In the last installment, Martin Stein and Brian Berson discussed the objectives driving the new type server project and how these have impacted technology decisions. In this post, I sat down with the Design team to talk about what factors go into designing the interface artwork.
User Interface design is one of those overlooked and misunderstood skills. It is a combination of design, function, art and intuition. You have to anticipate what the user expects (that’s the usability piece- typically handled by the development team) and then design it on a pixel-level (that’s where the design team comes in). It is exacting, tedious work.
For our next generation Type Server we had a lot of added considerations, so I sat down with part of our Design Team to talk about their approach to the Type Server interface artwork. (On the hot seat today: Davin, our Product Manager and Elisha, one of our designers.)
UI design is complex, but there are added considerations here because we are building a new product for our current users. There are inherent expectations to meet. Where did you start?
D: There were a lot of considerations. First, Suitcase and Font Reserve users- it needs to feel familiar to them with no added learning curve. We also know that people have an expectation of what a font management UI should look like. Ultimately, you are there to turn fonts on and off. If you can’t do that without having to look around or read a manual, you’re not delivering for the user.
E: Right- it needs to feel fresh and modern without deviating too much from expectations. Visually, you want to break new ground and make it fresh, and you also want to reinforce underlying themes that have been there all along. The Development team has done a great job on this.
D: I like the fact that in this iteration there is a more direct relationship between items- like tool bar icons for activation/deactivation and the corresponding iconography for the ‘activation state’ of a font.
Regarding the iconography, what did you use for creative inspiration?
E: Early on Davin provided some images of industrial-looking switchboards and LED lights, but this was just to get our heads in the same place. We did not want the colors to be overly ‘bright’ or cartoonish.
D: The industrial inspiration simply means angular and not soft. Sleek with a simple color palette. No icon has more than a few colors, for example. I want people to open this up for the first time and feel “this is a professional tool.”
E: I analyzed the visual metaphors that other software is using in hopes of matching up with the standards that are being set. We also looked at color trends. From this we developed a… ‘color hierarchy’. The more you drill down, the less color is revealed. The tool bar has the highest saturation and it goes down in stages from there…
Elisha, how do you take a ‘function’ and turn it into a pixel-fixed piece of art that translates?
E: I don’t concern myself too much with what it does– I’m more interested in what the visual needs to say to the user to get them to intuitively interact with it.
D: Maybe you don’t realize how intuitive you were about this…
E: Are you sure about that?
D: Well, Engineering drafts a UI concept that is tight and combines multiple controls- like permissions- in a tight space. The art here is keeping it simple. For permissions, if you don’t have permissions for a specific group- it is greyed out. Sounds easy enough, but then all the icons still need visual differentiation even when in a greyed-out state. Needs to look good in all states. Then there is the color-blindness thing you worked on….
E: Right. All activation icons need to be easily differentiated even in gray-scale. This adds a level of usability for color-blind individuals that they would otherwise struggle with. This is a good example of how we work together- you bring me the drawing, I ask “what does it need to say?” Then we rethink it, test it, and rework it until we’re all sick of it. It’s a lot of fun!
D: What IS a workgroup? It is a unique database of fonts and as a member of the group I can see and use those fonts in certain ways. I may be a member of more than one workgroup and have different permissions for font use within each. What kind of iconography makes sense for THAT?
(See Davin’s whiteboard and the artwork in progress…)
What concerns did you have about visual continuity with our other products: Suitcase and Font Reserve?
E: Well, initially I had the notion that it might look a lot like Suitcase Fusion. This is probably because I am a user, but I’ve moved away from that.
D: Yes, it is fun to see it evolve and start to take on a personality of its own through the artwork.
Any examples or role models in this area?
E: You have to admire the great challenge Adobe tackled in bringing together their Creative Suite with a common interface theme- even incorporating Macromedia products into that mix.
D: I like OMNI products- their apps are fairly complex behind the scenes but are fairly simple tools thanks to the great artwork on the toolbar. It is similar for us. The Type Server is very complex under the hood, but to the user it needs to feel it’s as easy as ever.
What UI considerations are there for a cross-platform product?
D: This is a significant challenge. We had to create one family of art in one UI that operates on 2 platforms. You should be able to bounce back and forth from a Mac to a Windows machine and have the same experience. Just think about how much easier it is to train people if their user experience is not platform-dependent.
E: The Engineering team does a lot of back and forth trying to figure out how to translate the UI on both platforms. Then I will create mockups on Mac, XP and Vista to test icons in the design process, making sure the color schemes look good in all environments. Then it is up to development to test it in the real world OS.
In the final analysis- what % is art, what % is function?
E: Good question. They are both equally important. Pretty and functional. 50/50.
D: She meant to say 51/49. She always fights for that extra 1% for the art.
E: True, but I rarely win.
“We hear you!” will be back with more behind the scenes in the coming weeks. If you have a topic in mind- drop me a line.
August 15th, 2007 by Megan Banman
If you win a baseball game, someone might want a picture of your team. If your team happens to be the Chicago White Sox and you just won the 2005 World Series, everyone wants a picture. No one is more painfully aware of this fact than the marketing department behind the championship baseball team. After the big win, they were bombarded with photo requests from journalists, fans, advertising agencies, etc… Luckily for them, they already had a management system in place to ensure that all 30,000 images from the series were properly organized and instantly accessible.
An Extensis customer since 1999, the White Sox organization implemented of Portfolio as a solution for the team photographer to manage the hundreds of images collected during each game. Before long, Portfolio Server was installed, enabling dozens of additional users to access the photographs without requiring the photographer to spend time finding and manually filling those requests.
In addition to facilitating the internal distribution of images, Portfolio is also used for external distribution of images to partners, sponsors, and members of the press. Using Portfolio’s email feature, it is easy to email original files, or dynamically generate low-resolution preview files, directly from within the program. So when the requests started rolling in following the 2005 championship game, the marketing department was able to easily locate and then distribute any image within their catalog. *Whew!*
Let’s wrap this with a bit of trivia: I was curious what font the White Sox use in their logo (shown above) so I did a search and found one site that claims it is Old English….anyone know if that’s correct?
In the first installment, Brian Berson (Extensis General Manager) explained where the new type server project stands right now. In this issue, I asked the ‘product guys’ about how the whole thing got started.
The Product Guys in the spotlight today: Brian Berson (Extensis GM) and Martin Stein (VP Products & Solutions).
Amanda: Every software project starts with a product requirements document, which outlines what this product will be and do. When you were writing the PRD for the type server – what was your hi-level objective?
Brian: Well, on a high level, we wanted to merge 2 into 1 with the sum being more than 2. The challenge was that these 2 are different products represent 2 different approaches.
Large corporate environments have a large infrastructure, and compliance is a main concern. They need the control that a live system offers. This is the Font Reserve Server model. Smaller, more nimble environments may not have a big IT team. They need complete user flexibility, like the ability to pick and choose their subscriptions. This is closer to the Suitcase Server model.
Since another objective was to continue serving both small workgroups and large enterprises with the same product, the new type server has to give the administrator the ability to configure their desired level of control.
Martin: Next priority was to “Be a better IT citizen”. That’s become an internal mantra around here. To me this means that we have to meet the needs of their current ecosystem. Things like: scalability, stability, rapid development for enhancements, better offline usability, customization, etc.
B: Another priority for me was to take font management to the next level- customers are very clear about what they expect in a new product. They expect simple and powerful UI, precise font activation via FontSense, license management, and a product that takes into consideration how their teams really use it.
And lastly, we have to make the entire transition seamless. Customers want everything that they had before, wrapped in a better package of performance and usability.
A: How did these objectives impact technology decisions?
B: From a technology standpoint, this led us down a few paths. Architecturally, we quickly decided that everything would be centralized: fonts, permissions, sets, keywords, etc. Everything is housed on the server- in a live system. From there: we were trying to decide between the Suitcase and Font Reserve servers as the platform. Ultimately it did not add up to continue building on this proprietary technology when the technology is already out there to leverage. We decided to put our internal resources and expertise where it fits best– solving the business problem.
M: That’s what led to the decision to use open technology off the shelf. We need to fit into the ecosystem of our customers, and these are proven, well-tested and supported in the developer community. This was the right decision from a technology standpoint, and ultimately for the customer, but it has had an impact on time to market. It was inevitable.
A: Now that the objectives and approach are mapped out, let’s talk details. Where did you start and how do you decide what is left on the ‘cutting room floor’?
M: We started by breaking apart all the functionality of each product and then ‘rebuilt’ the product – conceptually. But this is not simply a consolidation, so then we added to the list all the things we always wanted to do. Then the hard part: prioritization. Time to market matters, so we had to make priority decisions.
B: But, this also means we know where we want to take the technology from here- long term. For example, we’d like to implement things like server-to-server replication, etc. But that’s not going to make it into this release.
A: What people can’t see is the excitement on your faces as you’re talking about this.
M: I am excited. I am so proud of this project. It’s the ‘OSX of the font management world’. A beautiful UI combined with the power of a real IT application. This really is a kick-ass product.
Upcoming ‘We hear you!’ installments will include: what’s under the hood, rethinking user interface design, and what’s driving the new end-user functionality.
Have something you are interested in? Drop me a line (via a comment) and I’ll add it to the mix.
July 20th, 2007 by Claire Taylor
Following the announcement of Portfolio 8.5 at the Henry Stewart DAM Symposium we held three European Portfolio Server 8.5 launch events, to ensure that our European customers were kept up to speed on our developments. The events took place at the exclusive Apple Executive Briefing Centers in Paris, London and Munich, all of which are fantastic locations.
The events gave us the opportunity to present a sneak peek at the new features of Portfolio 8.5 Server to both press and customers. Attendees also got to see the first European live demo’s of Portfolio 8.5 Server conducted by Sales Engineer Chris Stevens.
We invited Adobe along to the events to talk about the integration between Portfolio 8.5 Server and CS3. Portfolio Project Sync is an important new feature of the upcoming Portfolio 8.5 release that links the Adobe Creative Suite directly to Portfolio. In a nutshell, Portfolio Project Sync allows CS3 users to directly access assets from Adobe Bridge, or through any standard Adobe dialog. As Project Sync was designed in close partnership with Adobe who better to present to customers than Adobe themselves.
As well as presentations and demo’s from Extensis and Adobe attendees also got to see a presentation from Apple on the Xserve.
“We were delighted by the strong turnout to our European Portfolio Server 8.5 launch events, attracting over 70 people from a diverse range of companies from a number of vertical markets, but sharing a common business need to organize, manage and distribute quantities of digital assets. The fact that so many different organizations were present underlines the fact that the need for DAM is commonplace,” said Richard Bamford, European Business Manager.
On Friday we released the newest update to our font auto-activation plug-ins for Adobe CS3. This new plug-in automatically activates fonts in Suitcase X1 when you open InDesign CS3 documents, and is compatible for use with both the Client/Server and Single-User versions of the product.
The Extensis Suitcase Server X1 InDesign CS3 plug-in can be downloaded at http://www.extensis.com/en/downloads/file_download.jsp?fileId=4900071
Currently, the plug-in is available in English only, but support will be extended to French and German versions later this summer.
June 18th, 2007 by Jim Kidwell
Portfolio Project Sync is an important new part of the upcoming Portfolio 8.5 release that links the Adobe Creative Suite directly to Portfolio. In a nutshell, Portfolio Project Sync allows CS3 users to directly access assets from Adobe Bridge, or through any standard Adobe dialog. This means that users can place assets stored in Portfolio catalogs directly into CS3 files, and then when finished, save the finished project files directly into Portfolio, all without ever opening the Portfolio client application.
We worked hand-in-hand with the Adobe development team to create Project Sync, and are proud of the results of this partnership. In the next two weeks, we are participating in two panel discussions at Adobe’s Creative License Conference Series where we’ll talk about the results of this partnership. The panel, titled Integrated DAM Systems with Publishing Workflows, also includes representatives from Adobe, MEI and North Plains.
Tuesday, June 19th
Renaissance Hollywood Hotel, Los Angeles
Extensis Product Manager, Davin Kluttz participates in the panel discussion about integration of Adobe’s Version Cue CS3 SDK with Portfolio Project Sync.
Monday, June 25th
The Waldorf Astoria, New York
Extensis Sales Engineer, Randolph Hernandez participates in a panel discussion on the same topic.
For complete conference and registration information please see the Adobe Creative License site.
Recently we paid a visit to Comic Relief, a London based charity who use Portfolio Server and Portfolio NetPublish Server to organize and manage a large library of digital images internally on their own network. They use Portfolio to facilitate the delivery of content to outside agencies, partners and news organizations.
If you’re not based in the UK you can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Comic Relief. You should also be aware that you’re missing out!
Working closely with the BBC, Comic Relief are responsible for annual televised events that alternate between ‘Red Nose Day’ and ‘Sport Relief’. The events are best described as Comedy and Sporting extravaganzas designed to raise awareness to important issues effecting different people all over the World. Their mission envelops ‘positive change through the power of entertainment’.
In building up to Red Nose Day 2007 Comic Relief started using Extensis Portfolio Server to organize the digital content they amass each year in documenting the good work that they do. During the 2007 campaign their photographic team catalogued over 20,000 records and then on Red Nose Day itself went on to raise over £63,000,000 ($119M).
Working in-conjunction with their internal IT and photographic teams Extensis Professional Services were able to resolve some niggling performance issues they had experienced with their Portfolio installation, suggested some improvements to their workflow and gave their implementation a general health check.
Today we work with a large number of charities and non-profit making organizations and whilst Extensis offers significant discounts on software and services we find that on a personal level, being involved (albeit on the fringes) with life-changing organizations like Comic Relief adds to our enjoyment of the jobs that we do.
If you would like to make a donation to Comic Relief or would like to read more about their activities click on http://www.comicrelief.com/
The questions never end. We hear them from customers on the phone, at events, and during site visits. We hear them from creative agencies and publishing companies. We hear them in the US, Europe and Asia.
OK. We get it. You want more information on the next generation type server that’s in the works. So we’ve decided to do a series here that gives you some exposure to the development process, sneak peeks at some of the functionality, hear about what it is like to work on the team, and learn about the philosophy driving the development of our next generation type server.
The #1 question we get- without fail- is “When will it be done?” So there seems no better place to start than at the top. I posed this question to Brian Berson, General Manager of Extensis. That’s all it took. One question and he was off to the races…
A: Brian, I’ll cut to the chase. Here’s the question: Why is this taking so long?
B: Wow. Don’t softball it!
Really, that is a valid question. Some days I wonder that myself. The short answer is: this project is complex.
On one hand, we’re creating a new product that combines what we already have: two unique font management server solutions, which happen to take different approaches to client-server font management. Font Reserve Server is all about control of the font assets to ensure absolute correct use of fonts, while Suitcase Server is all about the best end-user experience. One focused on the IT administrator and the other focused on the creative user. Both have their place and what we set out to do was to merge the two approaches to give our customers the complete solution. Quite honestly – that’s not as easy as you might think. We did make some assumptions at the outset that didn’t work out as planned. Sometimes that happens.
On the other hand, we are also starting fresh by employing a more modern and adaptable architecture. We’ve recognized that our expertise is in understanding fonts and font workflows, and there is no point in re-inventing the wheel by building a proprietary technology, so we are using open, existing technologies and standards. This will give our customers a faster, more scalable and stable product. It will also allow us to more rapidly adapt, modify, and add new features and functionality. We’ve known from the beginning that this needs to be more than the sum of Suitcase Server and Font Reserve Server. Our customers deserve more than 1+1=2.
Then there is the need to hit the ground running. We have a mature customer base with thousands of installations- from small shops to multi-thousand seat sites. For each one, font management is mission-critical. If we miss a step, they’ll be sure to let us know! Our next generation type server can not come out of the gate feeling like a 1.0 product.
Oh yes- and we are doing all of this while continuing to support our other products that are being used in production today. And certainly Adobe, Apple, Microsoft, and Quark don’t make this job any easier! Suitcase Server and Font Reserve Server integrate with both the operating system and parent applications. So when the operating system updates, for example, we have to be there with an update ASAP. Users count on it. And with QuarkXPress 7, Intel Macs, Windows Vista, Adobe CS3, and Leopard (Mac OS 10.5) all shipping in the same year- this continues to be our biggest challenge. Keeping up with these changes is a continuing challenge for our IT and creative customers, and the same is true for us as a developer.
So yes, it is complex. That said, I’m really excited about where we are now. We’ve been working on this for a couple of years already and are now in the home stretch. The product team is looking forward to talking about what we’re working on. But I’ve definitely gone on long enough, so that will have to wait for the next installment.
To see the face behind the words, you can see a brief interview with Brian in this snippet, cut from a longer interview.
You can also view the entire 1-hour show, Fonts, Fonts, Fonts!, produced by Left-Hand-Man Productions.
The Henry Stewart Digital Asset Management Symposium is a yearly event that focuses on the asset management challenges of workgroups and enterprise level installations. We were happy to announce the forthcoming release of our Portfolio 8.5 suite of products yesterday at the event.
Adobe is out in full force at the symposium, promoting their recent release of CS3. During their keynote presentation yesterday, they talked a bit about the integration of partner applications with Creative Suite products, Portfolio Project Sync included. I’m happy to report that a number of audience members stopped by our booth to let us know how happy they were with Portfolio’s new connection into CS3, and that it sounded like we were farthest along with the integration.
Extensis Product Manager Davin Kluttz presented a sneak peek at the new features of Portfolio 8.5 in Adobe’s private meeting room today. If you’re still at the event and missed his presentation, be sure to stop by the Extensis booth for a quick rundown of the new features. If you’re not at the event, stay tuned to the blog in the upcoming weeks for complete details about what will be included.
Today we announced the forthcoming update to our Portfolio suite of suite of products, with Portfolio Server 8.5 at the forefront. The Portfolio 8.5 product family includes Portfolio Server, Portfolio Client, Portfolio Express, Portfolio NetPublish and SQL Connect modules, as well as a Single-User version of Portfolio.
Most significantly, this update includes a brand new feature, Portfolio Project Sync™. This new feature was designed in close partnership with Adobe to create a seamless interface into Portfolio catalogs from familiar Adobe® Creative Suite® applications. With Portfolio Project Sync, you are able to directly access, open, save and place items contained in Portfolio catalogs from Creative Suite applications. This allows people who would prefer to work in InDesign or Photoshop to remain in those applications while searching for assets, saving final files, and distributing assets to others.
Portfolio Server 8.5 comes with Project Sync and includes several enhancements, including improved XMP and file format support, greater performance and stability, as well as additional features that help automate management of complex metadata. Portfolio NetPublish 8.5 also includes a number of new features, including advanced logging for reporting user traffic as well as visual watermarking functionality, for images, to prevent unauthorized use.
Portfolio Server 8.5 will be available for download and purchase in Summer 2007. Portfolio Server 8.5 and all client components will be available free of charge for existing customers with Annual Service Agreements (ASA). Pricing for all other versions, including upgrades, will be announced prior to product availability in Summer 2007. French, German and Japanese language versions of Portfolio will also be available in Summer 2007.