devices.

In fact, we are so committed to Apple’s mobile devices that we recently purchased and provided iPad Pros and Apple pencils to everyone in our office (full disclosure: there was one person who had already committed to a Surface Pro, so I am eager to see how it works in our world. I’m looking forward to understanding what alternative things we learn in this). This very post is being composed on my iPad Pro while flying over the Gulf to Miami and on to Aruba – I can’t think of another device I’d want to use.

So.

What apps am I using and why?

The “why” is a more meaningful discussion to me. I’ll get into “what” apps soon enough.

Why use an app?

What do you desire to accomplish?

How do you work?

With whom do you work?

What is your product?

These questions will direct you to specialties of apps out there (there are thousands to choose from in several categories), but I find they all have to answer some basic questions.

Here is my short list of things an app has to do to have value in my process:

  1. Deliver consistently.
  2. Work well.
  3. Stay current.
  4. Let me (in this case, you) be the author/creator and have my identity, not the developer of the app. I am the one producing, let me and my office represent.
  5. As much as possible, coordinate and link to my desktop.
  6. Do not let me down – can you think of an app of yours that crashes often? That’s known to be “buggy”?
  7. Communicates and plays well with others – other apps, other devices, other people. Nothing is done in a vacuum; for an app to work well, it needs to add value to my companion apps.

That’s about it.

Not a lot of specs and nerd statistics. If an app works well for me and delivers, it stays. If not, it cannot go fast enough.

I’ve been asked, how do I find my apps? Easy answer:

1.Constantly be on the lookout for them. Keep your ear to the ground.

2.Read about them.

3.Search for them.

4.Talk to others about their apps.

5.TRY them.

Take a look below at the apps I’ve purchased.

202 of them.

How many are on my go-to list? Seven. 3.4%.

Not many make the cut. Frankly, as time goes on, making the cut gets harder and harder.

So, which seven apps have stood the test of time?

  • Noteshelf
  • Sketchbook
  • PDF Expert
  • Snapseed
  • Pages
  • Numbers
  • Mail

Short and sweet. Seven apps I do not want to do without. There are others, to be sure,  but these seven are workhorses for me.

These let me represent me and my company – my clients and their concerns and goals. These let me clearly represent the concerns and accomplishments of the design process and do not get in the way.

If an app can do this, it is a good one to have as a resource. If it does not, it will not get carried around.

If you find you visit an app frequently, then place it in your Dock – why hunt between screens? Keep it at the bottom of the screen, and it’s always there. Let yourself hunt for the lesser used apps; keep the go-to apps at your fingertips. Don’t limit this area to just Apple apps – they let you put any app there – use it!

Note: All seven of my go-to apps are in this dock. No accident.

This is why, in earlier posts, I discussed being familiar with your software and apps. If you are not comfortable with an app, either get there by playing with it or don’t bother at all.

The takeaway?

  1. Explore apps. When you find one, stick with it…until something better comes along.
  2. Talk to the designers. They sometimes really do want to hear from you.
  3. When you find some you really like, hang in with them and you will find their use becomes second nature.
  4. Enjoy – this should be fun, after all.

If you have some apps you think I should check out, let me know.

I’ll take a more detailed look at features and our use of particular apps on our next visit.

First stop:  1200x630bb

Stay tuned.

Hard Questions for Software.

 

This conversation series is about technology utilized in the design process; this week the conversation is about software purchases.

While we will focus in detail on software products in future posts, this post is looking at general questions to ask before you commit to a software.  Put simply, you need to make sure you’re going to get along.

When you acquire software, you do so in a number of ways and also have a number of things to consider resulting from that acquisition – this is the point  of this post. What are the things that result in the acquiring of software? If these things are not considered prior to committing to a software then surprises – usually unpleasant surprises – result.

Two examples of what I encourage you to consider:

  1. A friend of mine once told me that,  when considering the purchase of a new car , the measure of how expensive a car will be is to ask what the cost of an oil change will be. This will tell you how expensive the car will be to own – or will it own you?
  2. Someone tells you they have a free cat (or puppy or gold fish) just needing a good home…everyone knows there is no such thing as a free cat. Puppies and goldfish have very different requirements and responsibilities – computers and software are no different.

Think about owning the system and process more than acquiring a software, system, or process. This is where you can determine whether there is a value there for you.

Questions regarding software purchase considerations fall into 3 large categories:

  • Software: sometimes called software, sometimes just an app. It’s hard to tell the difference anymore.
  • Hardware: The host system of the software installation – this can be a machine or network – depends and affects complicated-ness.
  • Users: Somebody’s got to run the software, right? Look around and take inventory – are they already busy and covered up? Are they jumping at the chance to run this new software or running for cover? Be honest here, purchase may be a one-time thing, but using it is forever (or can seem like it!).

Software is what you think you are acquiring, but hold on – before giving them that credit card number and pushing the “complete transaction” button, think about the following:

  1. Can the software be hosted locally or does it require the Cloud?
  2. Is it a license, subscription, or one-time purchase? Long gone are the days of a delivery of an installation set of disks or going to a big-box store and purchasing a set of disks to install to have “forever.”
  1. How does it update?
    1. How often?
    2. Is it forced, invited, or pushed on you?
    3. How are they managed? By whom?

4. When you acquire the software, who owns it? What account was it purchased under? Who’s log-in account was it purchased through? Do you have a company account or individual accounts? Have you kept record of those log-ins and passwords?

5. Where does the software do its work? Some software coding and structure results in the processing not occurring within the CPU (as you would assume) but rather in the GPU – this is especially prevalent in graphics intensive programs. Be careful with this – we recently purchased a graphic intensive program and it was a better performer on a machine with a lesser CPU (due to spec of the CPU and the needs of their software).  Sure, a hotter CPU would have looked great on paper, but would not have been as fast or productive as the lesser CPU that was available. We were happy to purchase the machine with the less costly CPU and NOT the machine with the hot rod CPU that we did not need.

6. Where is the work product saved?

1. Locally on the machine?

2. Locally on a server?

3. Remotely?

4. In the Cloud?

7. Is the software comparable with multiple OS’s? If so, which one is the stronger performer? WHY?

8. Can more than one user be working in a file at the same time? What does this require?

9. How is the new process and product going to be used? Shared? Published?

10. What kind of service can I expect from this company? Call them. Email them. Text them. Whichever is their process of communication – see how quickly they respond and how helpful they are BEFORE you need them.

11. How long can I expect this software to be relevant?

12. Does this software require a software upgrade?

1. What are the minimum OS requirements?

2. What are the recommended OS requirements?

3. Go ahead and let yourself nerd-out on this with a trial, if available. You may be surprised what you find – and surprises before the purchase are much better than after. Do your homework!

13. What kind of training is typically required? What is offered? How do you get it?

14. Who in your office will be operating this software? Who in the office will “own” it?

15. How will this software make my design process better? Where is the value? How can this value be measured?

16. How will this software make my design process more complicated? If you haven’t figured this out by now, insertion of a software that is going to require training you may not already have, potentially new hardware to be purchased and, producing new information or product you untill now have not had access to – how can it NOT make things a little more complicated till you get this figured out?

17. How proven is this software?

18. How many folks in the industry want to do this?

19. How long will this process take?

20. How many copies or licenses are you going to need to acquire? Take this number and multiply the above responses by that factor – especially when considering hardware and training. Until now, the software purchase is the easiest thing you’ll do.

21.  Lastly – knowing your responses to all of the above – how much is this consideration going to cost?

New software can be exciting like a new bike or family pet – and it should be. But make sure you consider living with it before bringing it home. Ultimately, it’s your decision – get it if you want to. I encourage you to get it if the above considerations result in a “let’s do this thing” response, but do so with your eyes wide open.

Doing so will assist in making your new acquisition of software a happy new member of your design process family. Everyone will get along – right?

Enjoy! Now you can do new, better, and exciting things in your adventure.

Let me know how it goes.

The orchestrated conversation.

No one app does it all – if a developer tells you otherwise, turn and run.

BUT:

Used in concert with each other, multiple apps can be magical. This is when design, conversation, and collaboration are truly a joy – for my company and our clients. The conductor of this conversation is Reflector 2.

You may wonder why I went through all the technical jargon about being connected in prior posts; it takes cables and networks and even apps to make the magic possible. If set up properly and maintained, connectivity is seamless, unseen, and unheard. It allows you and the design process to shine.

If you utilize the devices and hardware that we do, it also demands consistent connectivity. Things happen that try to compromise what you are doing, but familiarity with your software, hardware, and design goals will make it all right.

As almost every blues rock song goes, everything’s all right – it’s gonna be all right.

So don’t fret – go for it.

If you (musically speaking) miss a note in the conversation, keep going.  Compensate and everything will truly be alright – great, even. What song has ever been played perfectly?

Conversations are not rigidly scripted;  they get vulnerable, and honest, and spontaneous. That is when art happens – when architecture happens.

So, Reflector 2. You aren’t going to see much of it, but everything you are going to see in the following video is borne on the shoulders and back of the app. There are other products that appear to do what Reflector 2 does, but I challenge you to find a better value in performance, stability, and price. If you do, please let me know about it. I want to see it.

Reflector 2 simply allows you to reflect: it broadcasts your mobile device signals & images to another device (in my case, a laptop computer – sometimes a Mac, sometimes a Windows machine). And it’s doing this live. Reflector 2 allows you to have a conversation with a client and literally have no limitations of media, technique, and images for your design process.

The accompanying video is a screen shot on my Windows laptop of example images and conversational sketching, design sketching that can be done, experienced and recorded – yes and recorded – with you and your clients.

We use this app and process hard. It is a software we do not want to ever do without. Reflector 2 is also one of the apps I have written about whose update I installed the night before a presentation – and it was not fully cooked and ready in the morning. I found an alternative, wrote the Reflector folks a pointed email, and it was corrected faster than I imaged it could be. Great service and a great app to boot.

The point is:

Take the connectivity thing seriously. Set it up  and use it up. Converse with everyone in the design process using every piece of software you need – now you truly have no limits.

Reflector 2 is a highly recommended way to do this.

What have you talked about today? Across platforms? With others? Live?

Give it a shot. I believe you’ll be pleased where the design process can go – and how fast.

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