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Designing User Interfaces and Interactions With OmniGraffle

Designing User Interfaces and Interactions With OmniGraffle

    One of the hardest things to do while creating any new system or software is to make sure that the user interface and design is easy and intuitive for users to understand and use effectively. Coming from a development background, this type of design and attention to detail that is needed to ensure that the software, web site, or system you are creating is usable is probably the the most important part of any software development project.

    The problem is that most times designing user interfaces is awkward, time consuming, and hard. But, with new tools it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

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    Enter OmniGraffle

    OmniGraffle by the Omni Group is a graphic and visual document creation app for Mac and iPad that allows you to create diagrams, process charts, page-layouts, user interfaces, or even web-site wireframes quickly. In fact, if you get really good at OmniGraffle you can make just about anything that you can dream up graphically.

    I’ve been using OmniGraffle for about a year now and it is a great tool for creating diagrams and user interfaces that I can use to design the “real thing” later. It’s also awesome for spitting out designs quickly so I can run them by end users.

    But, I don’t use OmniGraffle like Nick Finck does. Not even close.

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    Using OmniGraffle

    Nick Finck is the User Experience Director at Deloitte Digital and primarily uses OmniGraffle to tackle this complex problem of user interaction. The Omni Group (the company behind OmniGraffle) has posted a video Crafting Interaction that looks at how Finck users the portableness of OmniGraffle for the iPad to quickly draw up sketches and mockups of interfaces and then translate these designs into full blown interfaces. I highly, highly suggest checking out this video over at Omni’s site.

    Finck talks about how using OmniGraffle can be a bit of a challenge at first, but once you get “in there” and learn how to use the app (iPad and Mac), the possibilities of what you can create are endless. I have direct experience using OmniGraffle for Mac and iPad and I can concur with Nick’s assessment; the tool is so powerful that for it to be completely simple to understand and use out of the box probably isn’t possible. The good part is that the Omni Group has great support and documentation to get you started, plus their Support Ninjas are top class.

    One key feature of OmniGraffle is the ability to create stencils and templates in the app to modularize different components so they can be reused in multiple projects. Not only do these features save you time when designing, they allow you to have standard controls across all of your projects which can be a good thing if you are trying to design a “suite” of different interfaces that work together.

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    Graffletopia for OmniGraffle

    Speaking of stencils, another great tool that Nick mentions to use alongside OmniGraffle is Graffletopia, a site that is dedicated to OmniGraffle stencils that you can download and start using immediately. And these aren’t simply user interface stencils. You can find different stencils for creating complex network diagrams, flow charts, and other complex visual components.

    What’s awesome about this site is that you can start from a “baseline” of an interface or component and start building from there. This allows you to spend less time creating components and more time creating ideas on how an interface or diagram should look. For someone like me this is an excellent addition to OmniGraffle because even though I have an eye for design, I definitely wouldn’t call myself a “designer”. I can leave the creation of the visual components to the professionals and I can concentrate on how those components fit together. This can make iterating on a design extremely fast and effective.

    Iteration on design

    Finck talks about how OmniGraffle allows him to create interfaces quickly and keeps him out of the “nuts and bolts” of the software (although he can tinker with the nuts and bolts if he wants to). Instead of trying to figure out how how to do something in OmniGraffle, he can concentrate on putting interfaces together and iterating as fast as possible. This rapid iteration leads to a well designed and useable user interface because of the ease of changing the design to meet the user’s needs.

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    Quality software for Mac and iOS

    The one thing that I personally like about OmniGraffle (and all Omni Group products) and something that Finck doesn’t completely touch on, is just how high quality they really are. Some people complain about Omni’s “premium” prices for applications, but in this case you definitely get what you pay for. I’m an OmniFocus, OmniGraffle, and OmniOutliner user on both Mac and iOS and I have easily gotten my money’s worth over the last couple of years.

    The Omni Groups tools are so powerful and versatile that I can’t think of any other productivity tools that I’d rather use. Even Microsoft Office products don’t compare to some of the aspects of what Omni has to offer.

    Nick Finck’s experience with designing mobile user interfaces with OmniGraffle and the ever growing Graffletopia is a testament to just how powerful and effective Omni’s tools are. OmniGraffle can be used to create a quick and dirty UI idea on the fly on the iPad which can then eventually translate into a full blown user interface design that is used directly in an iPhone, Android, or even mobile web applications.

    OmniGraffle can be the one tool to get this user interaction and design done. Now that’s productive.

    More by this author

    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on November 12, 2020

    What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

    What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

    You have so many books waiting for your attention, but you just don’t have enough time! Don’t you wish you could read faster without compromising your knowledge intake? This is where a valuable learning technique comes to the rescue: speed reading.

    Speed reading is the top skill to learn in 2020. Read on to find out all about this amazing technique!

    What Is Speed Reading?

    On average, an adult can read somewhere between 200 to 300 words per minute. With speed reading skills, you can read much fasteraround 1500 words per minute.[1] Yes, that sounds impossible, but it’s true.

    In order to understand how this skill works, you first need to know how the reading process works inside a human’s brain.

    The Reading Process

    The first step is for the eyes to look at a word. This “fixation” on every word takes around 0.25 seconds.

    Next, you start moving your eyes to the following word. It takes 0.1 seconds for the brain to move from one word to the next. This is called “saccade.”

    Usually, you take in 4-5 words in your head, or a sentence, at once. After all the fixations and saccades, the brain goes over the entire phrase again in order to process the meaning. This takes around half a second.

    All in all, this means average people read 200 to 300 words in a minute.

    Speeding up the Process

    The concept of speed reading is to speed up this process by at least 5 times. Since the saccade period cannot be shortened any further, speed reading emphasizes quicker fixations.

    To accomplish this, scientists recommend that the reader skips the sub-vocalization: when the readers actually say the word in their mind, even when reading silently.

    Basically, speed reading is the technique of only seeing the words instead of speaking them silently.

    Do not confuse this with skimming. When a reader skims through a text, they skip the parts that their brain considers to be unnecessary. You may skip important information in this process, and skimming does not allow the brain to retain what has been read.

    Why Speed Read?

    Speed reading is not just quick, but it’s also effective. This skill saves a lot of of time without sacrificing information.

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    Also, it has been proven to improve memory. The brain’s performance improves during speed reading, which allows the reader to remember more information than before[2].

    Since speed reading stabilizes the brain, the information is processed faster and more efficiently.

    Believe it or not, this technique leads to improved focus, too. As the brain receives a lot of information during speed reading, there is far less chance of distraction. The brain focuses solely on the job at hand.

    Since the brain is, after all, a muscle, the process of speed reading acts as an exercise. Just like the rest of your muscles, your brain needs exercise to grow stronger, too.

    A focused brain means improved logical thinking. As your brain gets used to receiving and organizing so much information so quickly, your thinking process will become faster. As soon as a problem is thrown at you, your brain will quickly put two and two together. You will be able to retrieve stored information, figure out correlations, and come up with new solutions, all within seconds!

    Still not convinced? Read 10 Reasons Why You Should Learn Speed Reading

    Greater Benefits

    With a healthier brain, you can expect better things in other parts of your life, too. A boost in self-esteem is just one of them.

    As you begin to understand information at a faster pace, you will also begin to figure out more opportunities all around you.

    With the ability to deeply understand information in a shorter period of time, your confidence levels will quickly grow.

    Moreover, all the aforementioned benefits will relieve you of stress. With all these advantages, your emotional well-being will be healthier than ever. You’ll feel less stress since your brain will learn to tackle problems efficiently. Speed reading will lead to a relaxed, tension-free lifestyle!

    How to Learn to Speed Read

    Speed reading is a superpower. Fortunately, unlike other superpowers, this one can be learned!

    There are different techniques that can be used to master this skill. Opt for the one that best suits your learning style.

    1. The Pointer Method

    The person who is credited for popularizing speed reading, Evelyn Wood, came up with the pointer method. It is a simple technique in which the reader uses their index finger to slide across the text that they’re reading.

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    As the finger moves, the brain coherently moves along with it. It is an effective technique to keep the eyes focused where the finger goes without causing any distraction.

    Readers have a tendency to back-skip. The pointer method prevents this from happening, thereby saving at least half the reading time.

    2. The Scanning Method

    In this technique, the reader’s eyes move along one part of the page only. This can be the left or right side of the text but is usually the center since that is the most convenient.

    Instead of pacing through the entire text from left to right, the vision shifts from top to bottom.

    This method involves fixation on keywords, such as names, figures, or other specific terms. By doing so, the saccade time is minimized.

    3. Perceptual Expansion

    Generally, a reader focuses on one word at a time. This technique, on the other hand, encourages the brain to read a chunk of words together. In doing so, this method increases the reader’s peripheral vision.

    Here’s the thing: even though the fixation time remains the same with perceptual expansion, the number of words that the eyes fixate on increases.

    Basically, the brain receives 5 times more information within the same amount of time.

    This technique is the hardest to master and takes the most time to learn. You’ll need help from speed reading tools in order to practice the perceptual expansion method.

    However, once you master it, this technique will offer you the fastest reading pace with the maximum knowledge intake.

    The Best Speed Reading Apps

    The easiest tool to aid any process in any part of life these days is your smartphone.

    You can use mobile applications to learn speed reading on the go. It has been proven that regularly practicing speed reading is the fastest way to learn this skill.[3]

    Here are a few great options to look into:

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    1. Reedy

    If you own an Android smartphone, you can download Reedy to your mobile. Otherwise, get the Chrome extension on your laptop to enjoy speed reading with Reedy.

    This app trains readers to read faster by displaying words one by one on the screen. Instead of having to go through lines or long texts, Reedy prepares the user to focus on one word at a time.

    Although this isn’t an effective method to learn speed reading long texts, it is a great way to start.

    2. ReadMe!

    Whether you’re an android or iOS user, you can take advantage of the ReadMe! application. This app even comes with some e-book options to practice speed reading on.

    Start by choosing your desired font size, color, layout, etc. Other than that, there are different reading modes for the user to choose from.

     

    If you want to practice reading sentence by sentence or in short paragraphs, you can choose the focused reading mode.

    The beeline reader mode changes the color of the text to guide the eye to read from the beginning to the end at a certain pace.

    Lastly, there is the spritz mode in which the app focuses on chunks of words at once. This controls the reader’s peripheral vision. However, this mode is not fully available in the free version of the app.

    3. Spreeder

    Spreeder is available on both iOS and Android. However, users may also gain benefits from Spreeder’s website. This application lets the reader paste in any text that they would like to speed read.

    Starting off at a rather low speed, the app flashes words one by one. Gradually, as the user becomes more comfortable, the speed increases.

    Slowly, the user is trained to speed read without having to skip any words.

    This app is different from the rest because it tracks the user’s reading improvements, recording the overall reading time and speed.

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    The Controversy Surrounding Speed Reading

    Truthfully, speed reading does sound too good to be true. It’s hard to believe that it is humanly possible to attain such a fast pace without compromising the quality of information you receive.

    Perhaps as a result, there are people who do not trust the process of speed reading. They believe that when you read through a text at such a high speed, speed readers cannot develop good comprehension.

    It is true that speed reading will be of no use if you do not understand the text you’re reading, no matter how quickly you did it.

    Similarly, if you were to read slowly and still not retain or understand the information you read, that would be useless, too.

    However, there are a few factors to consider here. When reading at a normal pace, there is enough time in between every step of the process for the brain to get distracted.

    Conversely, speed reading leaves behind no time for the brain to focus on something else. It is unlike skimming. No part of the text is skipped, which means that the brain receives every single bit of information.

    If you’re still not convinced, take a look at this video to learn about reading faster:

    Conclusion

    Keeping all of this in mind, speed reading cannot be labeled a hoax or a failure. Science has backed up this technique, and numerous readers have been using this skill to improve their learning ability and reading comprehension, even when reading for pleasure.

    At the end of the day, it is your decision whether or not you want to trust this process.

    However, if you decide to take advantage of the opportunities speed reading provides, you will find a world of possibilities opening up to you.

    We live in a fast-paced world. Consuming information faster will help you keep up with that pace and find further success.

    More on How to Read Faster

    Featured photo credit: Blaz Photo via unsplash.com

    Reference

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