Ric Bretschneider

My thoughts in your brain…

Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

Take the Blue Pill…

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Just a reminder that this blog (at https://ricbret.wordpress.com) is no longer active and new content is appearing at http://blog.ricbret.com.

Please adjust your links and subscriptions as necessary to keep in touch.

You can subscribe to the active blog by going to http://blog.ricbret.com and using the subscribe control at the top of the page on the right.

And there’s a new entry there today! Kind of fun, maybe leading into something scary. I’m excited and hope you’ll check it out.

Oh, here’s a direct link! http://blog.ricbret.com/books/take-the-red-pill/



Written by ricbret

July 26, 2014 at 11:29 pm

She’s Giving It Away…

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No secret to anyone about my love of this book.

So why is it news today?

This morning Nancy Duarte announced that “the multimedia version of Resonate is now available on HTML5 and iTunes for FREE! You can read, learn, and share on any platform or device.”

So stop reading this and go get it. Even if you already own the book, this is the multimedia enhanced version so you’ve got brand new levels of coolness to explore.

Written by ricbret

November 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm

How Screwed-Up is Apple Safari? I Think It Needs Therapy.

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Some people think that because I worked for Microsoft for so many years that I’m an Apple hater.  Well, that’s not actually true.  Fact is, I’ve had a Macintosh on my desks, at work and home, pretty much constantly since their release in 1984, two of my family members have iPhones, and we have iPads, iPods, and Apple TVs scattered throughout the house.  This is being written on a 27″ iMac, the one use for about 90% of my day.

OK, part of that 90% is in Parallels running various versions of Windows and Windows Office.

Unfortunately this post won’t help my argument that I’m an open supporter of both leading operating systems.  Partially because these days I’m finding Apple so caught up in their image, their products exclusively, that they’re impressing me as a bunch of pompous jerks. Doesn’t make me automatically hate the products, but I’m no cool-aid drinking fanboy.  Apple is doing plenty of crappy stuff to their customers, turning them more into consumers than unlocking their potential as creators is the big one.  However, I’m getting off the point.  Which is a case in point of how douchy and inept they can be.

Earlier this month I wanted to watch the Apple WWDC Opening that was streaming from Apple.Com.  However, if you weren’t using Safari as your browser, you were blocked. My default browser is Google Chrome. Yeah, if you weren’t going to wear their colors to the party, they shut you down at the door.

OK, I don’t like Safari myself. Apple claims it’s the #1 installed mobile browser, but they don’t tell you that you aren’t allowed to remove it from their mobile devices, and you can’t set a different browser as preferred on their mobile devices.  How’s that for anti-trust?  (Remember the US Justice Department vs Microsoft for “bundling” Internet Explorer with Windows?)   I think Safari is way behind Chrome in so many ways, and Chrome’s cross-platform support is superb.  So I don’t use Safari.  I keep it around when I have to access some non-standard Apple site, like the one in question.

So I manually fired up Safari and started watching.

I may find time soon to comment on how sad the state of design has gotten at Apple, this Ives guy really isn’t impressing me as anything more than someone trying to create a new fashion, not as a real product designer, but I’m getting off track again.

So I watched the list of features borrowed from other OS’s that Apple was rolling out as Innovations.  And at some point I decided to see if there was a way to pop-out the video window, so it would take less room on my screen and I could continue to work on things that actually mattered.  No button on the video, so I started hunting…

This is what I saw when I right-clicked the Safari-embedded video.



The disabled PowerPC version of Internet Explorer, that apparently still works it’s mojo.

Yeah, it was like some amazing wormhole to an alternate reality had opened up on my screen.  There was Safari suggesting that if I want to open this streaming QuickTime, I should use the Ten Year Old, PowerPC-only, Macintosh version of Internet Explorer.


Granted, the old app is still on my machine.  But even Finder recognizes it won’t run in the current OS.  If you double-click it, you get the message “You can’t open the application “Internet Explorer.app” because PowerPC applications are no longer supported.

I’ve kept the old app, and a couple of others, around because I’ve considered creating a virtual machine running the old PPC supporting OS X, just thinking I might write about some history there and it would be an easy way to pose the screen shots I’d need.

But this was strange, and kind of pathetic Safari.  I’d almost feel sorry for you.  If you weren’t such a douche.

Written by ricbret

June 23, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Calming Down the Grandpa in Office 2013

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I got a lot of good feedback on The First Thing to Do to Your New PowerPoint 2013, thanks and wow – happy to help.

So OK, here’s the second thing you should do after you install Office 2013.  It’s a bitter post, full of my opinion, and I’m perfectly willing to accept that others may disagree.  However, in my opinion this trick corrects one of the most ridiculous mistakes made in Office 2013. You may consider it more of a taste issue. But I think that if you have taste you’ll want your Office interface to not look like somebody’s grandpa sending e-mail with the CAPS LOCK key on.


Yeah, that’s right. For some reason the designers at Office decided that years of calming down the interface, using readability methods developed and proven literally over centuries, should be abandoned so they could inject some “style” into the product.  Beware of designers attempting to make their mark.

Application design should fall back against the content, should not stand there screaming HEY LOOK AT ME, or HEY, GET OFF MY LAWN, or HERE’S A JOKE THAT ALL MY SENIOR FRIENDS THOUGHT WAS FUNNY SO I’M ADDING YOU IN MY REPLY-ALL… just for example. UI should be clear, it should be available, but not garish and hard to interpret.

So one of the first things you’ll notice looking at Office 2013 is the ribbon. The ribbon that so many hate, and the rest just find somewhat annoying. Sure it makes it easier for novices to find things, but it’s proven that the ribbon limits experts from levels of productivity they had with the prior menu UI. But we’re kind of stuck with it, and I digress. You see how easy that is.

What we’re looking at most is the tabs. The little label tabs at the top of each ribbon. And they’re all screaming like grandpa.


Hideous, right?

Well, maybe you’re not bothered by it, and hey, good for you.  But there’s so much basic knowledge about how typography works, how the eye interprets words and breaks, how recognition is speeded by properly applying basic typographic conventions… all ignored here. It’s tragic really when you consider the scope of Office, how many people deal with this UI on a daily if not hourly (if not constant!) basis.  There were lots of people bringing up how ugly and broken this was in the open Beta for Office 2013, but Office designers decided they knew better.


Anyway, you can fix this, calm it down. I can show you how. It’s a little tricky, so follow closely.

We’re going to go into the customize ribbon command. Right-click somewhere on the ribbon where there isn’t a button or control, and you’ll see the hidden commands. Choose Customize the ribbon and you’ll see the ribbon customization mess… er… UI.

right click taskbar and select Customize the Ribbon

Now, if you’re pretty perceptive you’ll notice something kinda weird.

customize ribbon ui

We’re looking in the right column, a list of the ribbon titles and the controls each ribbon contains. Funny thing is, all the labels are already in initial cap case. They are not in all-capitals. The UI let’s you change the name of any of these labels, see the Rename button beneath the list, but if you want to continue using the right names you’re kind of stuck.

The developers have special-cased these label titles for each of the individual ribbons so they display in all caps if they match the intended default label. Why did they spend their time doing this instead of fixing bugs or getting good features into the product? Who can tell. We can imagine the passionate arguments the designers put forward about not allowing users to destroy the delicate balance of their screaming grandpa design, but that’s just me recalling similar conversations. Probably nothing like that. But again, digressing.

A little experimenting will show you that the labels

Home displays HOME
HoME displays HoMe
HOME displays HOME

but it’s kind of hard to get it to just display “Home.” But not impossible. Just give it some space.

Or one space to be exact

Select one of the tab labels in the list and click the Rename button.  Adding a single space character, either before or after the letters “Home”, apparently is enough of a Jedi Mind Trick that  the developer’s force to upper-case code is told “these are not the glyphs you’re looking for” and they pass along to be displayed unharmed. Do this to each label, and you get a nice initial cap label and a much calmer interface.

lowercase tab labels

Yeah, Grandpa is still yelling FILE. If you can figure out a way to get him to calm down there, let me know.

A couple of things

You may want to do all the labels ahead of time. There are more than what are initially shown. Just open the list at the top of the right column and choose All Tabs.

alltabscontextual tabs display at the bottom of the list

Notice a bunch of items got added to the bottom of the list. These are the “contextual tabs”, tabs that show up when you select certain things, like shapes and tables, to give you control over their options.

It does take a few minutes to change all of these labels, but you’ll find the pattern is pretty easy to get used to. Might take you 15 minutes to add spaces to the end of each label. I think that’s the easier technique to use.

And don’t worry about making a mistake. If you do, you can nuke all your changes and reset the UI to the defaults again. That’s what the Reset button at the bottom is for. You can reset all, or just the selected tab.

And One Last Thing

Which leads us to the last tip here. It’s Extra Credit, so feel free to skip it.

If you’re a writer or instructor or someone who needs, occasionally, to make your UI look like it’s fresh out of the box, you can use the Import/Export UI changes command.  It’s just beneath the Reset button.

the import/export change file command

This lets you save a file with all the customizations you’ve made as a file that you can reload later, even share between machines. So if you need to undo your changes and go back to the just out of the shrink-wrap smell, save your customizations, then Reset everything.

Later when you want to stop grandpa from screaming, just Import the saved settings again and you’re back to a calm, mature looking UI.

Let me know how this works for you.

This somewhat silly article is dedicated to my dear departed father, a grandfather and computer user himself, who eventually learned to just use all lower-case in writing his e-mail.


Fun Fact: Did you know that the first few versions of the 
Apple computer did not have the ability to display 
lower-case letters? The keyboards had a shift key, but 
it was used almost exclusively for shifting number keys 
to access punctuation characters. The Atari and Commodore 
Computers were among the first personal computers to 
introduce lower-case letters as a standard personal 
computer feature!

Written by ricbret

January 19, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Love of Books – An Unboxing of “The Fifty Year Sword”

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I’m a big fan of books. Not just the stories, but the book construction as well. From bindings, paper choice, typeset, typography, layout, it’s all interesting to me.

Mark Z. Danielewski is most famous for House of Leaves, an inventive experimental work of layered stories and typographic morphing of most everything we think of as the printed page.

In this video I do a short review of House of Leaves for those who are not familiar with the work (and to allow those familiar with it to berate and chastise me for “getting it wrong” I suspect) and then do an unboxing of his latest work The Fifty Year Sword, which comes in a unique box and exhibits some of the same traits found in House of Leaves.

I hope you enjoy, and I hope those trying to make a purchase decision on this book are aided in their decision making.


Written by ricbret

December 10, 2012 at 9:58 pm

The Facebook Face Flip

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This is not a political post, although a quick reading without comprehension will surely give some that impression. Trust me, and read on.

I was reading this evening about how you can actually see people “unliking” Mitt Romney’s Facebook page in real time graphics on a web site called Disappearing Romney. It sounded pretty wild, and the graphics on the page were conceptually stunning, but the whole thing was kind of sophomoric.  It looked like it might have been a prank.  So I decided to check his Facebook page to see if their math checked out.

It did check out, was really easy to confirm with a couple of page refreshes. But that’s not what caught my eye.

You see, around 100 years ago I took both high school and college journalism. A lot of it stuck, writing of course, but also a lot in the area of page layout.  There’s one guideline that borders on being magic in making a page and subjects on the page look appealing and interesting.

If you have a photo, or graphic, where a subject is looking in a left or right direction, place that element such that it is looking into the page, away from the edge they’re nearest.  If you have to, you can consider “flipping” the element such that it can do this regardless of what side of the page it’s on.

(Pause here to note how well I’m avoiding unnecessary political metaphors. Thanks for noticing.)

Check out the original, and see what happens when you flip both the photos.  It really is like a magic trick!

Flipping the elements of Mitt Romney's Facebook page we come away with a completely different impression.

You always try to have faces looking into the page, it makes them look better, the page look better, and the reader feel better. In this case, we have original Mitt back-to-back, looking very disconnected, even defensive. Look at how flipping both photos around makes him look, well, happy to see himself.

Arguably the wider cover page might work in either direction, and if it were left right-facing the light sourcing for each of these photos would match up, but that’s not a big deal.  I personally liked them facing each other, but your mileage may vary.

And yes, this is eminently applicable to your presentations!  Ah! You knew I’d get there eventually!  It’s one of the simplest things you can do to make your slides look more intriguing, trustworthy, or even happy.

Anyway, it’s not like it cost him the election or anything, but I found it really amazing that nobody on his staff, or even Facebook friends suggested fixing this classic journalistic page layout gaff.

Yes, I am available for consultations.

Written by ricbret

November 13, 2012 at 7:12 am

The First Thing to Do to Your New PowerPoint 2013…

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Warning, I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to a garish design that I have to look at for hours at a time. I find it personally offending and I’m not going to mince words here.

Luckily there’s a quick fix for PowerPoint 2013, and I’m happy to share it with you before you suffer permanent vision loss…

Written by ricbret

November 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm