Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I'm Bianca Woods and This Is How I Work

David Kelly (@LnDDave) recently did his own fascinating version of the Lifehacker feature “How I Work” and challenged the rest of us in the industry to do the same.

What can I say, David? Challenge accepted!
I'm Bianca Woods and this is my bear hat!

The Great White North (AKA: Toronto, Canada)

Current Gig
Instructional designer/technologist at BMO Financial Group

Current mobile device
iPhone 4S

Current computer
A terrifyingly slow Lenovo

A 4-year-old MacBook Pro that is somehow substantially better than my work computer despite being substantially older

One word that best describes how you work

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Oh boy, I could write about this practically forever. To spare you hours of reading, though, here are a few of my favourites as of this very moment.

  • Post-it Notes: I may be head over heels in love with technology, but not a project goes by where I don’t find that the humble Post-it is the right tool for part of the job. They are, by far, the best early storyboarding/drafting tool I’ve ever used. Plus they come in a variety of shades, so I can be all fussy about colour coding things. 
  • PowerPoint: Hear me out on this one. I know we all hate the typical “thousand bullet points in 7-point font” nonsense PowerPoint deck, but if you actually take the time to apply design principles you can produce some beautiful presentation decks. Plus, PowerPoint is delightfully easy to MacGuyver. I’ve used it to create such non-standard offerings as vector graphics, animated videos, and branched simulations. It’s an underrated workhorse if you ask me. 
  • Twitter: My much-loved personal learning network is there. What more can I say. 
  • Bloglovin’: It’s the worst named service I use (Seriously? No “g”? I feel ridiculous every time I have to refer to it by name.), but out of all the Google Reader replacements I’ve tried it’s the best suited to my needs. If you like skimming tons of RSS feeds then I recommend ignoring the terrible name and checking it out.

What’s your workspace like?
Wow is it messy right now. I’m creating several branched simulations and I always start by mapping them out with Post-its first. As a result, my desk has three poster-sized maps covering it right now. I also like being surrounding with things that fuel my creativity, so there are infographics, random images, books, duct tape (don’t ask), and toys at my desk. It’s one of the odder-looking work areas in my building, but it feels like home.

Cubicle, sweet cubicle

What’s your best time-saving trick?
Remember to talk about what you’re working on to others (both in your office and in your industry) and get them to do the same. It’s amazing how often we take the difficult path, reinvent the wheel, or use the wrong solution simply because we didn’t know the person sitting next to us had a better solution all along.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
I tried to go all high tech with this but in the end found that the best solution for me was just a notebook. That said, I did enjoy using the EpicWin app a lot.

Good advice if you ask me!

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?
The general consensus seems to be that saying “iPad” is a bit of a cop out (although in my case it’s true. I love you iPad!), so I’m going to instead say my fabulous iPad keyboard.

I seriously injured myself last year by live tweeting a conference on my iPhone and iPad. As it turns out, typing directly on touch screen devices for over 8 hours a day, 3 days straight isn’t so fantastic for your body. Go fig.

After way too much physical therapy I’m finally starting to get better, but I promised myself I wouldn’t let that same injury happen again. As such, I picked up this Logitech iPad keyboard and have been entirely impressed with it. It’s comfortable to use (note: Your mileage may vary on this one. I have small hands), keeps a charge forever, and is super lightweight.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Planning trips. Seriously, I am the master of creating detailed and efficient travel itineraries. I’m actually quite flexible about changing plans when I get somewhere, but I get a large amount of satisfaction in knowing I have a well-researched itinerary to use as a starting point. Nothing would make me sadder than wasting a ton of travel time because I hadn’t researched what subway stations I needed to use or how to get from the airport to my hotel.

Side note: TripIt is my go-to tool for this, although I’ve also used Google Docs for collaborating on group trip plans.

What do you listen to while you work?
I listen to a series of curated stations on Songza, and choose which one depending on my energy level. If I’m awake I like the Sunshine Indie Pop and Blogged 50 playlists. If I’m groggy, then it’s all K-Pop Party-Starters, all the time for me.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?
I’m the bizarre combination of a shy extrovert. That means if we’re at a conference I’ll likely be too shy to just walk up to strangers and chat with them, but I’m practically giddy when people take the time to talk to me.

(Big thanks to everyone who’s ever gone out of their way to introduce themselves to me at a con. You are all fabulous.)

What’s your sleep routine like?
I have a long morning commute, so my intention is always to get up early so I can scamper out the door before traffic really hits. Alas, my body rarely wants to play along with this plan. That’s mostly because I typically have trouble getting to bed when I ought to (I have a horrible habit of falling down a Pinterest-Geek board rabbit hole when I’m trying to wind down at the end of the night). Damn you internet for being so interesting!

Fill in the blank. I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions.
Can I say “everyone in my personal learning network” (I’m dying to see your desks)? Beyond that, I’d also like to see Nancy Duarte and pretty much anyone who works at Valve answer these same questions.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
If the job you want doesn’t exist, go out there and create it. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Advice on choosing typefaces

A few months ago I created a presentation on graphic design tips for non-designers. Happily, as a result I've gotten some fantastic questions from people who have gone through the presentation materials and want to know even more.

As anyone who has seen/read my presentation (or, let's be honest, just spoken to me for more than 5 minutes) knows, I have some pretty strong feelings about the usual default typefaces Arial and Times New Roman. To summarize: they are undeniably boring. As a result of this stance, I was recently asked about how to pick new default typefaces (in particular, "fancy" typefaces, but I'll cover that part of the question in a second post). While I didn't recommend any specific typefaces in particular, I did share a few basic tips for deciding on just the right typeface.

In short, what you have to figure out first is whether you're looking to use the typeface that come pre-installed on your computer or instead want to pick up some new typeface options.

Using what you've got

Assuming you're going with what your computer came with, it's important to know that not all computers/software have the same library of preinstalled typefaces, in particular Mac vs Windows. Here's a handy list of what typefaces are available on what operating systems/software.

If you create a document with one typeface and then move it to a computer that doesn't have that typeface installed, then the new computer will try and substitute a typeface it DOES have, which leads to all sorts of wacky and/or ugly messing with your layout. This is one of the key reasons people use Arial and Times New Roman so much: they may be boring, but every computer has them.
My slide, exactly as designed, viewed on my lousy Windows work computer
And the same slide viewed on my Mac at home. Kinda the same, kinda not so much.

So, when you're choosing what typeface(s) to use, try one of the following: 
  • make sure you know what operating system people will be viewing your project on and design for that system's typeface libraries 
  • or publish the file as an image or PDF (these file formats don't depend on the viewing computer's typeface library)

Using something new

So you've decided to go with a typeface that doesn't come preinstalled. But don't forget: the more you go custom, the more work you have to do.

To begin with, you need to find (and possibly pay for) your fancy new typefaces. But where to look?

If you've got any sort of budget, My Fonts is a good place to start. It has a great selection, you can browse their typefaces in a number of ways (including by typographic style!), and most of what they have is at a reasonable price. Other similar option to check out is Veer .

If your budget is next to nothing, don't worry. You've still got options. Check out Font Squirrel for a large collection of free (yet still attractive) typefaces. Also, typeface designers sometimes release a few of their creations for free as a promotion. Keep your eyes out for those as well (I've been collecting every one I can find in my free design assets Pinterest board). If you choose a free option, always be careful to read the licensing requirements. Some typefaces are free, but with a limited license for use. Someone's giving you a typeface for free... the least you can do is use it the way they asked you to.

Anyway, once you choose your shiny new typeface, you then need to install it on your computer. It's pretty easy. Here's the instructions for Windows and OSX

Also, don't forget, the rules for displaying new typefaces are the sames as pre-installed ones: unless you're sharing your file as a PDF or image, you'll need to install the typeface on any computer you want it to display on.

But how to pick which specific typeface to use?

If you're an expert there's a ton of information out there about the design philosophies you can use to sort through the world of typefaces and find what you need. If you're just a beginner, though, you can probably get away with just looking at the examples of good typeface choices all around you, flipping through your options, and then picking something that you feel works with the mood you're trying to create. Just remember to always do the following:
  • Go with a sans-serif or serif typeface if you're using it for a large amount of text.
  • Make sure the typeface is readable at the size you need to make it.
  • Really examine if the mood the typeface creates matches to mood of your project.