Author Archives: Rachel

Importing Custom Brush Sets – Sketchbook for Mac

This deals with the desktop version of Autodesk Sketchbook, not the iPad version. Sketchbook is now a subscription application. Only the paid, Pro version allows importing of brushes.

Illustration of Rachel's brush set

My custom graphic recording brush set.

 

Some time ago, I created a custom brush set for Autodesk Sketchbook Pro (an older version). I’ve updated the brush set and created a video showing how to import a brush set into the application.

Download my new Graphic Recording brush set for 2015.

If you prefer the older set, it’s still available here (scroll down, it’s near the bottom of the post), and it can still be imported.

Don’t unzip the files; Sketchbook will look for a zip file when you try to import the brushes. Happy recording!

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Transforming Virtual Meetings: What Do You Think?

Last week I had the marvelous opportunity to chat with Rachel Hatch, one of the research directors for Institute for the Future (IFTF)’s Ten-Year Forecast program. Rachel is into a wide range of fascinating things including affective technologies, which are devices and systems that can detect, interpret, and/or represent human emotions and behaviors related to emotions. She also has a radical view about virtual meetings: what if we don’t try to make them as good as face-to-face meetings? What if we look at them as something totally different and make them the best that they can be, in ways that don’t map to face-to-face meetings at all? Mmm. Love it.

I’m really curious what YOU think about some of the ideas we talked about. Each of the sections below ends with a question. If you have thoughts about one or more of them, post your answer in the comments.

Attentional Proximity

Our conversation started with the idea of attentional proximity, which is people paying attention to the same thing at the same time. Rachel observes that in collaborative work, attentional proximity is more important than physical proximity (i.e., being physically near someone). She also notes that physical proximity doesn’t guarantee attentional proximity; just think of the last time you tried talking to someone next to you who was busy playing with their mobile, and you’ve got the picture of physical proximity without attentional proximity.

We talked about how challenging it is to convey attentional proximity in remote settings. The cues that we are used to depending on, like body language, gaze direction, and posture, are often unavailable in those settings. Rachel also pointed out that among colleagues she feels in tune with, she finds it easy to share attentional proximity even at a distance, and she raised the question of what might be at the core of those interactions that makes them flow so well and be so productive.

I’ve experienced this too—there are some people it just seems easy to be in sync with, or some situations where it has just clicked—and I also wonder what makes that happen or not happen. Obviously if one of us is distracted or thinking of something else, we won’t get that ‘click,’ but sometimes it just doesn’t seem to happen no matter what.

Question 1: Have you experienced attentional proximity with someone at a distance? How did you recognize it, and what do you think allowed that to happen?

Copresence

Last fall, Rachel wrote an article, From Telepresence to Copresence, about shifting the conversation around remote work from aiming for telepresence (“as if you were there”) to embodying copresence (“different from and maybe better than being there”). This is an idea that I really love as a way to reframe virtual work. She points out that using the term ‘remote’ or the prefix ‘tele’ puts distance at the center of the relationship. ‘Copresence,’ on the other hand, puts togetherness at the center.

As near as we can tell, the term copresence comes from sociology, where it describes the experience of being with other humans, either physically or otherwise (see this article by Shanyang Zhao at Temple University for a taxonomy of types of copresence). I asked Rachel to describe what copresence looks like with a geographically dispersed group or team; how can you tell when you’re experiencing it? She responded that what it brings to mind for her is having an ambient sense of who is available for shared attentional proximity, and when. She’s thinking of signals like we might see with Skype icons (available, busy, offline, grumpy, what have you), but “embedded in the surfaces of the environment in subtle ways that impact your actual experience of the space as a remote worker.”

She also sees a trend toward micro-collaboration, where people work together for very short periods of time and need to be able to shift in and out of collaborative relationships quickly and easily. This implies a need for indicators of trust (as in, how much of the company’s IP is this person trusted with) that could be supplied by some of the same technologies that deal with attentional proximity and ambient prompting.

Question 2: What do you think about the term copresence? Do you find that it opens possibilities for how we think about working together at a distance, or do you have a different view?

Reframing Virtual Meetings

I was struck by Rachel’s idea about reframing virtual meetings partly because of a response that came in to The Grove’s Five Minutes on Working Virtually survey last May. One of the respondents expressed the view that virtual meetings can’t be improved, and it got me thinking. Attempting to recreate face-to-face meetings in virtual settings isn’t a long-term strategy, I have to agree. While high-end video conferencing is a great option, I don’t think it’s the right solution for most people because I really feel that it should be possible to fully participate in virtual meetings right from your own desk. Virtual reality and holograms may eventually provide options for avatars that are even better than ‘being there,’ but right now, they just don’t.

I think we are still working on this, and I see two big groups of technologies that will help virtual meetings come into their own: hardware-based tools and software-based tools. The hardware-based tools take advantage of affective technologies by giving us physical objects that convey some of the cues we would normally get in other ways, like the ambient collaborative prompts Rachel mentions in her article, or wearable devices that signal the user with vibrations or other sensory information.

The software-based tools don’t require any additional objects and include programs or apps that support activities that can be done online as well as or better than they can be done in person. These include tools for using sticky notes card boards, collaborative drawing, polling and voting, and the like. Right now, most of them are aiming for the ‘as well as’ category by reproducing activities that would be done in a face-to-face meeting, maybe adding a few extra features, but not really breaking totally new ground. I think there’s a lot of room for really new ideas about what we can do online to support collaborative work that is simply different from what can be done in person.

Question 3: What do you think? What would you love to do in a virtual meeting that would support your work, but can’t be done face to face?

Rachel’s Seven Shifts

Rachel’s article, From Telepresence to Copresence, concludes with a list of seven shifts we should make if we want copresence to be the norm in 2025. I asked her which of the shifts she thought would be easiest to make, and which the hardest; and I asked her to say which one she felt would have the greatest impact. Here are her thoughts:

RS: Which shift will be the hardest?

RH: The first [“as if” you were there to better than if you were there] or last [pre-structured days to emergent, just-in-time calendaring] would be hardest. The calendaring thing is so deeply embedded, how we relate to time is so deeply embedded, it’s the substrate of everything. This one will be the most challenging in traditional business contexts.

RS: Which will be easiest, in your view?

RH: Ambient signals of availability might come on line pretty quickly because of the pace of change around the internet of things and networked smart objects. We’ve seen a lot of Kickstarter campaigns for things like the TapTap bracelet and so on, and I think social norms will come along quickly. It’s an intermediate step; once you see these things everywhere, you start to ignore them after a while. Where it gets interesting is if the design of the experience can convey an energy; a spectrum, a different set of colors, something so we know how you’re feeling and not just whether you’re there.

RS: If we could universally, magically, make just one of those shifts right now, which one would be the most impactful?

RH: Shifting from physical to attentional proximity. It would unleash so much productivity! Imagine ‘just-in-time dream teams,’ where you can capture someone’s attention just at the right moment of a project based on their location… You could grab their attention for half an hour, take advantage of those efficiencies and just in time interactions.

Question 4: Looking at the seven shifts in Rachel’s article, which one grabs you? Why?

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How to Make a Movie with WorkVisual Exporter (Alpha Version)

Even if you don’t have access to the original Brushes app, you can make movies of your iPad drawings and sketchnotes again thanks to the new WorkVisual app. As the developers say in no uncertain terms, the Exporter tool is in alpha release. It’s not an easy process, but it’s possible!

A lot of the setup only needs to be done once, and after you get your workflow underway it goes faster. Keep in mind that these instructions will only be useful until the alpha software changes. Also note that the WorkVisual Exporter only works on the Mac at the moment.

THE DEMO MOVIE

I used an old diagram I drew a while ago so that I could test a movie with tracing for this demo. Read on for the long and detailed instructions on how to get your iPad drawing into a file you can open in your favorite video editor.

After following Steps 1-4 below, I imported the .mov file and still frame into Final Cut Pro X, sped the movie up, and added the title that looks like a piece of tape.

A. THE EASY PART: Drawing on the iPad

  1. Open a new drawing in WorkVisual and set up your layers.
  • Create 3 layers and don’t reorder them. This is very important. Because of a bug in the Exporter, the movie will show layers in the order they were created, so if you reorder them, your movie will not look right.
  • Import a picture if you are tracing. It gets placed on a new top layer. Drag it to the bottom. Because of a bug that this time works in our favor, the imported picture will be invisible to the Exporter, so it doesn’t matter that you reorder this one layer.
  • Set opacity on the picture layer down low enough that you can see it but it won’t get in your way. (Ignore this step if you didn’t import a picture.)

The way the layers look at the end

What the layers look like when the drawing is finished.

  1. Start to draw or write.
  • Use the top layer for your outlines, text, and other top-level content.
  • Use the second layer down to color in shapes you have drawn.
  • Use the third layer down to add shadows or airbrushing under the colors and shapes.

Detail of the drawing

Detail of the drawing. The outlines are on the top layer, the colors on the next one down, and the shadows on the one under that. The bottom layer is the tracing (set to 0% opacity and invisible at the moment) and the other one is a rogue layer that sneaked in there.

  1. When you’re done, go back to the Gallery to send yourself the file you need.
  • Tap the Share button.
  • Choose Export for Mac Tool.
  • Mail it to yourself (mail needs to be set up on your iPad and you need a wifi or cell connection.)

The Share button in the gallery

Gallery and share button.

 

B. THE HARD PART: Creating the Video File on the Computer

There are four main steps: Install the WorkVisual Exporter; install or identify a program to handle your image sequence; export your image sequence; turn the image sequence into a video file.

Step 1. Install the WorkVisual Exporter.

  1. Download the WorkVisual Exporter in exchange for leaving your email address for update notifications.
  2. While you’re there, you may wish to look through the workflow description on the same page. It’ll help the rest of this post make more sense.
  3. The download link gets emailed to you, so check your email, click the link, and save the file where you can find it again.
  4. Go find the file and double-click to open it. It’s a .zip file, so this will unzip the Exporter.
  5. Double-click the Exporter to launch it. If your computer asks you if you really want to open it, search your soul and do as your conscience dictates. If you decide not to open it, you’re done but you can’t make a movie. Otherwise, read on.
  6. If you wish, you can drag the application icon to your Dock, or place it in your Applications folder so you can find it again later.

Step 2. Install (or identify) a program to handle your image sequence.

Leave the Exporter alone for a moment while you get the second piece of software you need: the one that will turn the image sequence into a movie. There are a lot of choices for how to do this, ranging from free to expensive.

Things to know:

  • Beware of the free tools you might find by doing a web search. Image and video converters are notorious for containing malware. Not all free tools do, but use common sense when making your selection, and do a search on the name of the tool to find reviews and comments.
  • Photoshop can apparently convert images into video, but each frame becomes a new layer. The Exporter generates a LOT of frames. I don’t know how many layers Photoshop can handle before it goes nuts, but I’d be careful.
  • Adobe Media Encoder can also do this, although I found it frustrating when I tried it and eventually went with QuickTime Pro 7.
  • I gather that Adobe After Effects can also do it, though I don’t know how to use it.
  • It’s possible that Final Cut Pro X does it, which would save a step, but I haven’t figured it out yet. Final Cut Pro 7 used to do it but that was a while ago.
  • Most tools want you to only open the first image in the sequence. Don’t select and open all of the images, or it won’t work.

I chose to use QuickTime Pro 7, which is very old but still available and still functional. Please note that although QuickTime is built into OS X, the function that we need isn’t. You can have QuickTime 7 installed right along with the one that comes with OS X. If you don’t have QuickTime Pro already, you can buy it for $30.

Installing QuickTime Pro:

  1. Check your Utilities folder to see if you already have QuickTime Player 7. (Look in Macintosh HD > Applications > Utilities).
  2. If you don’t have QuickTime Player 7, you can download it here (free and necessary in order to upgrade to Pro).
  3. Double click the download file and follow the instructions to install it.
  4. Once you have QuickTime Player 7, open it by double-clicking it.
  5. If you already had QuickTime Player 7, check to see if you have the Pro version by choosing Registration from the QuickTime Player 7 menu (upper left, next to the Apple menu). If you see a code in the box, you are good to go. No code? Just installed it? Read on.
  6. If you need to get QuickTime Pro, you can buy it here.

Here is a good, if old, QuickTime overview for your reference.

If you prefer to explore other options, try searching on ‘convert image sequence to video’ or look at the article Convert an Image Sequence to a Movie by Andrew Noske.

Step 3. Export Your Image Sequence.

Now you’re set up, and you don’t have to do Steps 1 and 2 again for your next movie. From here down is the repeatable part.

  1. Go back to your email and look for the one you sent yourself with the drawing file attached.
  2. Download the attachment and save it in a new folder somewhere. Don’t skip the step of making a folder. You can thank me later. Also, don’t change the .workvisual part of the filename. You can change everything before the dot if you want.
  3. Go back to the WorkVisual Exporter that we launched and left running while we installed QuickTime Pro 7.
  4. Go to the File menu > Open, and navigate to the file you just downloaded. Open it.
  5. The image shows up in your WorkVisual Exporter window.

The Export button

My drawing in the Exporter window. The Export button is highlighted.

 

  1. To export the image sequence, click the Export button in the top right of the Exporter window.

Video options in the Exporter

Video export options. Use the Standard one.

  1. The top three options will export a nice JPG for you, but that’s not what we want.
  2. The bottom three options export the image sequence for video. That’s what we want. Pick the standard definition. NOTE: Your computer can run out of application memory and crash if you use the large or high-def settings. Even a nice, new computer. USE WITH CAUTION. This is a bug and they’re working on it.

 

Out of memory alert

This is what you’ll see if you run out of application memory.
Force quit the Exporter, shut everything else down normally, and reboot.

 

  1. Make another new folder inside the other one and name it Image Sequence or something equally memorable. You want all your images to go into one folder that has nothing else in it.
  2. Save the file with whatever name you want but MAKE SURE YOU ADD .jpg to the end of the name. If you skip that, this will not work.
  3. You’ll see a “Saving Image” progress bar. Let it do its thing, go get some coffee, whatever. It’s best if you don’t try to do anything else with your machine while it’s exporting.

 

The progress bar

There it goes! Don’t mess with it. Just walk away.

 

  1. When you get back, there will be a bunch of .jpgs in the new folder, all neatly numbered in order. Don’t change the filenames.
  2. It’s useful to export a still frame at the same size as your video, so go ahead and do that now using the first Standard setting. Remember to add .jpg to your filename. You’ll use this still frame in your video editor, adding it at the end of the video so that you have a nice hold for a few seconds when the drawing is done.

 

Image options in the Exporter

Choose the same size for the image as you did for the video.

 

Step 4. Turn the Image Sequence into a Video File.

To do this, we’ll use QuickTime Player 7 (even though we upgraded it to Pro, it’s still helpfully called Player). We just need to tell it which image to start with and what settings we want. If you chose a tool other than QuickTime Pro 7, you’re on your own here, but the process should be generally the same.

  1. Switch to QuickTime Player 7, or launch it if it isn’t open.
  2. Ignore the default window or close it if it’s in your way. Go to File menu > Open Image Sequence… and select the first image in your folder.

Opening an image sequence

Only select the first image, not all of them.

 

  1. Set your frame rate. I used 30, which is a standard frame rate. (24 and 29.97 are good too.) If you want to learn more, read this article on frame rate or play with this demo.
  2. Click OK, then wait a bit while nothing appears to happen. After a moment, your video will open. It’ll look like a blank white screen. Click the Play button at the bottom of the window to preview your video. You’ll notice it’s pretty slow. You can fix this in your video editing program later.
  3. Save the file as a self-contained movie and you are good to go. Ta da!

Using self-contained movie option

Choose self-contained movie.

 

If you want to fiddle with settings, you can choose File > Export… and play with different formats and different options for each one. The Save method described here results in a pretty large file size but you will get good quality.

The Other Part: Making a Whole Movie

I’m not going to cover this in detail because there are lots of great tutorials out there for making movies (one of my favorites is Izzy’s Final Cut Pro tutorial series).

  • Open your favorite video editing program (I use Final Cut Pro X, but iMovie, Premiere, or any other program will work too).
  • Import the video file and the still frame you created in the previous step.
  • Add audio, a soundtrack, still images, or whatever else you wish.
  • Adjust the timing so it’s faster or slower or whatever you need.
  • Place the still frame at the end of the drawing sequence to give people a moment to absorb the finished drawing.
  • Render it out and there you go!

If you try this process and discover something new, or if your experience with it is different, please share what you found!

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The Art and Experience of Graphic Facilitation: Fireside Chat from Nexus4Change

On June 3, 2015, I sat around a virtual campfire with Steve Cady, Rebecca Bruns, John Spalding, and about 50 guests, and we talked about graphic facilitation as an art and as an experience. I was honored to be invited to think of myself as a warrior and an artist. The chat lasted a little over an hour and you can watch and listen to it here:

What I loved about this was the way Steve pulled in images from all around the web to prompt the discussion topics. I had a list of advance questions that I responded to, but the chat itself wandered in and out and around that list, so it was totally unscripted. It was a fun conversation, covering a range of topics, including the nature of virtual campfires, the New Media Consortium‘s Horizon Report, graphic facilitation and technology, my personal mission on earth, interpretation and reflection in visual practice, and the emotional aspects of taking visual notes.

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A Digital Graphic Recorder’s Review of the WorkVisual App

Exploring WorkVisual

I admit I’ve been waiting for this app to be released ever since I first saw it demonstrated at EuViz 2014 by its creator, Holger Nils Pohl. I fell in love with the demo and instantly became BFFs with Holger (at least on my side). When the beta version was ready, I happily tested that, although I had to use a colleague’s iPad to do it. Now I’m thrilled to have the WorkVisual app on my own iPad and to have played with it enough to write up a review. (A long one.)

Lest you think that I am regarding this app through rose-tinted glasses, let me say right up front that it isn’t perfect. Read on to find out what I love, what I don’t love, and why despite its rough edges, this app is worth the $40 sticker price to me. But first, a video I created with the app yesterday:

See below for some notes about the video.

 

WHAT’S WORKVISUAL?

WorkVisual is a drawing app designed by a graphic recorder for graphic recorders. It’s optimized for digital note-taking, sketchnoting, and graphic recording. It isn’t a mind-mapping tool or a drafting tool. It’s designed for people who write and draw everything by hand. For those of us who know and love the original Brushes app, this is the first app that even comes close to reproducing the features and line quality of Brushes. Because it was designed by a graphic recorder, it adds some important features that even Brushes didn’t have.

 

WHAT I LOVE

In no particular order, these are the features that make me giddy with delight:

  • Presentation modes: WorkVisual has two modes for projecting the screen, Full and Follow. Set it to Full, and the projector keeps your work at 100%, showing the entire screen no matter how much you pan and zoom on the iPad itself—perfect for digital graphic recording in front of an audience. Set it to Follow, and viewers see what you see—perfect for teaching.
  • Gallery tags: I create a lot of drawings. WorkVisual has a tagging feature so that I can add the subject, client name, location, event name, or other labels to a drawing. Later, I can search on that tag to pull up all the related drawings.
  • Four spots for brushes: Access three custom brushes and an eraser with one single tap. This means a lot less fussing around in the brush menu.
  • Clean interface: The UI is incredibly simple and light. I had actually done two different graphic recordings before I realized that there’s no way to dismiss it. I simply stopped noticing it was there, except that all of my tools were always available.
  • Transparency lock: I love this, just love it. You lock the transparency of a layer, and then you can color over places you’ve already drawn, but nowhere else. Great for fixing mistakes where you wrote or drew in the wrong color accidentally.
  • Layer access: Switch to any layer with one tap. I switch layers a LOT and this makes my work so much faster.
  • Set as default: This hidden feature is super handy. In the Gallery, you can choose a drawing to set as the default, which means that any new drawing will start with that as the base. Great for setting up the titles and basic frames for a series of graphic recordings at an event.
  • Brush presets: Get your brushes just the way you want them and save a preset. Then, modify them for a custom job and save a different preset. Switch between them with a couple swift taps. Awesome.

And there are the features that are must-haves for graphic recording, for me at least:

  • Zoom: zoom way in, and double-tap to zoom out instantly. I use this all the time. Because the zoom is a double-tap and not a single one, you can tap-to-dot for punctuation, lettering, and so on.
  • Layers: Up to six, which is enough for me. They have the standard features of merge, transform, normal & multiply modes, opacity, duplicate, add a photo, clear, fill, and hide.
  • Undo: Just like the original Brushes, if you undo something, it won’t show up in your movie. Yay!
  • Export options: From the Gallery, you can mail a drawing as an image, save it to your Photos, or export the image sequence for the WorkVisual Exporter Mac tool (alpha).
  • Brush options: The brushes are customizable to just the right amount—enough flexibility to be useful without being confusing.
  • Color palettes: Create up to five swatch palettes of 15 colors each, plus you always have access to a custom color picker.
  • Eyedropper: Tap and hold anywhere to pick up that color, just like the old Brushes — yay!

 

WHAT I DON’T LOVE

Of course, there are a few things that aren’t ideal. Some of these might be bugs, and some are purely my preferences. I’ve shared the ones I think are bugs with the app’s creator, who is super and very open to feedback (thanks, Holger!). Again in no particular order:

  • Double-tap to zoom: This is a plus and a minus. It’s a plus because, as noted above, I can dot my i’s and punctuate properly. But I find that most of the time, the app reads my double tap as a single short stroke. The workflow looks like this: double-tap, double-tap, double-tap, double-tap, zoom, undo, undo, undo. I imagine for someone using a stylus, this would be difficult too.
  • Current brush shape doesn’t highlight: When editing a brush, it would be nice to know which brush shape was currently selected without having to look down at the brush button.
  • Brush sizes reset in between choices: If you set up a custom brush and change its pixel size, then use that same button to select a different brush temporarily, when you go back to the first brush it will have reset to the default pixel size. Creating and loading presets doesn’t help. This gets in my way because I have six common brushes and there are only four brush buttons, so I have to change to the other two when I need them. My basic brush keeps resetting from 3 pixels to 30. (Then again, maybe the app is just trying to tell me I write too damn small.)
  • ‘Undo brush’ notification: Every time you tap Undo, which for me is often, a little box pops up to let you know the brush is being undone. I have to wait for it to vanish before continuing. It doesn’t stay up long, but it breaks my flow and I would love to be able to turn it off.
  • Layer order in Export tool: There’s a bug (I assume) in the exporter tool that reorders layers when you export a high-res image or video. Since I usually create the text & outline layer first, then create the color layer when I need it and drag it underneath the first layer, this means that in the exported video my color is on top of my outline, which looks bad. You can see it in the video if you look closely enough.

 

WHY IT’S WORTH THE STICKER PRICE

At the time of this posting, WorkVisual sells for a pricey $39.99. I hear you. “For an app?! Are you nuts?” I know, I know. Here’s the thing. I’m a professional digital graphic recorder. This is a professional tool. It’s worth the investment. If your work involves drawing, sketch noting, or graphic recording with the iPad, this is the next tool you want in your toolbox. One job will cover it, you know it will.

When people ask me which app I recommend for graphic recording on the iPad, this is the one I will tell them to get if they are serious about it.

 

MY BRUSH CHOICES

It’s all explained in the video, but here’s a reference for my initial brush setup (click it for a readable copy):

 

Screen shot showing Rachel's brush settings

 

I think I’ll change the basic brush from 3 pixels to 5 pixels, because there’s a lot more variability in the line at 5 pixels. Plus, it really wouldn’t hurt if I wrote a little bigger. That will probably mean I bump the Color and Eraser brushes up a couple of pixels too.

 

MY TOOLBAR SETUP

This is how I have my brushes set up, and how I arrange the layers as I create them:

Screen shot showing brush layout

 

It’s a screen shot right out of the app, and all the lettering was done in WorkVisual. That’s its actual toolbar.

 

MAKING THE VIDEO

I’ll post a detailed step-by-step in a week or so once I’ve gotten the process smoothed out. For now, the short version is that it is possible but you’ve really gotta want it. Here’s a high-level overview:

  • Create your drawing. There’s a bug in how the layers are rendered out, so it’s best to set up your layers before you start and don’t drag any layers underneath any others.
  • In the Gallery, use the Export for Mac Tool command to email the .workvisual file to yourself.
  • Open the .workvisual file in the WorkVisual Exporter (separate Mac application).
  • Export it as described in the instructions on the app website.
  • Use your favorite tool to convert image sequences to video (there is a WORLD of sub-steps hidden in this one). I haven’t successfully rendered a high-res video from the app yet.
  • Open the video in your favorite video editor, add a voiceover and soundtrack, and render it out. Ta da!

You can see the result above. Couple things to look for in the video:

  • Since I couldn’t render a high-res one, it’s tiny (540p). If I render it larger (740p or 1080p) the lines are very blurry and look bad.
  • That, combined with my tiny writing, makes it difficult to read the text.
  • I made a couple of mistakes and erased them, so you’ll see that happening. Other mistakes I used the ‘undo’ command to get rid of, and you won’t see those.
  • The layering bug means that everything I color shows up on top of the outlines in the video. It looked right when I was recording it, but because I had reordered the layers, it comes out wrong in the exported video. It’s correct in the final still image of the video, which is a screen shot of the app.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

I’ll say it again: When people ask me which app I recommend for graphic recording on the iPad, this is the one I will tell them to get if they are serious about it.

I am thoroughly delighted with the app and ready to start using it as my primary digital note-taking tool. The initial release is a solid, robust app that does what it says it will do, with a clean interface and just enough features for graphic recording. I’m confident that it will continue to evolve and develop.

Because the Export tool is still in alpha, I’m not quite ready to kill Brushes in favor of WorkVisual, but I can see that happening down the road. This is good because my poor iPad is existing in a state of unstable limbo with iOS 7. I can’t upgrade to iOS 8, or I’ll lose Brushes’ ability to export high-res images and video completely. At the moment, Brushes is still the better option for creating video in terms of workflow and output.

With a little more work on the alpha Exporter tool, WorkVisual will soon be the app that I use most out of all the ones on my iPad.

 

Updated to add a mention of the Eyedropper feature that got left out the first time.

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Join.Me’s Whiteboard for iPad: Graphic recorders, rejoice!

Join.Me, a web conferencing tool, has released a new feature in the mobile version: Whiteboard for iPad. It’s worth a look.

Overall assessment:

This is definitely a big step in the right direction for making digital graphic recording accessible for more people. With this tool, you can start, host, and graphically record a web meeting in seconds, all from your iPad.

detail of Join.Me's whiteboard on iPad

What is it?

Join.Me is a web conferencing tool (think WebEx, GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, Zoom, and so on — there are lots.). This one has a hip, friendly vibe and is incredibly easy to use whether you’re on a desktop, a laptop, an iPad or other tablet, or a mobile device. Incredibly easy.

The thing that has catapulted Join.Me from ‘incredibly easy’ to ‘wow, just wow’ for me is its new whiteboard for iPad feature. I tested it today with some willing volunteers (thank you all, you know who you are) and I’m impressed.

With the whiteboard, you can draw, write, create shapes, and import images from Join.Me’s easily-accessible library or from your own photos on the iPad. You can share it while you’re drawing it, so viewers can see your whiteboard. You can share other documents, too, once you get them into Join.Me. You can draw right on the iPad’s screen and everyone can see it whether they are joining the meeting from a desktop, a laptop, an iPad, or a mobile device.

With one tap you can be in an audio conference along with the screen sharing, which means you can start, join, and participate in web meetings on your iPad and share your iPad’s screen. Yes, that means you can now graphically record web meetings on your iPad and have everyone see it. Easily.

What’s it good for?

I can see using this in several ways:

  • To share concept sketches or other documents with clients, annotating them in real time while we talk, even if I’m sitting in an airport or a hotel room or anywhere else.
  • To graphically record web meetings and have everyone be able to see it, even if I don’t have my giant Cintiq handy.
  • To quickly create rough sketches to capture ideas during a meeting.
Desktop view of Join.Me whiteboard

This is what it looks like on the computer when someone is sharing an iPad whiteboard.

 

Likes & Wishes

What I like about the whiteboard tool:

  • Infinite canvas: You can just keep sliding your work to the side and adding more. Viewers can pan and zoom independently of the presenter, too, so they can go back and check details anytime they need to.
  • Zoom: Totally necessary for any drawing app, in my view. The zoom isn’t as smooth as I would like and it takes a couple tries to zoom out sometimes, but there’s a handy framing button that jumps you back and forth.
  • Drawings are objects: Everything is treated like an object, which is nice because it can be resized, dragged, removed, recolored, and so on. You can pull a sticky note out of the Join.Me library, write on it, and then move and resize the whole note.
  • Layers: I also really like layers in my drawing apps. This one has rudimentary layers, allowing you to move objects in front of or behind other objects.
  • Library: The sketch library provided with the app is nice. I like that you can also bring in your own art — which means you can create your own library of stuff that you use over and over. It’s really easy to drop stuff into the whiteboard from the library, too.
  • Audio: During testing, I tapped the little phone icon in the top left corner and joined the call from my iPad. The sound quality on my end was great, and my partner in crime told me she could hear me loud & clear too.
Join.Me whiteboard with zoom

The sticky note background, car, clouds, and book cover were pulled in from the image library and my photo roll. The rest was drawn in the whiteboard itself.

 

What I wish:

  • It still isn’t a collaborative whiteboard; only one person can work on it at once. If you pass the presenter role to someone else, your whiteboard stays with you, and they have to start a new one or share another document, so in that sense it’s like any other web conference screen share. However, you can email the whiteboard to yourself in JPG, PDF, or (game-changer alert!) native Join.Me format, so someone else can load it into their copy of Join.Me and continue working on it. I’m a big fan of any iPad app that lets you move your content around. BIG fan.
  • Like any other iPad graphic recording tool, it does slow you down. It just takes longer to navigate around the space, draw and write things. I wouldn’t try to do detailed graphic recording while facilitating a meeting using this tool.
  • You can’t use the whiteboard from the desktop version of Join.Me, at least not that I can see. You can watch, but you can’t create and share a whiteboard. Since you can create and share your screen using any application you have on your computer, this isn’t a huge deal.
Join.Me on the iPhone

What it looks like on my iPhone (sideways).

Where do I get it?

The app is available on the app store. If you don’t need to run meetings, it’s free. If you want to host meetings, you’ll need to visit Join.Me on the web and get an account. There’s a basic, free one that lets you have up to 10 participants, and there are pro and enterprise levels too.

There’s also a Join.Me desktop application that’s only necessary if the person on the computer wants to present. If they’re just attending, they can do that right in a web browser without downloading anything. (Did I mention easy?)

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A Sneak Peek at Results of The Grove’s Recent Survey: Five Minutes on Working Virtually

If you haven’t had a chance to take the five-minute survey yet and would like to, you can find it here.

The Grove recently launched a short survey on virtual work and remote meetings. Among other things, we asked hundreds of people who do virtual work about their biggest pain point: the one thing they wish would go away and just stop being a problem about working remotely.

The responses fall broadly into three categories. Respondents identified pain points related to technology, to people, and to the setting where the work is done. It may surprise you to learn that technology is not the category with the most pain points. The largest set of different pain points is related to people. In fact, the number of pain points having to do with people is almost twice as large as that in either of the other two categories. Note that this doesn’t say anything about how often a given point was cited; I’m not dealing with that here, just looking at unique responses. The image below is a compilation of the responses, sorted unscientifically by yours truly. (Click to see it bigger.)

List of pain points in remote work
Compilation of responses to the question: What is the most painful part of working remotely?

The pain points related to people have to do with how people feel in remote meetings, things people do or fail to do that make the work harder, the difficulty of making or maintaining interpersonal connections at a distance, and basic knowledge and skills around working remotely. I know I have struggled with most, if not all, of these issues in the past ten years of working virtually. Many of these pain points can be addressed through training (of facilitators and participants), making explicit agreements about how to work together and behave as a remote team, and extra time and effort involved in preparation. Sometimes, though, it seems as soon as a team gets one issue taken care of, another, hydralike, rears its annoying head.

Regarding technology, the agony is divided between tool-related issues and those dealing with connection (or lack thereof) when trying to communicate. One that we did not see, but that I expected, is overwhelm about the number of tools available. Does anyone else find it hard to keep up? I sometimes feel that if I just keep looking and keep testing, I will find the perfect tool for every task related to remote collaboration. I’m not saying I’ll find one tool that does everything. Rather, I’d love to find a set of tools that collectively do everything. Easily. Okay, maybe now I’m dreaming.

The setting we’re in when we do remote work accounts for the remainder of the pain. Real life issues, the consequences of not being physically in the same room, and the effects of having to be sitting at a computer are the main groups here. As with the other categories, some of the complaints can be addressed through group norms, different tools, or extra effort, but again I can empathize and have experienced all of these myself. What about you? Do you have a favorite, and how did you stop the pain?

If you’d like to get your voice in the mix, please hop on over and take the five-minute survey. It will remain open through June 30, 2015.

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Role Mapping: Do you really know your teammates’ roles?

Do you know, I mean really know, what your teammates do? Do you understand their roles to the point where you could fill in for them for a day? Even if you don’t know their roles to that degree, do you know how they produce information they give to you, and what they do with information you give to them?

From left to right: Healer, DPS (with pet), Tank.

From left to right: Healer, DPS (with pet), Tank.

My family plays World of Warcraft, a popular MMO (massively multiplayer online game) created by Blizzard Entertainment. In this game, players sometimes form parties to tackle challenges that one player can’t handle alone. A five-person party usually includes three distinct roles: tank, healer, and damage-dealer (DPS, or damage-per-second). Any one player will have one of these roles at a given time, and his or her talents, abilities, equipment, and armor are tailored to support that one role. (For those unfamiliar with the lingo, the job of the tank is to stand there and get beat on by the big monster, keeping its attention; the healer’s job is to make sure the tank stays alive while this happens, and to heal the DPS players if they should need it; and the three DPS players are there to inflict as much damage on the monster as possible without taking a lot of damage themselves.)

Obviously, each player needs to understand his or her own role in order to be effective. But the really effective players — the ones you always want in your party — are the ones who also have a deep understanding of the roles they are not playing. Here’s why: A tank who deeply understands the healer’s role can time his or her own actions so that big-burst damage is mitigated by a tank ability, allowing the healer to more effectively keep the tank’s health stable by not spending precious resources on sudden massive heals. Healers who understand how the tank works know that if a monster does latch onto them, the best thing to do is run toward the tank, who has the ability to attract the monster’s attention so it forgets all about the healer — rather than running away, which is instinctive but not at all helpful. DPS who understand the other two roles can modify their own behavior to maximize their ability to do their primary role — dealing damage — while not draining the healer’s reserves, which are really needed for the tank, or pulling the monster away from the tank and causing it to run amok among the party. Even a basic level of understanding of other roles is helpful. When you run into tanks who also have a healer class character, or DPS who also have a tank character, the difference really shows. They do their jobs in a way that makes the other roles even more effective at theirs.

The same is true for a working team: the better you understand your teammates’ roles, the more effective your team can be overall. The points where your work overlaps theirs, or provides inputs to theirs, are where your team will feel the effects the most. Mapping out the intersections of your roles will give your team clearer insight into how to work together more effectively. Here’s one way to do that.

Sample role map
A sample map for three roles in a consultancy

Role Mapping

Choose a time when everyone can get together. If your team is distributed, consider supporting the meeting with graphic recording or graphic facilitation to create the maps of team interactions. Set aside at least an hour for the initial conversation.

  1. Identify the places where there are overlaps or shared inputs or outputs. What do you create that is then used by another team member? What do you use that other team members create? Make a list, and ask everyone on the team to make a list too. (This can be done as pre-work.)
  2. Get the team together. Compare your lists and rank the items to decide where to start. Look for items that appear on several lists, and start there for the biggest impact. Alternatively, select the most high-profile activities on the lists as a starting point.
  3. Take a few minutes to map out what happens around each item on the combined list. Give everyone who touches that item a chance to explain what they do and how they do it. What tools do they use? What information do they need to have handy when they start? What format do they prefer to work with? Allow everyone to describe their workflow and preferences without trying to problem-solve at this point. Just listen. It might help to draw a picture of the process as it is described, using a whiteboard or large sheet of paper. Make notes of questions or issues as they come up, but don’t try to solve them yet.
  4. Once everyone has spoken, have a conversation about the questions, issues, and other flags that came up. You might find that something as simple as changing the way information is conveyed or presented might make a big difference to the recipient. And once you understand why someone wants it this way or that way, it’s often easier to modify your own workflow slightly to accommodate them. Use a flip chart to clearly record new agreements or procedures your team wants to try.
  5. Repeat the process for each item on your combined list (this might take more than one meeting). At the end of the meeting, review the flipchart of agreements and make sure everyone understands what he or she has personally agreed to do. Agree on an evaluation period — two to four weeks, perhaps — after which you will all reconvene to talk about whether the changes are helping, identify new issues that have come up, or discuss new ideas.

This activity is particularly valuable for distributed teams where members do not have a way to physically see what their co-workers do. On teams like that, the way that inputs and outputs are created and delivered can make a huge difference in team effectiveness. For example, it’s common for someone to create a document and send it as a PDF, but if the recipient needs to extract information from the PDF to use elsewhere, it can be time consuming. Something as simple as switching to a shared document editor or keeping the shared information in another system might result in a much smoother workflow.

Once you understand more about the work your teammates do and how they do it, you can play your role in way that helps others be even more effective. Even if your goal isn’t to slay a giant monster, you’ll still make better use of everyone’s abilities!

For more on role clarification, you might like these resources:

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Working Visually with Think Tools in the Paper App by FiftyThree

FiftyThree, makers of the Paper app and the nifty Pencil, have released Think Tools, a new set of tools inside Paper that change what you can do with the app. If you have Paper, just update to get ThinkTools.

The new toolset lets you do rapid mockups, mindmaps, flow charts, and other visual prototypes quickly and (more or less) easily. While I am crazy about the new toolset, I have to admit that Paper and Pencil still frustrate me and there was some definite head-banging-on-chair-back while I was creating this test image. (Disclaimer: for reasons I won’t go into here, I am holding off updating my iPad to iOS 8, so although I am using the latest version of Paper some things might be different for me — and not in a good way.)

After playing with the tutorial and trying some random shapes for a bit, I decided to test it out by recreating a flow chart I made for my bedroom door when my young son had a sleepover with a few friends one winter holiday:

Thinking of waking me up? Check this handy flow chart first.

Thinking of waking me up? Check this handy flow chart first.

 

What I Love:
The quick and easy way you can draw shapes, move them around, and connect them with arrows. The promo video (which mentions visual facilitation, by the way, woo hoo!) shows some very cool examples of prototypes and early designs, and I see this as the key strength of the toolset. You can create and rearrange a diagram while you are in conversation with someone. Very handy, and I can definitely see using it a lot.

What I Like:
The variety of controls in the Think toolset: in addition to the smart pen that makes your shapes look nice and adds arrows automagically, there’s a scissors tool that lets you move things around, delete them, and copy/paste them (yay!). There’s a fill tool that lets you easily fill and clear fill from shapes as well as filling in the whole background. There’s also an eraser that I think is smart although it might just be that I was lucky when I used it, but it seemed to know about the edges of smart shapes at least a little bit.

What I Don’t Like But Can Live With:
The color mixer. It’s a cool idea and if I were painting I’d love it, but for what I do it just gets in my way and occasionally ends up with the wrong color selected so that I have to … Undo, which is another frustrating tool. The two-finger rewind is nice if you need to undo a LOT of stuff at once, but if you want to quickly get rid of the stroke you accidentally made because the app suddenly decided the Pencil was in fact your finger and you wanted to smear everything instead of writing, it’s a pain in the neck. Placing and moving two fingers correctly takes up way too much time and brain space for undo.

What Makes Me Bang My Head Against the Back of My Chair:
Writing. Oh, this is so painful. The zoom (loupe) has gotten a bit better, and now enlarges smartly when you get near the edges, but I consistently have problems with writing. If you write with the Pencil stylus, the app is supposed to understand that when you use Pencil you want to write and when you use your finger, you want to smudge. This would be super cool, again, if I were painting or drawing. But trying to create a flow chart or do notetaking, I find that sometimes the app stubbornly insists the Pencil is my finger and just smears in the middle of a letter (like when I’m writing the cross bar on the ‘T’ for instance). This slows me down so much that I lose the thread of what I’m trying to take notes on, which is a showstopper for me. So I switched Pencil off and just used my finger.

That got rid of the smearing problem, but the zoom is still problematic. There’s no way to re-center the canvas (that I’ve found), so if you want to write near the edges, it’s very difficult. On the top and bottom edge, I kept accidentally calling up the iPad’s pull tabs, which is irritating. I would love to be able to drag the canvas so that whatever I’m trying to write is in the most comfortable position — just down and to the right of center — so that my arm doesn’t get tired from holding my hand up off the screen. (I know, I know, Pencil is supposed to let me rest my hand on the screen. Not so much.)

So, a mixed review. I really love the new functionality of Think Tools. I still adore the little books that make up the interface, and the social-sharing capability is really cool. But I keep getting stuck on the difficulty of actually writing. If you have Paper, try it out yourself and let me know how you find it!

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Testing the new Work Visual app

Today everything aligned perfectly — time, equipment, and perseverance — and I was able to test the new Work Visual app by Holger Nils Pohl. I am SO excited! These are some initial notes about my experience.

I started by doing random doodles to get a feel for the interface, but of course the only way to really test it was to do some visual note-taking. I had been meaning to watch Tom Wujec’s TED talk on Solving Wicked Problems, so I fired it up and went to town. Disclaimer: I listened to it twice, and made liberal use of the pause button the second time, because the newness of the interface slowed me down a lot. (Know your tools!) Here’s the result, which doesn’t look substantially different from what I might have done with my old favorite, the original Brushes app. Click to see it larger:

Visual Notes of TED Talk

Visual notes of Tom Wujec’s TED talk, Wicked Problems, made during a trial of the beta version of the Work Visual app.

 

LOVE IT: What I already adore about the app!

  • I love the clean interface and the ease of switching layers and brushes.
  • I love that I can customize four brushes and they are right on the toolbar.
  • I love the zoom in (but not the zoom out, see below).
  • I love the line quality, which for me is one of the most critical components. Nailed it!

WISHES: What I would wish to see in future versions.

  • Double-tap to zoom out. If there is a quick way to zoom back to full screen, I never found it. This is what gave me the most trouble during my practice run.
  • I don’t know if it was the iPad I was using (I had to borrow one*), but the panning kept sticking while I was zoomed in. I’d start dragging with two fingers, and sometimes nothing would happen. This slowed me down a lot too.
  • There’s a strange thing that happens when one line crosses another, like when I’m lettering. At first I was disturbed by it, but then I realized that it wasn’t permanent and I was able to ignore it. What happens is that the color gets shifted around the crossed lines (on the left), but once you zoom or pan, it goes back to normal (on the right).
(Left) Color shifting when lines cross; (right) back to normal after zooming.

(Left) Color shifting when lines cross; (right) back to normal after zooming.

 

I wasn’t able to test the projection capabilities today, but I am super excited about them because it means you can FINALLY do graphic recording on the iPad while hooked up to a projector and not have to distribute airsickness bags to the audience beforehand. You can set it to only show the full screen, no matter how much you’re zooming and panning. Hurray! I also couldn’t test the video export but I hope to be able to once it’s ready.

I am so looking forward to the release of this app! Want to follow along while Holger develops it?

Work Visual on Facebook

Work Visual on Twitter

* Why I couldn’t use my own iPad: I’m still using the original Brushes app to create videos. Unfortunately, the export features of the original Brushes don’t work with the newest iOS. Also unfortunately (for me), TestFlight, which you need in order to test Work Visual, doesn’t work with older versions of iOS. So Brushes and the Work Visual beta cannot coexist on my iPad.

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