B.A.R.E. (Bad Acronyms aRe Everywhere)

Why are so many people and organizations obsessed with acronyms? Especially acronyms that spell another word. From small nonprofits and churches to schools and large corporations, really bad acronyms are everywhere. 

NASA's Messenger Probe crashed into Mercury after a long and successful mission. And as I read CNN's account of the mission, I was stunned by the fifth paragraph:

Messenger (an acronym for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) was launched in 2004 and traveled more than 6½ years before it started circling Mercury on March 18, 2011.

Wait. So the Messenger probe is actually M.E.S.S.E.N.G.E.R.? Or is it Me.S.S.En.Ge.R.? 

NASA designed a space probe that is going to fly to a plant named after the messenger of the gods. And NASA feels like they need to construct some bogus acronym to justify the name "Messenger."

Speaking of MESSENGER, check out this awesome shot of the sunlit side of Mercury. B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L. Photo credit: NASA.

Speaking of MESSENGER, check out this awesome shot of the sunlit side of Mercury. B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L. Photo credit: NASA.

Acronyms are fine if they really help people remember and understand the program or product name. But in most cases, the acronym simply becomes a name and slowly loses all connection to the meaning. 

And the worse case scenario is that you are so obsessed with creating an acronym, that you select a poor name in the process. Avoid creating acronyms just to be clever or just to justify a name choice.

Your best bet is always to give products, organizations and programs strong, appropriate names.

Trying out the Apple Watch

We made the trek to Southpark Mall in Charlotte Saturday to check out the Apple Watch. The process was simple. Walk in, tell them your name and they can pull it up the appointment on their device. If you favorited any items in the store app, they can see those, too. The Apple Store employee was great. Well-trained and genuinely excited about the watch.

I tried on several different models, all in the 42mm variety. I really liked the Milanese Loop and the Space Gray Sport. I've seen reviewers complain about the leather loop, but I actually liked it, too.

The watch is smaller and lighter than I expected. My current watch is bigger than the biggest Apple Watch so size and weight wasn't an issue for me.

The watches that you try on are in demo mode, so you can't really interact with them. The demo does include "taps" so you can feel them. The taptic engine is pretty crazy and not at all like what I was expecting. Not really sure how to explain the feeling other than to say that it feels like someone is lightly tapping you on the wrist. It's very subtle.

In the store, it's hard to get a feel for how you will interact with the watch. Watch displays are set up around the outside edges of the store and are connected to iPads that explain the features as you navigate the watch. It's a very well designed experience. However, I don't think you will be able to fully appreciate what an Apple Watch can do until you have it on your arm and it's paired with your phone.

My wife also tried on the Apple Watch and she liked the modern buckle in the 38 mm. She hasn't really been paying attention to the Apple Watch hype so she had lots of questions for the sales guy. She's struggling to figure out how it would work for her. She's a teacher so during the day, the communications functions would be pretty useless for much of the day. But several other features - like fitness and maps - intrigued her. 

I'm excited to buy one. I think it will work well for me and my routine. I'm leaning toward the Space Gray Sport. The Milanese Loop is really nice and stainless steel finish gives you more flexibility by matching a wider selection of bands. So I may change my mind. 

Other notes from the Apple Store:

  • They don't sell the Gold Apple Watch Edition at Southpark. Considering that the cars on display inside the mall included Maseratis and a Ferrari, that should tell you how exclusive the Apple Watch Edition is. 
  • Apple's going to sell a lot of watch bands. Let's hope that the watch bands will work for at least a few generations. Most people are going to have multiple bands.
  • The new MacBook. Wow. Love it in Space Grey. So unbelievably thin. I know there are lots of compromises with it. But once an USB-C ecosystem exists, I could see opting for one of these. 
  • Bluetooth headphones are going to be necessary to use the Watch while you are running. While I knew that, it puts a new perspective on why Apple purchased Beats.
  • I received an email survey after the try on experience. I've written before about how sales people push you to give them the highest score. Well the Apple Store folks didn't do that. They didn't mention the survey to me at all. I used the opportunity to explain the issue I had signing up, but gave the entire experience high marks.  

Getting an appointment with Apple Watch

I'm trying on an Apple Watch today. I live in Columbia, SC – which incomprehensibly does not have an Apple Store. So I'm heading up to Charlotte.

Last Monday night, I decided I wanted to try on an Apple Watch. And considering that I'm taking the whole family with me, I wanted to go ahead and see if there were appointments available for the next weekend. When I searched, I discovered a couple of things:

  • There were appointments for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday but there were "No Appointments Available" on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday. Okay, the Southpark Apple Store is a busy store. It prompted me to check other stores so I checked Augusta Mall, which is actually closer anyway... Same story... Checked Charleston... no availability for the weekend... Checked Greenville... Nope.
  • So I figured I'd book for the weekend after. But you couldn't. You could only book a week out. Monday was the last day listed.

Ugh. Nevermind. 

Except I knew Apple was going to continue to do try on sessions. A quick theory developed: Apple only allows you to book an appointment a week out. The next day I logged in and sure enough, Tuesday was now available for booking.

But there was something else, too. Thursday, which previously had "No Appointments Available" now had a full slate of appointments available. Yesterday, there was nothing. So after a little testing, I figured out the rules:

  • Apple shows you only the next week of dates.
  • You can only book appointments for the next three days.
  • The days that you can't book say "No Appointments Available," but actually should say "No Appointments Available, Yet."
  • Nowhere on the reservation site is this explained.

I'm not sure if this is for all Apple Stores or just the ones in the Southeast. It seems very sloppy. Maybe Apple assumes that most appointments are impulsively scheduled. I don't know, but I almost didn't go to a try-on appointment because I thought – incorrectly – that no appointments were available.

It's easy to fix. Show only three days instead of seven. Or just explain it somewhere.

That said, I'm very excited to try on an Apple Watch today. My wife and I both have appointments. I'll write a detailed post on my impressions later this weekend.

Linked: The MacBook doesn't need you to love it, but someone will

Nice article by Jason Snell on the new MacBook. It's beautiful and I love the Space Gray finish. But I personally need more power than the MacBook will provide, so my next laptop with be another MacBook Pro. Can't wait to try out the Force Click Trackpad, though.

Fast wi-fi fix!

A few months ago, we changed our internet service from Time Warner Cable to AT&T Uverse. The service is great, but we've had an issue with the wireless signal cutting out randomly. My assumption was that there was some interference since the Uverse runs over wi-fi.

We've got an Apple Time Capsule. And when they installed the new service, we connected the Time Capsule to the new router with an ethernet cable and everything worked, until it didn't. I assumed I was going to reconfigure everything. And while I was fine with that, I just didn't have the time to mess with it. So we just tolerated the occasional frustration.

Today, I saw an article on Six Colors by Dan Moran about changing the channel on your wi-fi base station. So after following that guidance and setting my channel to 48, the internet was instantly more responsive on all my devices. Awesome.

Not quite, though. For some reason, while my Macs and iOS devices worked better, my Apple TV freaked out. So I started looking for more details and Six Colors had already posted a second story with more details on how to pick the best channel for your network. I followed their instructions and now everything is working perfectly.

I have no idea why the automatic channel selection wasn't working on the Time Capsule, but manually selecting the appropriate channel seems to work like a charm. Thanks to Dan Moran and Six Colors to solving my wi-fi issue.

(As an aside, if you are a Mac user and aren't regularly reading Six Colors, you are missing out. One of my favorite new sites. Jason Snell is building something awesome.)

Wanted: A family email solution

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My daughter got an email address recently. She's our oldest child and it's the first time someone other than my wife and I have needed an email address.

Here's the thing about email addresses: We often keep them for a really long time. I've had my main email address since 2000. My work address is the same email address I had in 1993. (I work at my alma mater so my current work email address is the same as my student email address.) Others change frequently. I've had numerous work email addresses that ceased to exist when I changed jobs.

I got my daughter an email address through a commonly used email service and she'll probably have that email address for a long time. In fact, until she goes to college, I imagine that will be her email address.

The more I think about it, though, I'd really love to have something like Google Apps for Business... but for families.

A Google Apps for Family (or something similar from someone else) could be a family email service that allows you to use a custom domain name. It'd have some parental controls and would be easy to manage. But it could solve a bunch of other family issues, too. Just off the top of my head:

  • Family Calendar
  • Synced Shopping List
  • Photo Sharing
  • Family Blog
  • Document Sharing

I'd happily pay for a single service that could help me manage my family's chaos.

I can use any number of services to host the email. And other apps can cover the other needs. But as the parent/administrator, I want something easy to manage and a single, cohesive solution would be so much easier.

My oldest child just got email. I hope by the time my youngest is ready for email*, there's a better solution. 

*Assuming people still use email, but that's another blog post all together.

Linked: Wired In

I work in an open office environment. And while I love being connected to my team, there are times I need to let everyone know I'm working. Wired In is a company that is trying to make a USB-connected busy sign. It looks pretty cool and I'd love to get one. It would definitely look cooler than the sign I taped to the back of my chair this week. Coming this summer.

Linked: I didn't think I could love Wunderlist more...

I'm a big fan of Wunderlist. It's an amazingly simple and powerful to-do app that syncs effortlessly between all my devices. And now they are making it better. Adding folders is a big improvement. I currently start all my lists with a prefix (for example, SBB Blog Post Ideas) so I can keep all my similar lists together. But that gets clumsy. So having folders is a big improvement.

Some of the other additions are great, too. Quick Add looks great. And an API to integrate with other apps has the potential to integrate Wunderlist throughout my workflows.

Why would Apple build a car?

Everyone is talking about whether or not Apple is building a car. Reporters have speculated. Lots of smart people have weighted in. And while I'm not sure that Apple's working on a car, I wouldn't be surprised if they are. For one, very specific reason:

The electric car is the single most exciting design opportunity in generations. 

Everyone has focused on the software possibilities. The integration between computer and electric car. But changing from gas-powered to all-electric is more than that. An electric car removes the engine, emissions system and gas tank. These changes free designers to experiment with new configurations and to reinvent the automobile. The limitations of over a hundred years of automotive design are removed. 

And yet, all of the electric cars on the market still look mostly like... well... cars. The Leaf, Tesla Model S and BMW i3... even though they don't need room for an internal combustion engine, they still look similar to gas-powered automobiles. 

There are reasons for this. Crash test standards are based on non-electric cars. Marketing a completely new concept is challenging and risky. Aerodynamics are vital to achieve maximum range. Car manufacturers have (logically) stuck with what has worked in the past. And once upon a time, phone manufacturers thought physical keyboards were an irreplaceable feature for smartphones.

Apple's a disciplined company. They will only release a car if they can make a profit. But of all the reasons for Apple to tackle the car, I can think of only this: Whoever masters the design of the electric car will shape automotive design for the next hundred years. 

(One more footnote... Mainstream car makers don't really experiment with new materials. The one exception that I can think of was Saturn's plastic body panels. And that didn't turn out so well. Apple loves to explore materials...)

Where's the jewelry counter?

Everyone has questions about the Apple Watch. What will it cost? How long will the battery last? How well will third-party apps work? But I have a completely different question:

Where's the jewerly counter?

When I buy a watch, I want to try it on. See how it feels. Test out different bands, styles and sizes. And the more I think about it, the Apple Store as it is currently configured is a terrible place to buy a watch.

And that's why I think the most expensive versions of the watch will never make it to Apple Stores, or any other mass market retailer for that matter.

The base Apple Watch Sport will cost around $350. And I'm sure you'll buy those like an iPhone or an iPad. They will be on display at your local Apple Store and when you are ready to buy one, they'll bring a box out from the back. And you'll probably be able to get them at other retailers, too, like Best Buy and Target.

But the more expensive models — ones that cost thousands of dollars — will never make it to the Apple Store. Or Best Buy. Or Target. Because quite frankly, that's not how you buy a $10,000 solid gold watch.

Expense watches and jewelry are sold through a network of high-end fashion retailers and small jewelers. And it would make sense for Apple to work with these retailers to sell the most exclusive models. I would imagine that at launch, there will only be a handful of locations in the world where you can buy an Apple Watch Edition. (The lack of leaks coming from these retailers would tend to indicate that it's a very small, very selective network.)

But what about the regular non-sport, non-edition Apple Watch? The stainless steel versions? Where will you be able to buy those? John Gruber's detailed and logical post on Apple Watch pricing estimates these will cost at least $1,000. That's an expensive watch to sell though the Apple Store, but I do think they will carry them. And I would assume that high-end fashion retailers will carry them as well.

(As a random aside, what if one or more versions of the Apple Watch were available exclusively through the Apple Store? Maybe the Milanese Loop?)

So basically:

  • Apple Watch Sport will be available at the Apple Store and other retailers like Target and Best Buy.
  • The Apple Watch will be sold through the Apple Store and a select network of high-end retailers.
  • And the solid gold Apple Watch Edition will be sold in exclusive high-end retailers only.

I'm still skeptical about the buying experience for the more expensive watches at the Apple Store. There's no room for a jewerly counter.* And when the Apple Store is crowded — and it's always crowded — I can't imagine an Apple Store employee pulling out watches for a customer to try on. And I can't imagine a customer buying a thousand dollar watch without ever having tried in on.

I'm sure Apple has a solution for this. I'm sure they are aware that a crowded Apple Store is a less than ideal experience for purchasing a high-end watch. I can't wait to see what they come up with.

*Unless they completely redesign the Apple Stores... 

Linked: Futuristically fake

I love futuristic sci-fi movie interfaces. Noteloop has a collection of awesome links to movie interfaces. Lots of great detail. In addition to the movie links, they also have a handful of links for television shows and video games.

New presets for Flare 2

I've posted two new presets for Flare 2, Rose-Colored Glasses and Tunnel, on the Flare Presets page. Note that these will only work with Flare 2. The new preset format doesn't work with the first version of Flare.

Rose-Colored Glasses is a filter that tints the image. The default is pink, but it can easily be altered to any color. Just change the colors in the Duotone filter. The gallery below has rose, garnet and blue.

Tunnel is a desaturated filter with a heavy vignette. Designed to make most images look pretty ominous.

Rethinking Wednesday Quick Tips

For about 9 months, I published a quick tip for Adobe apps almost every Wednesday. And while I enjoy posting them, coming up with a new tip weekly was starting to be challenging. So I'm going to scrap the weekly posting schedule and just post them as I find them. You can find the most recent tips on the Creative Cloud Quick Tips page.

Efficient packing

One of my designers pointed out this great tip the other day. I usually send PDF files to printers, but occasionally I have to package a job to give to another designer, send to a vendor or archive on a server.

In InDesign CC 2014, you create a package the same way you always have – "File > Package..." but there is an additional twist. When you go to save your packaged folder, two new options are at the bottom of the save dialog box: "Include IDML" and "Include PDF(Print)."

These are definite time savers. I often have to save an IDML file for those who haven't upgraded to Creative Cloud and the ability to save a PDF with a specific preset saves another step. 

It's a nice addition by Adobe to make a commonly used feature more powerful.

See more quick tips on Adobe products.

Unexpected troubleshooting help

I was trying to get some materials printed yesterday at the office and InDesign was repeatedly crashing shortly after I hit print. 

I usually ignore the "Crash Report" dialog box. No offense to Adobe, because I ignore them from Microsoft and Apple, too.* But I was on a deadline and I was irritated and so I typed "Trying to print" in the text field and hit "Send Report." I started to reopen InDesign.

I didn't notice the checkbox to "Allow Adobe to suggest a solution or work around." But then, another message popped up: "Adobe has found a solution or workaround for the recent crash in Adobe InDesign CC 2014. Please click here for further details."

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I'll be honest, I was so floored, that I didn't take a screen shot or really read it too carefully. (I had to recreate to crash to get the above screenshots.) I clicked the link which took me to "InDesign & Illustrator | Crash while printing to Fiery RIP." Which, by the way, was exactly the solution to my problem.

I'm guessing the error code pointed exactly to the issue with the Fiery. I have no idea if Adobe provides this kind of troubleshooting help for other known issues. I've never seen it before. I'm guessing this feature was added in a recent version on Creative Cloud. But it was helpful, and I really had no idea that Adobe** could even respond in that way.

So today's quick tip is "Don't ignore the crash report dialog box." You never know when you'll get unexpected troubleshooting help.

Every Wednesday, I post a tip on an Adobe app.

* A random note: I will fill crash reports out for small developers. I guess I think my data will mean more to them since they have a smaller installed base.

** Or that any company could automatically respond to a crash report. I really just assume that all troubleshooting info goes into some giant automated database that no one looks at...

Flare 2 Review

With the release of Apple's new version of OS X, Yosemite, came a surprise update from the Iconfactory... a new version of their great image styling app for the Mac, Flare.

If you aren't familiar with the original Flare, it allows you to apply and fully customize Instagram-like filters at full resolution. And while there are Photoshop actions that can replicate filter sets, the ease and power of Flare make it a great tool for designers. (And as an added bonus, it's really fun to use.)

Flare 2 improves significantly on the original and adds a pretty clever companion iOS app.

Flare interface in full screen mode. Notice multiple images open across the bottom.

Flare interface in full screen mode. Notice multiple images open across the bottom.

For me, the biggest improvement is a rethinking of the interface. Presets are to the right and customization is on the left. You can now have multiple images open... a big help when you're trying to apply similar effects to bunch of pictures. And light and dark interface themes are a welcome addition. 

Flare 2 interface in dark mode.

Flare 2 interface in dark mode.

The new interface makes it easier to find and organize presets. Preloaded effects are on a "Best of" tab. Another tab keeps track of your saved effects. And a third tab keeps track of snapshots — a history that lets you return to previous settings. 

Simple edit lets you make quick adjustments.

Simple edit lets you make quick adjustments.

Flare 2 adds a new simple edit feature. Simple edit allows the creator of the preset to pick a handful of settings that will impact the filter's effect. And if that doesn't work, then you move into advanced edit. It works well, but will take a little while to figure out exactly which sliders to add to the simple edit popup.

Flare 2 adds a few new filters and effects to the already solid arsenal. And before adding new effects, you can see a preview. It's a nice touch.

When selecting a new effect to add, Flare 2 gives you a thumbnail preview.

When selecting a new effect to add, Flare 2 gives you a thumbnail preview.

Access Flare Effects from the Camera Roll.

Access Flare Effects from the Camera Roll.

Completely new is the iOS Flare Effects app. You download the app to your phone, open it and... instructions... The app contains a couple of slides with instructions. Follow the instructions and your Flare effects are available from Camera Roll or Camera app. It's really impressive. I was expecting a full featured app, but Flare Effects takes advantage of iOS 8's extensions to work with the app you already use. It's nice. 

And it automatically syncs all your effects to your phone and groups your favorites together. I'm actually not sure how it syncs the effects. I didn't log in or create an account so I'm assuming it uses iCloud. It's pretty much magic.

I'm thinking more than a handful of social media managers will create a custom look for their Twitter, Instgram and Facebook feeds and then use Flare 2 and Flare Effects to apply it consistantly.

For a limited time, Flare 2 is $9.99 on the app store. Flare Effects for iOS is free. I think it's a great addition to any designer's toolkit for quickly adding effects to images or illustrations. And being able to use your effects on iOS makes Flare even more useful.

FYI: I need to update my presets on my Flare page to more easily work with Flare 2, but they all should work fine. And I plan to add more in the next few weeks.

Fixing punctuation in Illustrator

For whatever reason, I occasionally end up with punctuation issues in Adobe Illustrator. Thankfully, there is a quick – and powerful – way to correct common typographic issues across an entire document in Illustrator. Simply go to Type > Smart Punctuation...

Choose the issues you need to fix and zap all those annoying dumb quotes, double spaces after a period and awkward dashes with a single click.

Every Wednesday, I post a tip for an Adobe app.

QR Codes in InDesign

InDesign will let you create a QR codes without leaving the application. Go to Object > Generate QR code... You'll have options for hyperlink, text message, email, business card or plain text. 

Once you have all the information filled out, you can then place the QR code like you would an image.

I will freely admit that I tend to avoid QR codes like the plague. I'm not convinced of their effectiveness. But sometimes, you need to use one and generating one without leaving InDesign is helpful.

Every Wednesday, I post a quick tip for an Adobe app.

Linked: Good at math

Seth Godin has a great post on being "good at math." I'm a designer that doesn't mind doing math. But when I was younger, I was convinced that I wasn't good at math and avoided it. It took a really great 12th grade calculus teacher to convince me that I could succeed at math.

Now I have a daughter that is convinced she isn't "good at math." My goal is to build her confidence in math before she gets to 12th grade.

Highly satisfied

I was in the grocery store the other day. Normally, canned music plays over the speakers, but this day, it was interrupted repeatedly by announcements every few minutes encouraging people to take a post-visit survey and say you were "highly satisfied."

I bought a car a couple of years ago. The sales rep asked several times if I was "highly satisfied." I assured him that I was. He mentioned that I might get a phone survey from the car company and if I did, to make sure I answered that I was "highly satisfied."

I did receive a call — from the dealership. They wanted to make sure that I was "highly satisfied." When I told them that I was, them reminded me that if I get a call from the car company, to tell them that I was "highly satisfied."

What's going on here? Why is everyone so concerned that I am "highly satisfied?" Because that's the only acceptable answer.

Car dealerships, retail stores, financial services institutions, insurance companies and other businesses* all want to improve customer experience. So they create surveys to see where they need to improve. 

Often, bonuses for staff and managers are tied to the responses. Managers and staff obviously want the bonus money, so they go to great lengths to ensure that all customers report that they are indeed "highly satisfied."

The salesman at the car dealership confided that the only answer that was acceptable to the higher ups was "highly satisfied." Everything else is a failing grade and results in the sales team taking a personal financial hit. I had a similar conversation the other day with someone in the financial services sector.

This is a ridiculous misuse of metrics. Instead of testing whether a customer is actually satisfied, you are testing how skillfully the management can manipulate the customer into responding with the highest ranking. These survey results give you no real insight into the mind of the consumer. You've simply created a system to feed you the information you want to hear.

A survey with one "right" answer creates a situation where the goal for the staff is not a happy customer — it's a successful survey. If a company wants honest survey data, they have to get real, uncoached answers. And that means not pushing the customer into giving a particular response.

* And software companies. The same basic principle is at play in the app store. Everyone is pushing to get the highest star rating because apps with higher rankings are more profitable. The emphasis isn't rating the app accurately, it's playing the game to get the highest ranking.

Bob Wertz

Husband, Dad (x3), Creative Director at @UofSC, Type Designer, Teacher and Volunteer. Blogs at Sketchbook B and Wanted in Columbia.