Friday, May 27, 2011

Icon & App Name Evolution of SleepMute for Mac OS X

SleepMute for Mac OS X, the utility that automatically mutes and unmutes your Macs sound, is nearly two months old now, and I've finally got some time to write about it. One of the big differences for Tangerine Element on this project was hiring a professional icon designer. I had done all the icon work on iTimeZone for iOS, and it didn't turn out to bad. My graphics skills hit the wall early on that part of the project and it was a hard slow climb up the hill to ship what I did.

Get It Started
I find that to keep motivated when working on my own apps, I have to have a good idea of what the icon will be. I started with the following image that I cobbled together from desktop wallpaper and my take on the Mac OS X speaker icon on the menu bar:
Since this is a Mac app, having good quality icons at 16x16 all the way up to 1024x1024 (I'm future proofing) was more than a match for my feeble skills with a bitmap editor.

Having this temp image though was like writing an application definition statement. I had a very clear idea and intentionally limited the scope for 1.0. The only problem was I had the wrong name!

Google-Fu Failure
When I started work on SleepMute, the app was actually named IdleMute. Before I wrote a line of code, I bought the freely available idlemute.com. Who ships an app today without buying the domain?!? Once I owned idlemute.com, I wrote code and tested willy nilly and didn't think about it again. I was seconds from sending the first email to the icon designer (more on him in a second) detailing what IdleMute 1.0 was and what I wanted in the icon when I did another search for the name and boom, similar functionality apps on other platforms came falling out of the woodwork. Clearly my googling skills failed to reveal these apps when I first started the project. In the end, I am much happier with SleepMute than IdleMute. IdleMute was what I defaulted to as a developer, and really matched Windows terminology, which still depressingly pops out of my head sometimes. SleepMute more nicely aligns with Apple's terminology shown to users.

The Professional
I was on a real tight timeline to ship SleepMute before work on another project got crazy, so finding an icon designer that could start immediately was a key factor. After looking around for a while, I found Andrea Austoni.

Andrea was great to work with. I gave him my prototype logo and provided the following direction:

What I was going for what something in what appears to be Apple's new template for Mac apps as shown with the Mac App Store icon. rounded circle border, minimal 3D, easily convertible into pure 2D if needed. For the SleepMute icon, I was trying to take the muted speaker in the Mac OS X menubar to draw that visual connection to muted sound in OS X. Then having Zs coming out of the speaker, common iconography for something sleeping, was supposed to show you know a sleeping speaker. My plan was to scale up or down the Zs, at 32, I had 2. I put them on a night sky background because I didn't want just a black background.
Armed with that information, he created this sketch:
Sketches

I loved that Andrea created concepts I hadn't even thought of before. We narrowed the sketches down to 3 to take to the next level:
Refined Concepts My wife, Andrea, and I all agreed that number 2 was the way to go. It solved the problem of having a natural circle border which follows Apple's latest Mac OS X icons, and it has more graphical punch, especially once we started putting colors on it:

I selected the lighter orange one which matched the Tangerine Element company colors better, then we made design tweaks.

Final

The main change from the earlier concept was the switch of the far outer and riveted rings for better contrast in a number of situations throughout Mac OS X.

Conclusion
Andrea has his own blog post about our experience working together, with a hint to showing icons correctly in Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. I enjoyed the process so much and the results, Andrea is working on an icon redesign for iTimeZone for iOS

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How Not To Advertise Fake iPads By Staples

My wife recently decided she needed a new hobby, so she started couponing. This means quickly acquiring these things called "newspapers" on Sunday made from dead tree parts and butchering them with sharp tools into tiny squares that you hand over to someone at a physical store. For this ritual sacrifice, they take money off the price of their goods. I know right, sounds so archaic, but at least it wasn't knitting!

Anyway, in the stack of coupon leaflets there was an ad created by Staples to sell fake iPads. Here is it in all it's "glory":

Staples Ad
Click/tap for bigger version

Let's take this apart:

  1. Adobe Flash enabled for a true Web experience...of frustratingly choppy video, browser crashes, and unplayable games.
  2. Run multiple programs for true multi-tasking...Tablets run Apps, this isn't Windows. How do I download programs for my Tablet?!?
  3. Front- and rear-facing cameras let you stay connected...When did Front gain a trailing dash? So the WiFi doesn't get us "connected"? How does a connection over a camera work?
  4. Play movies, music and games on the go...Isn't this like when advertising a new car saying "comes with tires".

Other observations & questions from a regular buyer's perspective:

  • Why is 7" Playbook more expensive then the Acer 10.1"?
  • Who at Motorola thought putting WiFi in the XOOM logo was a good idea?
  • Playbook doesn't have Dual-core or Google?
  • Is Acer's tablet called the Acer or the fine print Acer Iconia Tab? Is there a soft drink tie-in?
  • Where's the weight and thickness of any of these tablets?
  • Does wirelessly syncing the Playbook with a Blackberry phone cost something?

All TOO easy!

Monday, May 23, 2011

From Snarky Truth to Reasoned Explanation: Gender Discrimination in the Tech Industry

I haven't followed all the reference links, but Faruk AteĊŸ' From Snarky Truth to Reasoned Explanation is well worth the read about discrimination against women in technology in particular, but really in general. An excerpt:

"What we ultimately want is Formal equality: a world in which race, gender, ethnicity, orientation and religious beliefs do not affect the opportunities and treatment of any individual. Unfortunately, the only people who think we live in such a world (or work in an industry that enjoys Formal equality) are a certain class of people who have enjoyed privileges their entire lives. Many women, if you care to respectfully listen to them, will readily assure you that we do not live in such a world—or industry—at all."

One of the small things men in tech do, and probably everywhere, is refer to a group of their co-workers as guys when it includes women. I've been guilty of this in the past, a bad habit I finally broke a few years ago, and I've always believed in Formal equality for women. To any women that experienced my use of this term, please accept my apology. If you find yourself doing this, figure out how to eradicate this verbal tic from your speech.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

From the Grocery Store Line: Irony Lost

Clerk: How’re you doin’ today sir? Man: Good, the world's still here! Clerk: I know right, but I got a little nervous since the store was EMPTY last night. Man: Yeah well my church was FULL this morning.

Flash Hangs PS3 3.61

I updated to PS3 system software version 3.61, the first available after the massive data breach Sony suffered nearly a month ago.

Since the Playstation Network was still down for maintenance right after I updated, changed my password, and deleted my billing information (luckily, the credit card on file was already closed and expired, hackers lose!), I ended up using the embedded browser to read about the content of the 3.61 update on the PS3.

I agreed to run the plugin, which of course is Flash, and then clicked on the video for Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. My son wanted to see it and we've played every Ratchet & Clank game on PS3. It started to play, but since I am watching on an HDTV, I clicked the HD button on the video toolbar and then this:

IMG 0649

HUNG! Seriously, does Adobe Flash work flawlessly on any OS?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Goodbye Stargate!

We've been together a long time & I'm sad to see you go. Like a star athlete that plays past their prime, it was your time to end. To many recycled plots and underdeveloped characters slowly leached the fun out of the franchise. Also, the easy humor on display in SG-1 was in short supply as Atlantis and Universe took over the reins.

We both know this isn't the end, what death in Hollywood & sci-fi is? Even as I type this, I'm sure an executive somewhere is figuring out how to squeeze more milk from the cash cow. Perhaps you'll get a grand rebirth ala the Star Trek movie? More likely, you'll be put on ice to let wounded fans recover and a new creative team take over for an eventual episodic rebirth.

I can't promise I'll be there for you, but I probably will. Your brand of showing humanity move into the stars while explaining all our myths as aliens with "...sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" has undeniable appeal to me.

Enjoy the R&R!

How Moving Brands created the Showyou brand

Showyou Strategy Impressive amount of work product shared and very interesting seeing this level of detail creating an app brand.

Best quote ever about the iPad

A co-worker just reminded me of this choice quote from Paul Thurrott's Supersite for Windows on the iPad:
Anyone who believes this thing is a game changer is a tool. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is.
LOL! I can't stop laughing, made my day.