DesignProcessTechnologyValue, A Conversation

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



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


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.


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.

The orchestrated conversation.

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


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.

Conversations Rule

I have been practicing architecture now since graduating in 1982 and becoming licensed in 1985. Working in design firms has always allowed me to participate in client meetings and project proposals – if you do the math, I have a lot of experience in both. 

For several years we utilized presentations to communicate to our clients – traditional models, boards, and formal static images to convey and communicate design. It got easier and faster with zip-a-tone, letraset, and Kroy lettering machines – anyone over 40 may remember these things. If you don’t, ask an old dude. 

But it was still always a presentation –a fixed message.

PowerPoint came online and we rejoiced! Now you could animate – present faster, easier, and cleaner than ever before – and you still can. But it felt just that…canned. 

PowerPoint gets a bad rap that it just doesn’t deserve. 

Now, you can be critical of a presenter, but not the software. We have ALL sat through presentations where slides are read to us.

It’s 2017PLEASE do not ever do a presentation where you read through the slides to an audience…EVER.

If you want a great resource for good presentation skills I recommend Presentations Field Guide” by David Sparks.


And yet, we have found ourselves doing something differently

It’s subtle, but profound. Profound to the point others have been inquiring about how we do what we do.

It’s best explained this way:

I’ve referenced PowerPoint above.  We learned how to do good – great – PowerPoint presentations. Huge presentations, with many slides, and animations that made sense. We told a story. Got projects. 

Years ago, when called to a client’s office to visit about a possible project, we had an hour to load a computer with example project information, example process information, and information about ourselves. That meeting became a watershed moment in my career because instead of presenting to the client, we had a conversation. 

A conversation about them

Their needs, their desires, their concerns. And in having this conversation about THEM, we were able to show them how WE worked, problem solved, and could do the same for THEM. In the course of this conversation we opened software and exhibited HOW and WHY things were done. 

It was subtle, but profound. We opened the software and showed them. 

Not PowerPoint. Software. Whatever it needed to be. 

Looking back on this I have realized, clients know we work in software – why not let them see us work? Why hide behind the veil of PowerPoint? Let them see we know the software, how it works, and how it can work for them.  If they have an idea or question, show them the answer. 

How do you do this? 

Without a PowerPoint. 

Without a canned presentation. 

Without a net.

With a readiness for a conversation.

Ready to not only let them see WHAT you can do for them, but HOW. NOW, as you are talking with them.

I stated in my last post that you need to sleep with your software and hardware. Become familiar with it – comfortable with it. With this familiarity and comfort comes a confidence and nimble-ness (and, you will find, a wonderful nervousness) that allows you to converse by using the device.

Let a client SEE the active window- or five stacked on top of one another – on multiple desktops, in different operating systems, inside and outside of the office. 

It shows that you know the software.

And that you CAN do this for them. 


They become part of the process.

Conversation vs. Presentation:

  • Which do you think results in most memory retention? 
  • Which do you think results in a more pleasurable time (for all parties?)
  • Which do you think typically results in a “let’s do this again” kind of feeling? 
  • Which does not have a script? 

Be ready and know your software. Be “conversational” in your software.

Ever take a foreign language? Not me – but I know what it means when folks talk of being “conversational” in French, Spanish, Pig-Latin…you need to be conversational in your design software as well. 

Enter the Ipad.

On April 3, 2010, Apple introduced the iPad. It was reported to be magical. It was reported to be ground breaking. It was going to change things. It has.

The first version of it ended up being explained by critics as being for “content consumption.” One could digest the intellectual bounty of treasures online at their leisure – anywhere. They were pretty much correct.

Later versions of the device all reported to be for “content creation” and I admit it is great for that – I’ve gone through four versions. 

But we have a third “C” – the device is best for is CONVERSATION.

Conversation about our designs, about our client’s needs, and about every aspect of a project. 

Conversation with a client, 

with a building official, 

with a contractor – you get the idea.

Tina Fey said it best: Improvisation is magic. 

Take your stiff software, your standard hardware, and  mix it with your sketch software, your flow chart software, that spreadsheet software, those maps apps, that funky animation software, goofy 3D software, your marketing software, and that virtual meeting software. Add your Apple pencil and be ready to reference them at a moment’s notice.

Open one up and do it live – without a net, but WITH your client, their contractor, that building official and see the magic happen. 

Be ready to be nervous. 

Be ready to “undo” a few things. 

Be ready to have others jump in and want to be part of the conversation because they can’t help it. 

Everyone wants to be part of something magical. 

Be confident. 


You’ll be amazed where this can take you.

The age of canned presentations is done – you can quote me on that. 

Consumption is good,

Creation is great,

But Conversations rule. 

When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with a client? Without a net?

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