At my day job, we at XPLANE trade in ideas. A large majority of our time is spent in the movement and generation of ideas. Go-to tools generally are still whiteboards, paper, and the ever-present post-it. Live, kinetic interaction of person, idea and artifact are part of the generation of ideas. We often take photos of a live session, and circle back later, laying down documentation in a range of standardized tools; Powerpoint, Keynote, and OmniGraffle. What always seems to get lost is the natural human dimension, and the organic movement from one idea to another when a new association among ideas creates a new theme. Software, til recently has still been about static documents, and projected ideas. Digital tools have felt just too narrow to be able to free-associate, generate meaning and capture more complex ideas.
So far nothing can come close to grabbing a pen and working out ideas on a piece of paper. With our minds we are free to create any associations, diagrams, shapes, without having to work through the metaphor of interface. It’s difficult when ideas are lost while trying to cope with input modes, or a tool that just doesn’t feel natural.
Some still say that the iPad is a ‘consumption’ tool, and it’s true that it is highly optimized for that. With the advent of more iOS apps focused on creativity and free expression, we’ve begun to experiment with digital capture and documenting tools; with the advantage of instant sharing, collaboration and searchable content for archiving.
I have created a “Consulting” group of tools on my iPad. It contains a few experimental tools and ones that I am evaluating. So far the cost hasn’t been a problem for any of them, (less than $5.00) though I have hesitated to spend $49.99 for the iOS verion of my favorite program: OmiGraffle.
In general, most seem to be attempting to try to solve the same problems. There are lots of drawing/stylus based apps, Mind mapping tools, and a rare few really novel implementations for capturing and documenting ideas.
With these in mind, here are a few that we’ve been working with:
Capturing and Presenting
I love this application. This quirky and fun application replicates a virtual cork board, complete with all the tools you’d use… tape, post-its, and flags with access to contacts, photos and other items. It works well when you have a number of photos, and ideas that want to be ‘posted up’ in an arrangement, and then shared with others. You can create share a Corkulous file, or export a PDF version. Two reservations: I worry about importing a large number of photos, as the file size will grow to be very large with photos at a native resolution. Also there is no tool for drawing lines or associations among ‘nodes’. I often want an arrow that might link a number of ideas… if this, then that kind of thing.
Like tiny TED talks, Show Me is a tool that allows the users to record a talk, while drawing on the screen. Simple. Then it can be uploaded to a library, or shared directly via email. Unless you’re pretty skilled with a finger, the shows will be fairly primitive, but it is still a great way to share a quick idea with a description with a range of colleagues. One can also browse through saved talks in a range of categories. Think of it as a way to draw a quick post-it note and send it across country for a quick idea pitch.
Paper is perhaps the most paper-like of apps. It beautifully replicates the “Moleskine effect” – of having a notebook handy, and a rapid way to create ideas without too many interface restrictions. It uses the common iOS gestures like pinch and swipe well to create a natural effect. Multiple notebooks can be built, with an endless number of pages for each. These can be shared and sent through the normal iOS channels. This is mostly useful for that valuable white-noise brain time, when doodling can create some real ideas worth sharing. Think of it as a low-cost way to have free Moleskine space.
SketchBook Pro (Autodesk $1.99)
This is perhaps the opposite of Paper in terms of complexity. It is feature-rich, yet it is not overwhelming like the offerings from Adobe and others. It uses the iOS gestures well (multi-touch, pinch etc.) to extend functionality. Storable palettes of tools and colors make for a simpler approach, once one has explored the many options. The risk for many of these apps is that an idea can be completely lost while trying to wrangle all the menus and options available. For a more complex drawing with layers and photos, this one’s worth a try.
Mindomo (free) is where I have started among the many mind-mapping tools out there. The problem with all mind-mappers is that they draw and position information based on an internal data table. I find that most of the layouts end up imposing some kind of structure that I immediately want to override. This one also makes it difficult to post photos, as they need to come from a URL. I am still looking for a tool that allows me total flexibility with the sharing/organizing tools of a good mind mapper. I would love to hear your suggestions.
For organizing, I’m still using pen and paper.
We’ll look into Social and more Sharing tools in our next installment.