Making Ideas Happen By Scott Belsky

For anyone embarking on the creation of a storybook app, or indeed, any long-term creative project, I recommend the book Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky, founder and CEO of The Behance Network. I’ve written a 5 star review of the book over at Goodreads.

Related to productivity, while working on The Artifacts, Dan and I made use of a shared Google docs spreadsheet, which we set up as a fairly complicated to-do list. We colour-coded it, added shortcut keys for to-do, doing and done, the columns were all different widths and the green colour didn’t go with the yellow colour and I hated it. I don’t know if I can make a generalisation about arty folks in general, but spreadsheets always remind me of maths and other boredoms. The less I have to do with spreadsheets in my life, the better. I didn’t see any point in moaning about it though, and we created a new shared Google docs spreadsheet for Midnight Feast.

Dan has since found something better. This really cool collaborative tool was mentioned on one of his programming forums and it’s called Trello. It’s free, it’s pretty and it’s pretty darn awesome. It comes with its own ready-made to-do, doing and done columns. There’s a lot of extra functionality too, which you may not have known you’d needed.

I’d encourage any collaborative team to check it out. There’s even an iOS app. You have to 2x it in order to use it on an iPad screen, which means it’s pixellated, but did I mention it’s free? Nice work, Fog Creek Software.

Here’s how we have used Trello for Midnight Feast:

trello

 

Related

12 Unconventional Habits of Highly Productive People from Marc and Angel Hack Life

 

Related from Farnam Street Blog

The Single Most Important Change You Can Make In Your Working Habits

How to Work More Efficiently — The Eisenhower Matrix

A Formula For Setting And Achieving Goals

The 5 Types of Work That Fill Your Day from 99u

10 Things I Am Not Going To Do Today from Time Management Ninja

Take Control Of Your Time, an NPR interview with Elizabeth Grace Saunders

The More You [X], The More You Want To [X]

I’d like to offer that one up as a snowclone, because I think it’s true for most things. While it seems to work for all that’s unhelpful in life (watching Home and Away, eating Maltesers, sleeping in), surely this human tendency can be turned to our advantage when it comes to finding the momentum necessary to complete long-term creative projects. Stephen King works every single day of the week whenever he’s working on a novel (which is most of the time) and I figure he’s onto something. there.

As for me, I seem to work in fits and starts. While I’d like to work like a valve, I seem to be an on/off switch — all on, or all off.

If I look set to burn myself out, and force myself to take a weekend completely off, it’s not quite as easy to get back into the swing of things on Monday. This is probably something to do with what’s in the working memory. If you know exactly where you were when you left off, it’s much easier to get back into it.

I’ve noticed another few things about the way I work, and perhaps Know Yourself is the key here.

1. I do a lot more art and writing when I’m blogging. The more I blog, you know I’m doing a lot of art as well.

2. The more I tweet, the more I’m drawing and writing offline, as well.

3. The more Facebook updates I manage, the more art and writing I’ve been doing.

This is all counter-intuitive, since blogging, tweeting and Facebooking are renowned time-sucks. Some companies even ban their employees from using these sites during work hours. I don’t know how successful they are now that many people own smart phones (and are therefore not reliant upon the company server), but the question needs to be asked: is there really a negative correlation between work output and time spent on social media? Or might the latter be highly motivating for many, if not all of us? I can think of nothing more demotivating than having a Big Brother micromanage my time, including my time online.

Every now and then I wonder how much more quickly I’d have got something done had I channeled ALL of my energies directly into the project at hand rather than into the peripheral, fun but non-essential activities such as social media, but I’ve decided there’s no point wondering about that.

It could be that talking about [X] is not displacement activity; rather The More We Talk About [X], The More We Are Engaged In [X].

Narrative Pacing

Pace is crucial. Fine writing isn’t enough. Writing students can be great at producing a single page of well-crafted prose; what they sometimes lack is the ability to take the reader on a journey, with all the changes of terrain, speed and mood that a long journey involves. Again, I find that looking at films can help. Most novels will want to move close, linger, move back, move on, in pretty cinematic ways.

– Sarah Waters

The New Midnight Feast Icon

If not cake, then what? I liked the cake one. It happened effortlessly. But since our food philosophy has changed and doesn’t involve sugar, there were problems with cake.

I still liked drawing the cake, though.

 

cake icon

 

Apart from everything else it’s the wrong colour scheme. That colour hasn’t actually appeared much in the book. The icon should follow the design of the app, offering up no surprises regarding colour, art style or anything else. So then I tried working with the spoon and plate of the title page.

MidnightFeast

 

But I couldn’t manage to position the plate in such a way that the layout didn’t look wrong. So next I picked an asset that had already been created from one of the pages in the book. Grapes are food related, and colourful, and kids’ app icons all seem to be colourful, so next I came up with this excuse for a technicolour dreamcoat:

grapes icon

 

There’s ‘colourful’ and then there’s ‘lurid’. It now has HD on it because we decided at that stage to make Midnight Feast iPad only. (Actually, Apple kind of decided for us, by having a cutoff date for the latest iPhone compatibility). Since Midnight Feast is a dark story — ‘unsettling’, as my friend put it — it made no sense at all to indicate a bright, festive atmosphere via the icon.

That’s why we’ve decided to go with this one. Dan had been keen all along for me to depict a face with eyes on it. Apparently eyes attract attention. When I’d done it, I knew it was right.

final icon

Note mainly to self: I may need to make an icon using Illustrator at some stage, in which case this tutorial may come in handy.

 

This Looks Painful

Artist's Dummy

This is my artist’s dummy, useful for setting up against a light source in order to remind yourself of which way shadows fall.

I bought him at the mall yesterday, after losing my last one on a plane several years ago. He was travelling in my hand luggage, not because I’m unnaturally attached to such things, but because you’re supposed to declare wooden products in Customs whenever you enter Australia. And you’re meant to put such items in hand luggage to hasten the queue. I’m sure that treated wood is probably okay, but I’ve watched far too much Border Patrol reality TV shows to risk smuggling any sort of wood in. I can just see myself on one of those shows, paying my hefty fine in the name of Art.

I’d like to have seen the look on the face of whoever it was who found my little mannequin. Because of all the things you’d hope to find in your seat pocket, that’s probably not one of them. I suppose if I’d found one myself, abandoned on a plane, I’d have assumed it was off on some sort of  holiday. If you’ve spent (too) much time on the Internet, you’ll know, as I do, that people send Blythe Dolls off on vacation all the time. They take photos of their dolls sunbaking at the beach, admiring art in museums etceterah etceterah, and I see no reason why an artist’s mannequin couldn’t indulge in the same.

Dan At His Massive Computer

This is an illustration I did for a Developers Cubed interview at Gizmodo.

In real life, his t-shirt says, ‘It’s safer to assume I know karate.’ (And in very small lettering beneath: And a few other Japanese words.’) This is a very Dan-like thing to say, which is no doubt the reason why he was given not one but two karate-nerd inspired t-shirts for Christmas last year.

The Apple Mac isn’t quite that big, but working at that computer still feels like you’re sitting in the front row of the movie theatre if you ask me. This is probably why I’m still using the PC, even though all the cool kids use macs. True, that.

I wanted to give Dan an afro. I am an artiste, dammit. I am allowed to make things up.

Afro Dan

What the hey.

The Storybook App Paradox

Last week, after a summer hiatus, our local book club reconvened. I had promised to take along The Artifacts to show everyone the picture book app that I wrote and illustrated last year.

Do you remember the first time you used a touch device? An iPad, maybe? It’s quite something to see the look of wonder in the eyes of people who have never seen one before. This is why user testing on iPad virgins is of limited value; are they in awe of your app, or of the gadget?

There are a few things I should say about my book group. First, the average age would be about 70. Second, it’s a proper book group, where we do discuss books in a structured way. It is made up of women who have read heavily their entire adult lives. Some read 8 books a month. Many are former teachers. All buy books for grandchildren. It’s fair to say I’m the least well read. But one thing we all have in common: we care passionately about books and literature and story and education.

So I wasn’t the least bit surprised when someone asked, with detectable dubious intonation, “So is this the future of books?

Who knows? Probably!

Next, “But doesn’t all this [interactivity/animation/sound effects] take away from the story? Isn’t it a distraction?”

This, too, is a common reaction, at least to those of us involved in storyapp creation.

Everyone who cares about literature and children has surely asked this question.

My feelings on this are clear, however. It depends if the app developer knows what they are doing. Sometimes I care so much about children and literature that I probably need help. I have been known to rant on and on about top 25 grossing apps, starring branded characters which are nothing more than bells and whistles. “Why can’t parents see what they’re buying for their kids?” I’ll ask, stomping about the house, slamming down pots and pans, mopping the floor (on a productive day). “Why do people buy this crap? It’s crap!” (Words sometimes fail me.)

I rant about those ‘story’ apps with unoriginal, clichéd plots, in which an unenthusiastic writer has been contracted to spin a story of sorts, to match flat, uninspiring artwork. I rant on about apps in which the creative team do not seem to have communicated adequately with the programming team. Sometimes it looks as if a programmer has been emailed a story and told, “Here, make an app thingo out of that.”

But there are plenty of knowledgeable people who care deeply about children’s literature, providing commentary on how app developers are shaping up to the new challenges of digital media. Many of these people are educators or literacy experts.

This morning I read an excellent article over at The Horn Book: What Makes A Good Picture Book App? by Katie Bircher, who I am not surprised to see has an MA in children’s literature.

I agree with everything in that article.

But one sentence pulls me up short:

A SUCCESSFUL PICTURE BOOK APP FULFILLS THE REQUIREMENTS OF A TRADITIONAL PICTURE BOOK, BUT WITH AN EXTRA OOMPH UNIQUE TO THE DIGITAL FORMAT.

Wow. Since we’re in the middle of making another picture book app ourselves, I often ruminate about best practice and usability (so far undocumented), so I do take my time to absorb expert expectations. And what a big ask! By ‘extra oomph’ might Katie Bircher be asking app developers to do something more than print books can do? What exactly is ‘oomph’?

Here are some basic truths about picture book app creation:

1. Picture book apps are expensive to create.

2. Picture book apps are just as expensive to market as print equivalents, and do not have the benefit of visibility in bricks and mortar book stores.

3. Picture book apps are much cheaper for the consumer to buy. The Artifacts is $1.99, for example. You can’t buy a new, physical picture book for $1.99.

Yet here we are, at this weird junction, where some people seem to expect more from a picturebook app than from a print book.

Do we expect more from the movie adaptation of a book? I don’t. I expect something different. Many people have learnt to expect less.

WHY IS THIS A PARADOX?

Because I’m hearing two distinct but conflicting messages from those of you who know children’s literature:

1. Apps should be simple. You’re encouraging us to think very hard and long about interaction and animation. This is good. I’m thinking. Hard.

2. Apps have to offer something more than a print book does. For less cost to the consumer, by the way.

But we didn’t go into this industry hoping to add something more than print books can achieve.

Printed picture books are an excellent medium. I can’t see a single way in which the print book fails. The best of them do a great job of sparking imagination, transporting children to other worlds, offering the gift of story and creating a love of reading.

Can a digital medium possibly offer more oomph than that? And should the savvy consumer expect it to?