A New Way to Work

Up until the middle of last year, my iPad spent most of its time next to my comfy chair. I’d bring it into the office whenever I needed to test an app on the device, but for the most part it stayed in our living room for reading and browsing.

What changed? I added this to the home screen on my iPad Pro:

Linea Icon

Gedeon Maheux and Troy Gaul worked on Linea for over a year. What started as an internal tool for our artists, became something that has fundamentally changed the way I do development work.

A simple start

I’ve been coding professionally for over 40 years and have always kept a notebook near my desk. It’s an essential tool that lets me capture thoughts and ideas in a way that lists on a computer cannot.

As I started beta testing Linea, my trusty paper got used less and less. My first work with the app was doing a rough outline for a chapter in my book on color management:

Book Outline

There’s nothing here that you couldn’t have done in the standard Notes app. It took me awhile to realize that Linea has a superpower you don’t get with the built-in app…

Discovering layers for ideas

To be honest, I didn’t use my Apple Pencil much until Linea came around. The Notes app didn’t do anything I couldn’t do on paper, and drawing apps were overkill for my needs.

This all changed when I discovered the power of simple layers for managing ideas. A few pictures are worth a thousand words, so let’s go through the process with a recent example: the testimonials section of Linea’s website.

In our line of work, we often get a design with no guidance on how to construct it. Here’s what the original design comp looked like:

testimonial-comp

It’s our job to figure out how to make these designs look and work right. And Linea is a powerful tool for that task.

Start by breaking it down

The first step is to break the design into pieces. I did a rough sketch of what I wanted on Linea’s bottom-most layer:

Testimonial Outline

So far, that’s pretty underwhelming. What’s the big deal?

Well, we’re about to encounter one of the three hardest things in computer science: cache invalidation and naming things.

Another layer for names

This is where Linea really starts to shine. Because it’s a hard problem, your first naming choices are rarely the best. If you’re like me, it usually takes a few tries to get the right ones. When you use a separate layer for your names, they’re super easy to change without wiping out the lines of the underlying outline:

Testimonial Naming

Because selecting colors in Linea is so easy, I like to highlight important names. While debugging the page, the two states of the img elements had a matching CSS outline.

It’s also when Linea starts to feel like a miniature whiteboard on your desk. The Touch Eraser is one of those things that is so natural that you use it without breaking your train of thought.

A notes layer above all

After getting the names you want, it’s time to start building! This is when I create another layer for things I want to keep track of. Again, you can add or remove notes without destroying the work on the other layers.

Testimonial Notes

My two favorite things in CSS are animations and Flexbox layout. And as much as I love them, you’ll see above that I can never remember the names of the timing functions or container properties.

(If you’re a web developer, take a look at the #testimonials source code on the Linea website: the images in the .picker Flexbox animate just by changing the CSS class on the <img> elements. Simple and elegant.)

Helping us stay organized

I also have a bad habit of keeping my drawings around forever — a lot of thought went onto the page and it’s hard to it throw away. Linea’s project management makes it easy to keep track of the old work and keep my desk clean.

It was a pleasure to learn that other developers are seeing the same benefits that I have. My friend Gus Mueller has this to say:

“Linea has been my go-to app for sketching out ideas and solving visual programming problems since the day I started using it. It’s now an indispensable tool for my work.”

My iPad Pro is still a great device for reading in a comfy chair, but now it makes a daily journey to my office. If you’re a professional developer, I bet Linea will become a fixture on your desk, too.

I invite you to take a look at the product website to learn more.

Making Sense of Color Management

Making Sense of Color Management Book Cover

After over two years of work, my book on color management is now available for purchase. People I know and respect are saying some really nice things about my writing. It makes me happy when doing hard things pays off.

Previously, I’ve written about how displays are changing and how color affects the things we build for these devices. Whether you build on the web, or with native apps, your work in the coming years will be affected. You can learn more about the book at the Iconfactory.

But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what Mike Krieger, Cofounder and CTO at Instagram, has to say about the book:

For years, engineers and designers have mostly stumbled through color management, understanding it ‘just enough’ to ship an asset to the web or an app. As devices move to wide color, a deeper and more practical understanding is vital, and Craig’s book provides exactly that. In fact, I’ve put his advice to use for Instagram.

As a developer, you might be interested in taking a look behind the curtains at the book’s mini-site. You’ll find additional articles, new markup for the web, and sample code for both iOS and macOS. The book provides essential background for these examples, but it will give you a taste of what you’ll be learning.

I also have some more advanced code examples for iOS in the works. If you work with raw pixels in bitmaps, process photos with Core Image, or do analysis with vImage, this will be right up your alley, so stay tuned!

Sticker Accessibility

The popularity of Stickers was no surprise to us. What did surprise us was that these graphical elements are a hit with customers who have vision difficulties.

In retrospect, it makes sense. You want to let friends know that poo is hitting the fan even if you can’t see well. As always, Apple has thought about making their products accessible from day one, and the new features in Messages are no exception.

But it doesn’t work like you’d expect for the default apps created by Xcode. Take Parakeet’s excellent Snacks collection as an example. What would you expect to hear VoiceOver say with this configuration?

Bacon

Congratulations if you said “Bacon P-N-G Accessibility Label”. Technically, that’s the “same” as the Bacon.png file that was dragged into the Asset catalog, but it’s not what you or your customer expects. When you add “Bacon” in the Accessibility field as well, it’s read correctly and everyone wins. As you know, you can’t have too much bacon.

As for our own Sticker packs, we implemented custom view controllers and don’t suffer from this particular problem. We have identified some other small accessibility issues throughout our work and will be issuing updates soon. Parakeet will also be updating their release with improved labels.

If you’ve released Stickers for iMessage without Accessibility labels, we suggest that you do the same.

Pretending You’re Not Busy As Hell

You know those last few weeks of a project where it seems like every ball you own is up in the air? Your desktop looks like bomb went off: stuff like “website comp (with hero)-20160414-final-2.1 copy.psd” and “DO NOT DELETE YET” scattered all over the place. You’re busy as hell.

And then you realize that you need to take product screenshots. Or do a screencast.

While doing screenshots for my upcoming book, I solved this problem by writing a simple shell script. It updates an undocumented Finder preference that controls whether the desktop is created or not. Without the desktop, all of your icons disappear (don’t worry, the files are still there!)

Simply typing finder_icons off in your Terminal lets you pretend that you’re working in complete zen and take the shots you need. Doing finder_icons on quickly brings you back to reality and lets you create an even bigger mess.

Enjoy!

Updated April 29th, 2016: Dr. Drang points out that this technique also works well for screen sharing. I try to avoid the use of killall when dealing with the Finder because you never know when it’s in the middle of a file operation (such as copying a file or deleting a folder.) Using the AppleScript quit command lets the Finder determine when it’s safe to shut down.

A Responsive Factory

Back in May 2014, we introduced a new Iconfactory home page. One of the main design goals for that site was to make the layout a responsive web design: the same site looked great whether you were looking at it on a desktop PC or an iPhone. Reading Ethan Marcotte’s book was a revelation.

Of course, that site was just a beginning. We run a lot of web sites (including some you’ve probably never heard of before). Clearly we had to pick our responsive battles.

We started with an update to our blog in January 2015. In October, we updated our iOS and OS X app catalog. And yesterday we launched a responsive design portfolio.

A year and a half after our first responsive design, we’ve hit a milestone. All of the sites listed in the Iconfactory’s red navigation bar are responsive designs and will display correctly on any device. Woo hoo!

Along the way, we cleaned up some of our branding elements and worked toward a more consistent experience across all the sites. Check out the post at the Iconfactory about the new SVG icons in Safari to see what that’s all about.

It’s clear we’re at a point in time where the vast assortment of screens is daunting. If you haven’t thought about how your site works on this wide variety of devices, now is a great time to start.