Friday Dec 05, 2008

Friday Fun with JavaFX

One of the -very- interesting things about working with JavaFX is that it gives us the ability to build applets (or widgets, if you will) that live in the browser, but can be "torn out" of the browser and plopped into the desktop. Here is a picture of me draging one of the FX samples out of the browser and on to my desktop.

[Use IE7+ and FF3+ and visit the dragable MP3 player sample or  this sample]


Its a very interesting exercise to think of the apps that you are building, and see what this would do for you. Perhaps it lets you build a website and get a desktop version for free. If you were building twitter :), your users could come to, drag the client on to their desktops and now they  have a running instance of a  desktop client. Nice! One thing I would love to get is a little ink dropper like gadget that I could drag to any part of my screen to get a color value. 

As a potential end-user I also like that I can go to some page of my bookmarked widgets and tear away the ones I want for that day or that session.

 As a designer, its really something fun to play with and imagine. What are you building these days, and if it could live on the browser or on the desktop, what cool things would that do for you? What new apps do you think should get built leveraging this capability, to make our lives easier and our fun funner :)><br /></p> 
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Wednesday Aug 20, 2008

JavaFX Project Nile Screencast

Jeff HoffmanJeff Hoffman is a senior user experience designer working on JavaFX. He's been designing both consumer and developer oriented products since before the boom.

Check out my debut screencast!

I introduce Project Nile, which is a piece of the JavaFX story.  I then describe how it integrates a couple of well known designer tools (Photoshop and Illustrator) with the NetBeans JavaFX developer tools.  

Project Nile, like the rest of JavaFX, is currently in its Preview release, so I encourage you to try it out and post your feedback on the Project Nile forum.


You can see this and other screencasts on the NetBeans.TV site.


Wednesday Jul 09, 2008

Livescribe 1GB Pulse™ Smartpen

I recently purchased the 1GB pulse smart pen. In this bog, I want to focus on my initial concerns and reaction to the product.
I had two concerns about the smart pen that I could not test before placing my order. Those related to the design of the pen and it’s recording quality. I was worried that the pen would feel awkward and bulky and that the recording might not be as good as advertised on the product website. After viewing all the demos on, I decided to take a chance and proceed with the purchase of the smart pen.

The cost of  $149.95 was reasonable for what it was promising to deliver. I felt that it would be a valuable tool to use in a virtual work environment. What excited me about the smart pen was partly the interactive note taking ability and mostly the focus on how this might help enhance collaboration and concept sharing. I wondered what it would be like to share and transform design concepts in an interactive manner where others would not only see the end result of a design but be part of the thinking process that went into it. They could then share their thinking in a similar manner, go back in time and hear my voice as I was outlining a concept for a design. The possibilities were too exciting for me to ignore this technology and not place the order. So I did.

After 4 week wait, the Pulse smart pen arrived at my door. I eagerly opened the box to find a well-designed pen with setup instructions. I couldn’t wait to get started. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the pen fit comfortably in my hand. I didn’t feel constricted or awkward when I began to interact with it. The user experience in regard to setting up the device was fantastic, simple and to the point and yet engaging and playful. With each tap of the pen, I heard myself say: “how cool is that” or “did you see that” and “I can’t wait to share it with…” I found myself responding with the eagerness of a child that just got their new favorite toy. It was great, I was beginning to worry and think that this is too good to be true.

As I continued to interact and setup my pen and explore all the various features, I was impressed with the sound quality of the recordings. Whenever I was not sure about a task, there was an icon that I could tap on that would give me clear, simple and straightforward instructions. What a relieve; somebody actually has taken the user experience into account here. The entire setup process of the pulse smart pen was excellent in its simplicity and ability to engage the user in play. My compliments on the team that design this, it really is fantastic from a device standpoint, marketing and branding message.

Another aspect that I found very interesting in regard to the integration of the device into ones life was the integration of 3D audio. Imagine, you don’t only record what is happening in the room but can also define where a particular sound is coming from. If someone were to sit behind you and begin talking, you would sense that in the playback of the recording. It gave the sense of actually being there in time and really did create a 3D experience of space and time.

Once my Pulse smart pen was set up, I was ready to just doodle and explore the navigational schema. It too was as intuitive and fun as the previous setup process. I was fascinated to be able to draw a menu anywhere on my page and have it actually be recognized by my pen. I felt a sense of freedom of choice and a sense of integration that I have not experienced before. It really did feel like I had access to technology that was seamless and transparent and yet empowering me to be creative and unique in my expression.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of shortcomings that I will go into more detail with in the next blog. Those relate to actual audio recording quality and the software UI design. The audio recording constraints were somewhat expected. When I was just recording my own voice as I was taking notes, the sound quality was excellent. It still remained at a good level with three people talking next to each other, but when testing it in a conference room, the sound quality dramatically dropped. It was difficult to make out some of the voices that were further away. Surprisingly this is not a deal breaker for me since I have found a lot of other wonderful means of using this device in a more intimate setting that focuses more on collaboration then note taking in lecture halls.

What was more distressing is the UI design on the software front. It lacked the out of the box thinking that I had experienced so far. I felt that few of the navigational schemes and user experience/expectations where taken into consideration on the software front. I was disappointed since my expectations were set very high by now and this portion of the interaction felt like a let down. It didn’t capture any of the intuitive and transparent navigational schemes that were introduced earlier. There is a level of complexity and lack of intuitive play leaves the user much to be desired.

Monday Jun 02, 2008

Beautiful Design - Sculptural Objects and Functional Art (SOFA)

One of my biggest interests outside work (yes, I do have interests other than cars), is in three-dimensional art. This includes functional pieces like furniture, bowls for serving food, lighting, etc. and also pieces which are just beautiful to gaze at. In fact, the primary thing I do when on trips is to seek out galleries which have such artwork (usually called Crafts) to look at and possibly buy.

It is much harder to find such stores, though, than the multitude of galleries which have only paintings and photographs (two-dimensional art). I also look for museums that have such work, but they can be similarly hard to find. My favorite is the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in Manhattan, which has one floor of such work, usually even including at least one particularly inspired automobile.

One trip which my wife Laurie and I took specifically to see such art was the SOFA show in New York City a couple of years ago. SOFA stands for Sculptural Objects and Functional Art, which is just the sort of thing I enjoy. Most of the pieces shown were for sale, but at prices out of my reach. So I settled for taking photos (with permission) which I have now as screen savers and wallpaper on my PC, so I can still at least enjoy them that way. I hope you enjoy them as well.

<< Photos taken down -- see Chip Alexander to view them.  To protect the artists' work, I only wanted to have them up long enough for the blog viewers to see them.  >>

My wife and I enjoyed the show so much that we will be going to the Chicago version of it this November. Yes, November is not the nicest time of year to go to Chicago, but I am told this is an even bigger version of the show we saw in New York City, and is in fact the main show, so we have to go check it out. I'll try to take pictures at it and post them when I get back. If there is interest, I can also post photos of the 3D artwork which my wife and I own and love.

While it is hard to directly apply a lot of the beauty and design in these forms to software design, they are certainly highly inspirational, and at least the creativity and overall beauty can stimulate one to do better virtual-world design as well.

For those of you who find the photos in this blog intriguing, but don't want to travel to Chicago in the winter to see it, I would also strongly recommend the Palo Alto Clay and Glass show July 12 and 13 at the Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Rd. off Embarcadero.


Monday Mar 31, 2008

Pixels into Paper

As Janet described so well recently, sometimes we all need a project that will rejuvenate us creatively or otherwise. I was feeling a similar need for rejuvenation late last year and decided to dedicate the month of January this year to completing one significant art project. The idea came to me like many do, through a series of small inspirations and one bright flash. I had been noticing a lot of vector-based graphics on the web and in print ads and thought they were cool. Then, I saw a link to an online application that would convert bitmap graphics to vector images. I was pleased with how easy it was to use and how nice the results were. The same thing can be done in Photoshop or Illustrator, I'm sure, but it's probably buried among a thousand other functions.

bitmap vs. vector graphics
(image credit: Vector Magic)

The flash came when I envisioned making a vector-like picture using real-world artifacts rather than with a computer. If you could create a realistic image from a bunch of digital shapes, why not do the same thing with pieces of colored paper? I thought that it would be cool to create a semi-realistic photo from paper cut-outs, using a vectorized image as a guide.

My first step was to choose a suitable photo. I had a pretty clear idea of the requirements - I knew that it couldn't contain too much variation in color, because I was going to have to cut out separate objects for each distinct color. That meant that the scene couldn't be too complex. I also wanted something that would be fun and lively, something that would be interesting to look at as a purely visual object. I knew it right away when I saw it. This is a photo that my wife took on our honeymoon last summer on Kauai. It met my requirements perfectly.

surfer kid

I cropped it quite a bit to whittle the photo down to its essential elements and here's what I came up with as the vectorized version. What used to be millions of pixels of myriad colors was now summarized in about 25 clearly-defined shapes of distinct colors.

vectorized surfer kid


Then, the question became: where to go from here...? It had been a really long time since I had done art with my hands. I nearly gave up on the project here, but stumbled my way through unfamiliar tasks like picking out paper at art stores, testing the adhesion strength and other properties of various glues, and even making myself a guide with precise measurements.

trying out glues

the guide that I made

At this point, it felt a lot more like engineering than art.

I also didn't have a good work space for something this size. On my laptop, I can work on something that's 10,000 pixels wide just as easily as something the size of an icon. But the real world has physical size constraints that I'm not used to. I made some space in an unused area of the floor and got to work.

Once I established a system, it went pretty smoothly. I started by cutting out shapes for the background and layering them from the bottom up. Part of me wanted to get everything precise, to match my printed out guide, but I also knew that I had a lot of leeway, since I was just trying to create a sense of a beach scene. I would make sure that the left and right edges were at the right height, then have some fun cutting curvy, wave-like lines between them.

background 1

background 2


I then began on the kid, which took a lot more eyeballing and working by "feel" than the background. I think this part was the most fun though. Working with my hands and needing to focus so much got me caught up in a flow-like state a few times.

surfer kid in progress


After a few weeks of spending a spare evening hour here and a weekend afternoon there, I was finished. It turned out surprisingly close to the vectorized image that I based it on, and I was able to let go of the "mistakes" since I was pleased with the style of it independent of its level of realism.



I'd say that the most rewarding result of this experience was the feeling that came from seeing an idea through to completion. Sometimes working on a team can obscure your view of the big picture and it was nice to have my own fun project to work on for a while. My just-for-fun project this month has been to take 10 photos each day and post my favorite one online. You can see the results here.

Friday Mar 28, 2008

Comic Threads - An Experiment

We have an internal alias where various design folks talk to each other about topics that interest them. The discussions there are usually very interesting and I started to think about ways to publish the conversations on this blog. A synopsis seemed dull, and took away from the dynamics that made the conversation interesting. The thread itself could be too tedious to read post - hoc. Just for a lark, I used the template figures and to come up with this. (click to see larger version)
my comic strip! my comic strip!
I posted it back to the alias to see what people thought and of course this just spawned another interesting discussion about MS comic chat and the contemporary use of avatars.

I enjoyed the creating the comics. It did take some time to distill the essence of the conversations into a size that would fit in a comic strip. I still have lots of words and little action. Maybe I need a super hero. May be I just need to draw my characters :).

To end this post on a note of humor- I find that the job of soliciting blog post does things to ones brain. Someone said to me the other morning "Good Morning" and I caught myself thinking "hey , that would make a great blog post..... ".

Not unlike this xkcd comic strip -

Some sites to check out:

Friday Mar 14, 2008

Newton's First Law and Thing-a-Day... Getting the creative stone rolling

An object in motion will stay in motion and an object at rest will stay at rest, etc., said Newton. I agree! For me, this is particularly true when it comes to my creative/designing mind. When I'm in the habit of designing and otherwise creating regularly, ideas and energy just begin to flow out more easily. It is more fun to approach, and easier to succeed with design tasks. And when I'm not, well, things get much harder. Stuck, stagnant, uninspired... those become the default designing state. And things go slowly if they do go. Anybody know what I mean? :)

Anyway, last month, I had a wonderful experience that rolled the moss off of my proverbial creative stone :). On a tip from Soraya, I participated in something called Thing-a-Day -- a creative forum where artists and creators of all types signed up online, and agreed to create one "thing-a-day" each day for the month of February.

The medium could be anything -- from painting and drawing, to knitting, music, video, jewelry-making, cooking, robot-building, food sculpture -- whatever. The participants just had to agree to spend somewhere between 20 minutes and an hour each day creating one new thing, then posting it to the community blog, where all the artists/participants could see and comment on each others work daily. I didn't know what to expect when I signed up, but was just looking forward to the challenge of creating something new every day. I gave myself weekly themes, which put some structure around the daily creation, and got to work. The theme for my first week was "morning ritual". Each day that week I did an artwork touching on something I regularly do in the morning. Two of my favorite posts from that week are below:

Well, by 9am the morning after the first day of Thing-a-Day, I knew why I had signed up. 4 new emails were waiting in my inbox -- people responding to what I had posted! This was an unexpected blessing from participating. All of a sudden, I wasn't creating in a vacuum. I posted, and people responded. People posted, I responded. What fun! I spent a bunch of time that same morning making comments on other people's artwork, and enjoying the collective body of work that was growing. I realized how important feedback can be -- to motivate, to inform your design, just to get the energy up around a project.

Anyway, Thing-a-Day was a big success. By the end of February, almost 6,600 new works of art had been created by around 1,400 participants, and an exciting creative community was alive. I personally experienced a giant creative boost by participating, and by getting in the habit of doing creative work every day. The blah/stagnant design fog I had been feeling for months has lifted, and now I'm really really having fun when I sit down to design. And isn't that why we all decided to do this in the first place? I know it is for me -- I love design, and creation in general, and am thankful to be able to do what I do.

The experience has been a great reminder to me of the importance of staying creatively in motion, and also of having a sense of community around what we do. It's got me wondering how we might be able to create similar experiences with what we do here as designers at Sun? I don't know about you all, but sometimes I can feel like a little design island, out here alone. How nice if we can develop more ways to share -- feedback, energy, inspiration, and just an overall greater sense of community to help our work along.

This blog is certainly a great step in the direction! At any rate, I hope you enjoy all the fun work at Thing-a-Day, and find inspiration in it, too :)...

I'll sign off with two more of my favorite posts from the month (snow sculpture emerged as my favorite medium), and then encourage you to check out all the great work that over 1,400 artists posted on Thing-a-Day in February.

Janet Kowal is a visual designer in xDesign. She has a BS in Graphic Design & Illustration, and enjoys creation of all types. Janet works out of Sun's Menlo Park, CA campus.





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