App Review: Clear for iPhone

You probably have heard about Clear, the to-do list app that made a big splash a couple of months ago with its extremely simple and unique interface. It truly is an app that thinks outside the box when it comes to user experience. I immediately downloaded it because the interface was just so different and intriguing I had to touch it. I played with it for a while, added some tasks and lists, deleted some, changed themes and thoroughly enjoyed the quirky little app. Clear is great. It’s ground-breaking even. It totally re-imagines user interactions. That’s all well and fine but is it useful?

Some would say Clear’s lack of fancy bells and whistles is what makes it great. There aren’t any buttons and you add, delete and re-arrange with swipes and gestures. This part really works well and I think it’s an improvement over other list apps I’ve used. To fully appreciate the UI, you really need to use it but this video does a good job walking through it.

The simplicity that makes it great is also what makes it so frustrating. If you want to view your list on a computer, you’re out of luck. Clear doesn’t synch up with any of your beloved services. You won’t find any iCloud or Google here. I assume they feel everyone has their iPhone with them all the time. While that is true (for me at least) I also am at my computer the majority of the day and would love to have my iCal or Google Calendar to effortlessly synch my tasks from Clear. Sometimes it’s easier to manage these tasks on the device I’m using and not have to pull out my phone and open an app just to check an item off my list. I don’t think this is necessarily a deal-breaker but it’s certainly annoying.

The biggest downfall of Clear is its lack of dates. You can create a task for anything but you can’t assign a due date to it. Sometimes it’s really nice to know a bill is due on such-and-such date so you make sure it’s in the mail on time. I would like these date-assigned tasks to show up in my calendar so when I’m looking at what’s going on today, I can see a task that needs to get done too. Again, this begs the question, “how simple is too simple?”

Visually, Clear isn’t much to look at (but in a good way). It’s basically just rectangles of tasks. That’s pretty much all it needs to be. They offer a variety of themes that change those rectangle’s colors. You can earn “bonus” themes by having other apps (for example, Path) and games installed or following team members on twitter. I’ve even read that completing 100 tasks unlocks a theme. That’s a nice little Easter egg. It would probably be nice if you could design your own themes. It probably wouldn’t be hard to allow you to pick your own set of colors, but that complicates the app and goes against the simplicity they’re going for.

Screen shots of the Clear app

Overall I like Clear. I still use it but to-do lists for me always seem like such a great idea until I forget about them. Clear is fun and useful. I’m making an effort to remember to use it everyday. I wish it had a few more features to it (perhaps due dates with alerts could remind me to use it more) but its unique interface is very refreshing and might just make up for its lack of features.

You can check out Clear in the App Store.

Living in the Cloud

With the recent release of Google Drive, “the cloud” is once again all anyone can talk about. There are plenty of options but now that the big boys like Apple and Google are on board, just about everyone is starting to use some form of cloud storage.

I’m personally a huge fan of the cloud. I love having access to stuff anywhere, anytime and on any device. I actually use multiple services to maximize free space (and because I’m a little too paranoid about my data to put all my eggs in the same basket). Here are a few popular cloud services I’ve tried out:

Dropbox – I started using Dropbox a few years back at an independent contracting gig. It was a really simple way to transfer files between my laptop and the office desktop I was using. It was even more useful to have a shared folder with other team members so any of us could get access to the latest files at any time. Since leaving that job, I still use Dropbox all the time. It’s simple enough that I really don’t have to do anything at all. I love that it works across so many platforms so effortlessly. There’s been multiple times where I’ve needed a file when I wasn’t near my computer and could still get to it with someone else’s computer through the Dropbox website (This isn’t just a feature of Dropbox but most of the cloud services). When you sign up for your free account you get a decent chunk of space (2GB) and you can earn more space with referrals (up to 16GB total). There are paid accounts that up your storage space considerably, but I haven’t reached a point where that’s necessary yet. I think they also have “team” packages with lots of space designed for sharing on a project or in an office.

CX – This one is almost completely a clone of Dropbox (I’m not sure which came first, maybe Dropbox is the clone). They have the same effortless synching between devices and  CX works across plenty of platforms too. What I do like is their style. It’s bright, it’s fun and it’s very clean. The other big advantage to CX is the space. You start with 10GB, which is the largest free amount I’ve come across. You can even earn up to another 6GB by referring friends. If you’re looking for space, you can’t beat CX.

Google Drive – Google finally rolled out the much-rumored Google Drive. It essentially upgrades Google Docs to 5GB that you can use to store all of your files on. They’re accessible online (compatible formats can still be opened/edited like old Docs) and there is a nice desktop app that behaves (as in effortlessly synching) exactly like Dropbox and CX. There’s an Android app that I haven’t tested and apparently an iOS app is in the works. I’ve been an avid user of Google Docs for a while now so Google Drive is a nice upgrade for me. Google has a bit of an edge with integration. They’ve already announced a few partnerships (Lulu for example) and a number of browser plugins to extend it. I think done right, they can grab a lot of market share with tie-ups like these.

iCloud – This is Apple’s take on the cloud. Like many things Apple does, they don’t want you to even realize it’s there. They want to give you what you want when you want it without having to worry about where it lives. I haven’t come across many apps that are integrating with it yet but I’m sure they are coming. All of my iPhone pics are automatically available via photo stream in my iPhoto when I pop open the laptop. It’s stupid simple and for that I have to recommend it. Your mail, contacts, calendars, bookmarks (for Safari), photos, docs and even iPhone backups work without you having to do anything (beyond enabling it). As an added bonus they’ve added “find my Mac/iPhone” into the mix so you can locate your misplaced device. The downside is your synching is mostly limited to Apple products and services. If you’re using any of those though, it totally rocks.

Cloud App – This one is very different from the rest. It’s something I use nearly everyday but not in the same way. Basically it’s a service to share files. You just drop a file on the little cloud icon in your menu bar (on a Mac at least), it uploads and generates a tiny URL for you to share. You can even have it auto upload screen captures (again, on my Mac at least). One of the really cool features of the app is “rain drops.” These are essentially plugins that extend the usefulness of Cloud App to other apps. My favorite mail client, Sparrow, also integrates with Cloud App for sending attachments. I couldn’t find a definite total space limit on Cloud App’s site but you are limited to 10 files a day at up to 25MB a file. For most things that’s perfectly acceptable. They’ve got pro plans that up that space and add other cool features like custom domains for sharing. This isn’t something that will replace your Dropbox but I use both everyday for very different work flows.

Those are just a few options that I’ve personally been using. Each one is a little bit different and for me at least, no one service can do it all. I like each for specific reasons and will continue to use them all. Since you can try them all for free, I suggest you do and find what works best for you. Do you have a favorite I didn’t mention? Tell me about it in the comments.

Designing a Wedding Part 2

If you haven’t seen Designing a Wedding Part 1, I went over how we got started with our invitations. After that design hurdle was jumped, we moved on to our website. Wedding websites are all over the place these days and there are plenty of free templates to get you started. Because we already established a very unique look (compared to a traditional wedding at least) we opted to design our site from the ground up. homepage

We started with a splash or welcome page. It very closely resembles our invitation design but with more simplified information. We added our links to bottom to allow our visitors to get to the more specific information they’re looking for.

Our Story webpage

We tried to keep it simple and had only five links. We did one for our story which gives a little background on how we met and how our relationship developed. There’s a page for the locations of our venues with convenient links to maps and directions on how to get there. An accommodation section lists nearby hotels. We decided that an online RSVP form would be more convenient for guests and us (a win-win you might say). The back-end of that is powered by Google Forms. I was able to completely customize the look, which I discussed in this earlier post. Finally, we added a page with links to our gift registries.

locations page of our wedding website

The “secondary” pages all have the same design. They use the top from our invitations and homepage and turn it into a unifying header. The links turn into a simple menu to the left to allow visitors to navigate from page to page very easily.

The whole design is very simple and compliments our invitations very nicely. The invitation directs recipients to the site so we thought it was important to give a unified experience. While it’s not massive or even very complicated, I think it turned out to be a nice little site with all the relevant information easily accessible.

We haven’t made it this far but I do hope to incorporate the designs into our program and thank you notes. As those progress I’ll throw up another post about them. I always think it’s fun to see a whole design package and how all the pieces fit together and this particular project has been extra special for me. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at our wedding design process.

Designing a Wedding Part 1

As previously mentioned, I’ll be getting married this June. My fiance and I are both graphic designers, so it was only natural for us to design an identity for our wedding. Any designer will tell you designing for yourself is harder than for any client. As you can imagine, having two designers design for themselves is even worse. It took us quite a while to turn our visions into reality but we eventually managed.

Close up of wedding invitations

It started with invitations. We knew we wanted something different. Something a lot less traditional and a lot more “us.” I think we definitely accomplished it. We opted for a single card design done in letterpress. You can see a bit of the actual printing process in my earlier post about the press check. I’m really happy with how they look. The colors, the texture and even the bright orange envelopes all look great together. You can see more pictures below.

stacks of envelopes and wedding invitations

In part two I’ll go into how we translated our invitation designs into a wedding website.

The Internet’s Obsession with (fake) Nostalgia

I’ve noticed an interesting trend lately. It seems there are “retro” versions of our favorite websites and services popping up all over the place these days. From what Twitter would like in the 80s to what Facebook would look like in the 90s and even Google done through a BBS Terminal. They’ve even gone so far as to spoof everyone’s favorite smart phone apps, Angry Birds and Draw Something as old PC games. I always get a kick out of these and applaud everyone who has taken the time to make them.

Screenshot of Google BBS Terminal

My first computer experience was in the 80s when my parents (both teachers) were able to bring home an Apple IIe over summer vacation. There was something magical about that big, beige machine loading up a game of Oregon Trail or my favorite as a kid, Fischer Price Bowling. Everything on-screen was so blocky and the gameplay so simple by today’s standards but it was still hours and hours of fun. I think we’re at a point in technology where everything has moved so fast and is improving everyday that people want to reminisce about those old days. They want to slow down and enjoy the BASICs (see what I did there?) again. I’m more than grateful for today’s modern technology but I do thoroughly enjoy this recent trend of imagining today’s services as if it was yesteryear. Have you found any other versions of these? Please share them in the comments, I’d love to check them out.

Happy foursquare day!

4sq Day 2012 logo

Today (4/16) is foursquare day. Get it? What started as a clever play on numbers by a blogger in Tampa has turned into an international celebration. Foursquare has even jumped on board and offers a special 4sq day logo, badge and t-shirt. There are meetups and events all over the world today that will bring people together. Other platforms that use the foursquare venue database like Untappd are getting in on the fun. All of this over a little app that people use to check-in and explore the world around them. It’s really pretty amazing if you think about it.

Here in Kalamazoo the fine folks behind Foursquare Kalamazoo have organized an entire week of social media events. There’s some really cool events happening and I’m going to try to attend as many as I can. I will definitely check out tonight’s 4s Day event at Celebration! Cinema. It sounds great. If you’re in the area, you should definitely check it out too. Aren’t on foursquare yet? Here’s a post to get you started.

Minimalist TV Posters

Two of my passions are design and TV. It’s rare that I’m not watching at least five TV shows at any given moment. I’m not just a couch potato, I’m a multi-tasker. Anytime I’m surfing the web or working on a project there’s a good chance the TV is on.

The Simpsons Knight Rider  MacGyver Poster

So with TV being such a big part of my everyday and design being my livelihood, I was totally psyched to find this great poster series from Albert Exergian. I first saw them probably a year ago. The posters are wonderful. They really capture the spirit and feeling of each show with so few elements. I geeked over them for a while and then they slowly faded away to the back of my mind. That is until today, when I came across this other great poster series.

Lost Poster Daria Poster Veronica Mars Poster Mad Men Poster

This time it became a guessing game which added a new element of fun. I love that each poster has three icons to represent the show and no words or titles. I love seeing what elements the designers thought were most important. It’s almost like a really pretty game of Pictionary. It was their shout out to the original set of posters that reminded me about them. I like both sets very much, for different reasons and hope you enjoyed them too. Make sure you check out the full series (and the answers) over at re:blog.

Letterpress Wedding Invitation Press Check

Last night Abby and I had the pleasure of doing a press check on our wedding invitations. We are having them printed at Ginger Tree Press which is a one person letterpress & design studio in Kalamazoo. It’s actually owned and operated by our friend Anna who went through the same design program as us in college. I’ve always loved letterpress and when the opportunity to do our wedding invites that way presented itself, we couldn’t say no. It’s always nice to keep things local and because we knew Anna, she invited us for a press check. After checking the color and such, we stuck around to watch some of the printing. It was extremely exciting for a couple of design nerds like us. Anna really knows her stuff so if you’re looking for letterpress, definitely check out Ginger Tree Press.

I love just about everything about letterpress. I love the look of it. I love the texture. I love how it feels in your hand. There’s something very pleasing about it. I think it’s extra special. Maybe because I know what went into it behind the scenes, but I just can’t get enough of it.

Below I have a few photos and videos of our sneak peek at the invitations. They are looking really great and I can’t wait to see the final product all trimmed out with the second color in place. I’ll be sure to post them when they’re ready.



Slice of Life (Sans-Abby Edition)

This is a cross-post of a guest spot I did over at Abby’s blog. She’s been off getting her French on and she asked me to throw something up while she’s off the grid. I decided to go with her weekly “Slice of Life” style post.

Settlers of Catan board game

Birthday Cupcakes

Munchkin Card Game

Moosejaw T-Shirt

Ru Paul Bumper Sticker

Michigan Brewing Company Mackinac Pale Ale

This was what my week without Abby looked like. It wasn’t particularly exciting but it kept me busy.

  1. Settlers of Catan: We played two games on Friday and I managed to pull of a win in both games. Later in week, I continued that streak with a third win. I’m pretty sure everyone will gang up on me next time we play.
  2. Birthday Cupcakes: At a dinner with friends we celebrated Bethanie’s birthday with some homemade chocolate cupcakes, courtesy of our friend Kristen.
  3. Munchkin: My friends discovered a new (to us) card game called Munchkin. It’s kind of ridiculous and funny. We had a good time playing a couple of games and I’m sure it will be a staple at future game nights.
  4. Moosejaw T-shirt: This little goodie arrived in the mail for Abby. Moosejaw was  kind enough to give out free t-shirts last week, unfortunately not in my size. I guess Abby gets lucky on this one.
  5. Ru Paul for president bumper sticker: I saw this in a campus parking lot. It was a nice little laugh after a long, boring meeting.
  6. Michigan Brewing Company – Mackinac Pale Ale: Lately I’ve been trying to only buy beers I haven’t tried before. This week I picked up this pale ale based on name alone. It was pretty good.

Starter Kit: Casual iPhone Games

The next installment of my “Starter Kit” series is all about casual iPhone games. Mobile gaming, especially for the iPhone, has become a HUGE market. There are all types of games and with the power these new devices offer, some of the games are absolutely stunning. Not only in terms of graphics but in gameplay and mechanics. I’m going to start with casual games. These are great for just about anyone and usually don’t require much effort or time commitment and while some are great looking, it’s usually more about fun than killer graphics. Think of these as “standing in line” or “waiting in the doctor’s office” kind of games. I’m sure I’ve missed many (there are literally thousands), so please feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

Action Hero: This is a good-looking side-scroller. You run along jumping, ducking and punching your way across the top of a very long train. As most of the games listed here, it’s a good way to kill a little time. Check out Action Hero.

Air Hockey: There are a bunch of these and each have a little plus and little minus. I’ll just suggest you check out Super HockeyGlow Hockey 2Touch Hockey: FS5 or Air Hockey and let you make up your own mind.

Angry Birds: If you haven’t heard of Angry Birds, you’re probably living under a rock. This is pretty much the most popular casual game of all time. Basically a bunch of punk pigs came and stole all your bird eggs. The birds decide to go all kamikaze on the pigs and their forts for vengeance. That’s a basic description but this addicting game has you sling-shotting a variety of birds, each with their own abilities, at the pigs. It’s a ridiculous amount of fun and hard to put down. It’s so popular there are lots of different versions. I recommend the original Angry Birds (free and paid full version), Angry Birds Seasons (free and paid full version) and the latest, Angry Birds in Space. There is also Angry Birds Rio (free and paid full version) but I’m not as big of a fan of that one.

Doodle Jump: This one has you tilting your phone to direct the doodle guy to various platforms and bonuses like trampolines or jetpacks all with the hopes of reaching new heights. It’s nice to see a simple game with an interesting control scheme. Check out Doodle Jump in free or full paid versions.

Draw Something: This one is one of the hot games right now. It’s a super simple version of Pictionary you play with your Facebook friends. It’s turned based, so you pick your word, draw it and send if off to a friend. That friend watches your drawing, guesses the word (hopefully) and then picks their own word, draws it and sends it back. It’s fun to make drawings and laugh at them. Since you’re drawing with your finger on a tiny screen they can be quite hilarious. There’s a free version with ads and paid version without ads and more words to choose from.

Flight Control: This frustrating but oh-so-fun game turns you into an air traffic controller. You draw paths for airplanes to reach the landing strips. It sounds easy but only certain aircraft types can land on certain runways and some are faster than others. It gets progressively harder the longer you play. Another great game to kill time with and another great game that is hard to put down. It’s also available in free and paid full versions.

Fruit Ninja: This one is great. You use your finger to swipe across the screen to destroy fruit. It’s really a lot of fun. Fruit Ninja Lite is free but you’ll probably enjoy the extras the full version can offer.

Jetpack Joyride: This is one of my favorites. You’re a dude with a jetpack (already cool, right?) and you’re using that jetpack to navigate through a lab all the time collecting coins, avoiding electrofied-balls-of-death and completing odd missions. You can use the coins for upgrades to your wardrobe and jetpack too. It’s a blast and probably the game I come back to the most. Check out Jetpack Joyride.

Line Runner: Stickman games are very prevalent in the App Store. This one is a side-scroller where you have to avoid obstacles by jumping and ducking. It’s simple and fun and probably harder than you’d expect. Check out Line Runner.

Mr. AahH!!: This is a really simple game. You’re a little guy on a string and you’re trying to land on the next platform. The platforms are different sizes and sometimes there’s wind to factor in. The closer you land to the center target area the more points you get. Sometimes the most simple games are the most frustrating and addicting, as is the case here. This one has a free Lite version and the full paid version.

Rope’n’Fly: You take your guy from building to building via rope. You try to avoid falling to your death on the ground. Sometimes you can hop on a plane and ride it for a while. The object of the game is to get the farthest. I enjoy it a lot. Another easy to play for just a few moments or quite some time. I especially like some of the achievements in this one.  I’ve only played Rope’n’Fly 3 but there is a Rope’n’Fly 2 as well.

RunStickRun!: You’re a stickman on the run. Jump from platform to platform in this simple side-scroller. It’s fun, but nothing too fancy. I’ve still spent a bit with RunStickRun! and had a good time.

Safari Party: This is one of those “swap to make a group of matches” kind of games. It’s kind of like bejeweled with cute little animals, although the gameplay is slightly tweaked. It’s fun and a favorite of my Fiance’s (probably for the animals). Check out Safari Party.

Scramble with Friends: The turn-based games with your Facebook friends is a very popular category. This one is a scramble game, where you get a grid of letters and you try to connect letters to make words. The longer the words the more points. I like this style of game to begin with, so the added element of competing with friends was a nice addition. There is an ad-supported free version and an ad-free paid version for this as well.

Stickman Cliff Diving: This game is extremely frustrating. That said I find myself playing it often. You’re a stick figure and you’re diving off cliffs. Before each round you’re given a certain time of dive you should be attempting. If you complete the dive correctly you move on. Simple in theory but difficult in practice. Stickman Cliff Diving is worth wasting some time on.

Temple Run: In this one you tilt your phone to “steer” a guy running through ruins. You swipe to make sharp turns and jump or duck. It can definitely be frustrating but also a lot of fun. It has a lot of copycats now so it must be good, right? Check out Temple Run.

Tiny Tower: When I first got my iPhone I really got into this game. In a lot of ways it reminded me of the classic Sim Tower game I used to play (albeit badly) on my old Mac LC II. To be perfectly honest it can be a little “pesky” having to constantly stock your tower. It’s a “hurry up and wait” kind of game but it is still fun to expand your tower. I don’t play it anymore but when I did, I enjoyed it. Check out Tiny Tower.

Woolcraft: This is a puzzle game where you have to get sheep from point A to point B. It gets increasingly harder as the levels go on (which game doesn’t I suppose). I like that it makes you really think and plan ahead. Check out the full version Woolcraft as well as the free Lite version.

Words with Friends: This is another turn-based game to play with your Facebook friends. This time it’s all about Scrabble (but they won’t say that due to copyright). It’s fun to try and squeeze every last point out of your letters and having the opportunity to “reply” to your games at your convenience is appreciated. Sometimes that 62 point word needs a bit of time to come to you. This one is also available in a free, ad-supported free version and an ad-free paid version.