Saturday, February 25, 2006

Review: Garmin Nuvi 350 vs. TomTom Go Personal Travel Assistant

Or, the TomTom Go vs Garmin Nuvi (Nüvi)

A GPS is an amazing device. Something you can hold in your hand can pinpoint your exact location within a few feet, anywhere on the planet.

Perfect if you're an explorer, geo-cacher or adventurer, but if you're a suburb-dwelling parent who simply needs to get from point A to point B, then a GPS becomes a Personal Travel Assistant (or Personal Navigation device).
{Aside} We went to a regional NAWCC meeting, and I pointed out a device on a table to my son: "Take a look at the PTA on the table over there." His confused look when he picked up the device was funny – he had never seen a vintage, Hamilton US Army issue compass.
It's my wife who mainly uses this (My wife loves certain technology, it doesn't get any better!). If she is frustrated with a device, I hear about it. So when she expressed her frustration with the user interface, the lack of internal maps and the tiny monochrome screen on our Garmin GPS, I decided to find a PTA for her. {To be fair, she also doesn't like to hear my frustration with the early Garmin's frustrating interface with her PC. She knows that if I start any sentence with "If this was on a Macintosh..."}. The device required the use of a PC, and did not have a Macintosh interface or software for downloading maps. It is decidely non-user friendly.

Enter the TomTom Go 300. A good referral from a friend who has one for his smartphone convinced me to buy one. They have cute commercials, but cute doesn't cut it with poor programming. And who wants to be lost?

A trip to Columbus, Ohio from our house covers two roads, one of which is an interstate route. We know that it takes 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Syncing up with the satellite was painfully slow. Not just agonizingly, but painfully.

Setting up the TomTom was daunting. There are so many configuration screens, it will take you a week to remember where you last saw a setting you want to change. I'm an expert computer user on two platforms (Macintosh and Windows), and a user interface designer, and I found it confusing.

Yet, no matter how we tried to configure it (again, not well thought out for the average user) it inisted that the trip would take over three hours. The route included getting off of the highway to take back roads that ran parallel, and getting back onto the highway.

The TomTom Go is shaped roughly like a wedge that could be used to prevent your car from rolling away if it was stuck under a tire. Has anyone at TomTom ever hear of product design?

Two more experiences with destinations closer to home convinced us that the the TomTom Go 300 was either faulty or poorly programmed. We took it back and instead purchased the Garmin Nüvi 350.

The Nüvi 350 is a delightfully small, portable GPS navigator, traveler’s reference (Thousands of restaurants and places in its database, and digital entertainment system (plays audio books and MP3s), all in one. The Nüvi provides automatic routing, turn-by-turn voice directions, and finger-touchscreen control. Technically it is a Personal Travel Assistant, as it doesn't display the same info as a GPS most of the time.

While not perfect, the Nüvi is simple to program, and for the most part has so far taken the logical route we would have chosen without it.

Settings include Map (View menus), System settings, Time, Display, Navigation, and Language. Simple and effective.

Main menus include Where To (Address, Food, Lodging, Fuel, My Locations and a menu to spell a name to search. (Searching is a bit slow, but given it's searching a DB of all the continental US, we'll be patient. It would seem logical for it to search the given region it's located in by default. Ours is set that way, but it's not clear that it was working that way.

The Travel Kit feature allows access to an
  • add-on language guides (Words and Phrases and bilibgual dictionaries, Travel Guides, and Savers Guide)
  • MP3 Player
  • Audible Book Player (the Nüvi has a slot for an SD card)
  • Picture Viewer
  • World Clock
  • Currency Converter
  • Measurement converter
  • Calculator
It's main flaw is its lack of Macintosh compatibility. We had to use our office PC to download a map update, and install it via USB. C'mon Garmin, get with the program and hire a Macinstosh programmer!

Simply put, this is a sound (albeit pricey) device. In a sense it's already paid for itself by enabling us to get where we needed when we needed to. It gives clear directions, and so far has been simple for my wife to learn and use. I highly recommend it.

Addendum: We just spent three days in Ft. Lauderdale/West Palm Beach/ Miami area, and the Nüvi worked incredibly well, ALWAYS getting us where we needed. We simply entered the address as a destination or waypoint, and we were there.

Battery Life: We didn't take our car power adapter, so we were reliant on the internal battery. It seems like the battery lasts about 4 to 5 hours, depending on use (we only used for navigation, not audio playback). Battery life could be improved, but for most users this should be fine.

Since we were traveling, we were trying to pack light, and also had adapters for two mobile phones and an iPod. Oh, and the clunky adapter that ships with the Fuji FinePix F10. (What was Fuji thinking?!)

Now if they could only do something about the amount of traffic in Florida...

a designer's call to altruism

After a recent conversation with the communcations director of a global manufacturing company who also runs a non-profit, I've been thinking lately about the designer's obligation for altruism.

This particular individual runs a non-profit on a budget of under $100,000.00, rehabbing homes in the inner city. It's a worthwhile cause, since their consitituents are on fixed incomes and can't afford to fix up their homes.

His concern is that even though they are on a small budget, they would like their communications to be professional. Well-designed and not looking as if anyone with a copy of a Microsoft publishing product and an image gallery had put it together. Or even an easy-to-maintain web site with a small content management system. (essentially what Blogger is).

I suggested that perhaps there should be a "buddy system" within AIGA, matching small, under-funded non-profits (the majority so it seems) with a designer or design firm who would adopt them. The designer's obligation would be to provide them design services on a pro bono level or at a substantially reduced fee (and I mean substantial).

I think this initiative should happen without the organization of AIGA. And I'm certain it does happen much more than any of us are aware. It just needs to happen more.

As a believer in the values taught by the Bible, I think it's a designer's obligation to support a non-profit or ministry. After reading Loving Monday by John Beckett, I realized that I don't own my business (even though my name is on the paperwork). The business belongs to the Lord, I and my partner are the stewards of this business, to do with it as He desires.

Of course, to feed our egos, we might ask for creative freedom when we donate our services (one of our conditions in doing so). But the client has the right to make certain their needs for clear and effective communcation are being met. At that point the spirit of humility will kick in and everyone will work together toward a common goal.

Every designer has a cause or a ministry or a non-profit that they would like to support. Every designer has gifts that are given to them by the Master of creativity (whether they are aware of this relationship or not).

I think that every designer needs to use those gifts to give something back.

Brian Sooy & Co. gives back to:

Sunday, February 12, 2006

My secret life aka my altered ego

I have a secret life in which I have an altered ego. During the day I'm president of this cleveland, Ohio area design firm, and on nights and weekends I design type.

I know, I know, you say "There a groups for people like you who have a problem such as this."

But the thing is, I can't stop. I have to design type. It's a need. And I can stop at any time I want, or so I've been told.

And those groups? Those people can't stop either. SOTA, ATypI, it's all the same. We even have support groups: and for instance. Hundreds, even thousands of people consumed with the minutiae of type and typography.

And the things is, we all understand. We understand the need to stay up for hours after dark designing another typeface. We don't think it's odd to spend two hours debating the merits of the serif or the OpenType format.

I even find myself looking for examples of my own work in the world around me. To find one is a delight, my secret joy, when I can say to myself "I have left my mark on the world forever, or at least until the object I saw my typeface on gets thrown out."

And maybe that's the core of why I love this. It is permanent, it will outlast me. In my design firm, when people ask what it is we do, sometimes for fun I'll say "we contribute to the solid waste stream." The quizzical look on their faces turns to understanding when I explain that most of the things we create get thrown out at some point.

Do you love type? It's OK, really. There are lots of us out here, using type every day, without guilt, in our work. You don't have to be ashamed of it. The first step to overcoming this addiction is admitting you have it.

Or so I've been told.

How am I dealing with it? I'm glad you asked:

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Why I ride a Vespa

Yesterday my father and I attended the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show in Cleveland, OH. (I would add a link but most likely it will soon disappear).

There were some notable motorcycle brands: Star (from Yamaha, the same company who made our piano) and Victory Motorycles from Polaris (NICE!). All in all, trying to push the large-CC, “bad-boy” machines. Leather required.

But as always , the pinnacle of motorcycle style is the Vespa. From the vintage (25+ years old) Vespas to the new models (which look like the vintage models), one always looks fabulous riding.

Vespas aren’t designed to go fast, they’re more for touring. I like to go fast, and have tweaked my ‘79 Vespa P125X with a performance muffler, but with all the mods I have added can only manage 50 mph. It doesn’t sound fast, but 50 mph on 10 inch tires is respectable.

The reason I like to ride my motor scooter is for the experience it brings of living: the smells, the scenery, the things I would not notice inside the glass walls of a car.

Most of all , it’s the people: children wave and smile (really!), adults stop and stare (maybe because my current muffler is getting a bit loud, but its replacement goes on in March). When I park it, strangers will walk up and either a) strike up a conversation about it, wondering what it is, b) asking “how fast does is go?” and c) offering their memories of when they owned one when they were younger.

What makes you feel alive?

Addendum: Article about the legacy of the Vespa brand

Your secret is safe with everybody

What a remarkable web site. I don’t spend a lot of time myself reading things online, and if a site like this comes to my attention, it’s normally through a print magazine (in this case, WIRED).

With new posts on Sunday, the site displays postcards anonymously submitted by individuals, each card containing a secret. It’s fascinating to read, and to consider how so many individuals express themselves with such depth, sincerity and fervor. One one hand it’s sad, on the other hand it’s compelling.

These are people who need loved.

I just finished reading Velvet Elvis, by author and pastor Rob Bell. He proposes that those of Christian faith should simply love people, rather than having an agenda: getting them saved, getting them to church, getting them to think like you.

I agree. I do believe that I need to encourage people to be reconciled to God. But I can do that by loving them where they are at in their lives. And I will do that through design: the authors we work with, the artists we work with (sandra bowden), the typefaces I design to make the Bible easier to read (Lucerna and Veritas).

We’re all pointing them at the same God who is there.

The 80/20 Rule

In general, 80% of businesses employ 20 or fewer employees. 20% of businesses employ 20 or more. This is the reality of the US economy.

National census data supports this. In our region, surveys by the Public Services Institute of Lorain County Community College support this.

The 20% of businesses with large workforces rely on design for marketing, internal communications, shareholder relations, product design and a host of other areas that ultimately create a perception about them in the minds of their employees and consumers. They are using design to shape an image of who they want you to think they are, and in the meantime your experiences and reactions to their design decisions create a perception of who you think they are.

The 80 percent of businesses with small workforces don’t always rely on design, but the smart (and successful) ones do. The decision to engage or not engage their employees and consumers with design have the same effect as do the decisions by the larger businesses.

There’s much to be learned from the companies spending the money on branding and design, especially for those of us in the 80% bracket. Pay attention to what’s written about them and how they project their image, and a small business owner can put those practices to use in their own business.

Addendum: the Small Business Administration has a very informative PDF available on small business statistics.

Entrepreneurship and design

A few years after I started Brian Sooy & Co. I found myself answering questions about running a firm by younger AIGA members in our local chapter. Some of the answers, although I don’t recall all of the questions.

A design firm, like any other business, has to be managed like a business, and not a design firm.

The business community is enamored with fast growth. Is a business to be grown like a hydroponic tomato plan or a bonsai tree? I’ve opted for controlled growth, which helps me stay sane.

After 10 years I’ve realized that these are the first steps in the development of a business:

1. The Great Idea (also know as ” ‘What was I thinking?’ after a year or so.”)

2. The Bungie Cord stage: At this stage, you’ve made the jump into running your business, but you’re not certain your cord is short enough until you reach the end of the jump.

3. The Treadmill Stage: This stage can last several years, while you maintain the momentum you’ve built in a steady manner. Not too fast, not too slow. Similar to running a marathon: plan for the long haul.

4. The Plate Spinning Stage: Once you’ve got the firm running well, with staff to enable you to manage more projects, you end up moving into the role of manager and business developer (at least in a firm of 4 to 8, but that’s not a universal principal) and you have to keep all the plates spinning on the sticks. This stage is inseparable from Stage Three.

Stage 4 is difficult for designers, as David Baker (Recourses) claims we all have EADD (Entrepreneurial Attention Deficit Disorder). It’s true. Focus on the business as business, and develop other interests outside of the office. Not only will you have a more successful business, but your life will be more balanced.

Creative Pro has an excellent article by Eric J. Adams about sustaining success.

I will have to append to this post in the future, but after another year or so or after I realize what the next stage is. Best wishes for your success!

Low light and small type

My family and I went to a concert on New Year’s Eve in Cleveland. The professionally-produced program consisted of a three-panel letterfold on ultra-glossy paper. The program of course contained artist biographical information, rendered completely unreadable by a combination of factors.

Like many theatres, the interior of this one was dimly lit and cavernous. Combine the low lighting with the 6-point, san serif type and none of the biographical information was legible. My post-lasik eyes couldn’t read the type. Not enough contrast, size or leading. At least it was set in two columns (at about 65 characters per line, the mazimum recommendation for readability).

Seeing things like this doesn’t exactly drive me crazy, but it does make me wonder what the designer was thinking. Were they simply handed the copy and told to make it fit? Did they lack the nerve to suggest to the client that a fourth panel was necessary? Or were they simply uneducated with respect to the art and science of typography: legibility, line length, leading and letterform weight? (not a complete list!).

I realize that type size is directly related to the amount of copy and the space it occupies (or is allowed to occupy) on the page. Those design criteria inform the choice of type a designer must make in an instance like this: narrow-width letterforms, taller x-height, and line length.

Online it’s not so easy — type sizes of 11 pixels or more are preferred — but many web developers and designers choose type that is relative (such as point size on screen) and effectively reads as 8 or 9 point type. Online type size and line length are crucial (and consider how far the user’s eyes are away from the screen). Just because your audience opens their web browser to the full 1024+ screen width doesn’t mean a web site should fill that width.

If it’s difficult to read a page that wide in a book, it will be difficult on a computer screen.

The baby boomers started turning 60 late in 2005. Time to start really designing for their eyes.