Straight from the horse's mouth — the Circus Ponies blog

Functionalism and user interface design

Written by Circus Ponies

Functionalism and user interface design

Macworld magazine’s great review of NoteBook 4 announced “skeuomorphism is back!” Skeuomorphism refers to a design style where cues are taken from the physical world, and it’s gotten a bad rap recently. You’ve no doubt noticed Apple’s sharp shift from the leather textures and stitching found in iOS 6 to the iOS 7 aesthetic which retains few references to objects in the real world.

1960s functionalism

In the 1960s the adherents of “functionalism” applied the mantra “form is function” to their building designs. But when you look at the results like the building at the right, I think few of us would agree with their creators that these “correctly” designed but lifeless buildings are the apex of architectural design.

At Circus Ponies, we believe user interfaces should be friendly and inviting, not dripping with real-world references but not running from them either. We leverage real-world references in NoteBook to make it instantly familiar and easy-to-use.

So yes, skeuomorphism is back, ‘though in NoteBook’s case it never really left. That’s certainly a better fate than a cookie-cutter interface that has had all the life squeezed out of it.

Introducing NoteBook 4

Written by Circus Ponies

Introducing NoteBook 4

I’m excited to announce that we released NoteBook 4 today, a major update to the Mac version of NoteBook.

NoteBook 4 for Mac includes a new streamlined user-interface, full support for 64-bit processors, and over 100 other new features and improvements. It’s the best version of NoteBook we’ve ever made.

For info about the new features, pricing, and more, please visit the NoteBook 4 page.

When you’re working on getting organized, seeing your progress is the key

Written by Circus Ponies

When you're working on getting organized, seeing your progress is the key

Are you dragging your feet on an organizing project that you know will take you a good amount of time to complete? It can be hard to push yourself to start any big clean-up project, but what can be even harder is staying motivated to finish it.

What might cause you lose your motivation? One motivation-killer is spending hours picking through a large mess only to have it not look much different than when you started. The solution: ensure that after every work session you can see that you’ve made some progress. Every project is different, so the way in which you demonstrate progress will be different too, but whatever the situation you need to figure out what that demonstration will be.

For example, let’s say you have 10 boxes filled with stuff that needs to get sorted, filed, thrown away, etc. You spend two hours on the boxes, but as you look around you see that instead of 10 boxes of stuff you have 10 mostly-empty boxes and you can barely see the floor anymore because there’s so much stuff all over. Before you quit for the day, fill the boxes back up with the stuff you pulled out. If you sorted items into piles on the floor, load each pile into a separate box so that all your hard sorting work isn’t lost. Can you refill the boxes so that instead of 10 boxes of stuff you have just filled 8 boxes and 2 empties? The empty boxes are the progress you made today, and by leaving the floor clear of items you avoid coming back to a bigger mess than you had when you started

Problems clipping on Mavericks? This might be the reason why…

Written by Circus Ponies

Problems clipping on Mavericks? This might be the reason why...

“Clipping” is an easy way to save text and other selections into your Notebooks without leaving the app you’re working in. For example, if you’re working in Mail and run across something you want to save in a Notebook, you can select it and choose one of your clipping destinations (called “Clipping Services”) from the Mail -> Services menu. The nice thing about clipping is you aren’t thrown out of the app you’re working in, which means you don’t lose or have to regain your train of thought. You can just clip and keep going.

NoteBook’s clipping system relies on a small app called NoteBookHelper. When you choose a Clipping Service from another app’s Services menu, your selection actually goes to the NoteBookHelper, which then relays it to the NoteBook application. The NoteBookHelper has no user interface – it runs in the background. If the helper happens not to be running when you choose a Clipping Service, OS X launches it and then sends your selection to it.

Some customers running the latest version of OS X, called Mavericks, have run into a problem where they see an error message when they try to clip from Mail, and the selection never makes it to NoteBook. For some reason Mail is unable to launch the NoteBookHelper, and so clipping fails. If the helper is already running, clipping works as expected.

One workaround is to set the NoteBookHelper to launch whenever you log in – that way it will always be available and Mail should not hit any snags trying to contact it. You can set any app to launch at log in using the Users and Groups pane in System Preferences. NoteBookHelper lives in the Library/Services folder in your home folder. Note that Apple hides the Library folder from users by default, but you can navigate to it using the Go -> Library command. This Library menu item is itself also hidden by default – to reveal it, hold down the Option key on your keyboard while viewing the Go menu. In the future, NoteBook will automatically configure the NoteBookHelper to run when you log in, so you won’t have to go through any extra steps yourself to work around this OS X bug.

Tip: Customizing tabs in your Notebooks

Written by Circus Ponies

Tip: Customizing tabs in your Notebooks

NoteBook’s electronic Notebooks resemble the paper ones you’ve used all your life, right down to the tabs that stick out from the pages. Tabs in the real world make it easy for you to quickly find a particular page in a notebook. NoteBook’s tabs work the same way: clicking one instantly turns you to its page.

By default, every Divider page has a tab while all other pages do not. NoteBook is highly customizable, so you aren’t stuck with this behavior if you don’t like it. First, you can set any individual page to have or not have a tab using the Page -> Add/Remove Tab command. That’s great for individual pages, but what if you don’t want any Divider page to have a tab, right now or in the future? That’s also easy to set up: just turn to an existing Divider page, remove its tab, and then use the Inspector to apply this new setting to all Divider pages:

  1. Bring up the Inspector (Window -> Inspector)
  2. Click the Page inspector pane button
  3. Click the Tab button in the Page pane
  4. Click the Options tab at the bottom of the Inspector and choose “Apply these settings to all Divider pages”

Maybe you like the tabs but find them difficult to read. By default the tabs have a bit of transparency, so your desktop’s wallpaper can affect their legibility. Again, go to the Tab section of the Page Inspector and click the color well at the right side of the panel in the “Background” section. The color well brings up the Color panel, and from there you can change the color and transparency. When you’re done, you can use the Options tab to again apply your new setting to multiple pages that exist now, as well as any new ones you create in the future.

Give some of these customization options a try – you might find tabs playing an even bigger part in your workflow.

Can a notebook be a notebook if it doesn’t look like one?

Written by Circus Ponies

Can a notebook be a notebook if it doesn't look like one?

A user recently taking the 30-day free NoteBook trial commented, “I prefer notebooks without skeuomorph[sic] design.”

He was referring to “skeuomorphism,” where an object retains design cues from structures that were necessary in the original. One example from the physical world is a light socket shaped like a candle, complete with wax dribbles down its sides. Clearly this ornamentation isn’t necessary to provide light in a room using light bulbs.

But what is a notebook? Pages, tabs, and dividers at the very least. Familiar/expected paper backgrounds, similar to what you find in the physical world. If you took away the design elements that offended the demo trialer, would you still have something you could call a notebook?

Apps like Evernote, the old Google Notebook, and others offer “notebooks” but they are just collections of notes, more akin to a big bag or desk drawer in the physical world. The word “notebook” invokes images of structure and order, and memories of tactile sensations – the notebooks in these apps convey none of this. Calling these collections of notes “notebooks” is actually confusing, because they don’t satisfy any of the expectations we have when we think “notebook.”

So no, stripping an electronic notebook of everything that ties it to the real work does not leave you with something you can call a notebook. One of the major reasons users love NoteBook is that it lets them store and organize their notes and documents in electronic notebooks that look and work just like the paper ones they’ve used all their lives. Its resemblance to real-world notebooks is why the product is *called* NoteBook!

It’s true that NoteBook includes ornamentation that isn’t needed to manage your notes – things like the paper holes along the side, or the page turning control that looks like a curled paper corner. The good news for users who are bothered by these elements is they can easily turn them off (as they can the tabs, paper styles, and more).

Skeuomorphism is neither good nor bad – it is, like all ornamentation, a design choice. NoteBook is designed to satisfy the expectations we have of a notebook in electronic form.

Tips to boost your productivity in 2014

Written by Circus Ponies

Tips for boosting your productivity in 2014

Happy 2014 from Circus Ponies! In honor of the fresh start the new year affords, here are a few tips that can help boost your productivity:

  • Write down your top three goals, in both your work life and personal life. Committing your goals to paper will help you keep them in focus and start taking small steps towards achieving them.

  • Write down everything you do each day for a week, including the time you spend doing it. When you review your list you’ll notice where you wasted time – avoid those time wasters in your future weeks.

  • Don’t multitask. When you multitask you feel like you’re getting a lot done. Unfortunately multitasking breaks up your attention, which ultimately reduces the quality of your work. Try instead to give your complete attention to a single task at one time, especially if you’re working on something that takes a lot of thought or requires attention to detail.

  • Set a time limit on tasks you dislike. A task you hate will feel less oppressive if you know it will stop at a certain time. If you can’t set a time limit, break the task up into short chunks and do more interesting work in between.

Happy holidays from Circus Ponies

Written by Circus Ponies

Happy holidays from Circus Ponies

Happy holidays from Circus Ponies Software, and best wishes to you in 2014.

Note taking apps need to manage action items too

Written by Circus Ponies

Note taking apps need to manage action items too

You may not have considered note taking and action item management to be related, but they are actually intertwined. Imagine taking notes in a meeting where tasks are assigned at the end. Or attending a lecture where your professor mentions an upcoming assignment. It isn’t enough to capture these tasks within your notes—without the ability to formally flag them as action items or a system to manage them, they can easily be lost.

NoteBook’s full-featured outliner lets you easily turn any note in the outline into an action item. The commands in the Outline -> Action Item menu let you add a checkbox, set a priority level, and a due date. But just flagging action items on a page isn’t enough: you also need an easy way to manage all the action items you’ve created across your many pages of notes. NoteBook includes a couple handy solutions to that problem.

First, NoteBook’s Multidex makes it easy to see all of your action items, wherever they live in a Notebook. The Multidex is a set of pages at the back of every Notebook that presents the Notebook’s information in all the different ways you might search for it. The Multidex’s To Do page presents a dynamic display of all the action items in your Notebook, giving you a complete picture of every task you’ve flagged on every page. You can even update priorities and check items off right in the To Do page.

Second, you can set NoteBook to publish any page’s action items right to your calendar. Connecting NoteBook pages to your calendar means all the action items in your notes will show up automatically alongside the rest of the tasks on your computer and phone.

If you’re evaluating note taking apps, be sure to determine how well each one helps you manage action items.

Keeping notes organized and easy to find using NoteBook Keywords

Written by Circus Ponies

Keeping notes organized and easy to find using NoteBook Keywords

Each time you add an item to a Notebook, NoteBook saves not only its text but also a set of “attributes”—you can think of them as metadata, or data about the data you added. One of these bits of metadata is the Keywords attribute. A Keyword is a word or phrase that you assign to an item, separate from the words in the item’s text.

Keywords are useful for creating arbitrary categories and assigning items to those categories. For example, if you have notes and documents related to your tax filings you might assign them all the Keyword “Taxes”. Categorizing items using Keywords can be more effective than relying on words within each item’s text because there’s no guarantee what words an item will contain. Keywords also eliminate inconsistencies in the words or phrases you use to categorize items (e.g. you don’t have to worry about “taxes” vs. “Taxes”).

The power of Keywords really emerges when used with the Multidex. The Multidex is a set of pages at the back of every Notebook that presents the contents of the Notebook by text or attribute. The Keywords page within the Multidex shows all the Keywords in use within the Notebook. Expanding a Keyword on the Keywords page shows all the items tagged with that Keyword, no matter where they live within the Notebook. So when tax time rolls around and you need to locate every tax-related item, you would just turn to the Keywords page and expand the Taxes item.

With NoteBook you’re not limited to a single Keyword—you can assign as many as you like. Imagine you add the Keyword “Receipts” to receipts you add to a Notebook, so that you can quickly see all your receipts via the Keywords page. Now imagine that some of those receipts are tax-related. In that case you would want to tag them with both the Taxes and Receipts Keywords.

What happens if you want to see all of your tax-related receipts? You can’t really do that on the Keywords page because it only shows the items that have been assigned a particular Keyword. Not to worry – that’s where SuperFind comes in. SuperFind is NoteBook’s search system that uses the Multidex to perform complex searches. With a few clicks in the SuperFind panel, it’s easy to create a search that shows you all the items tagged with both the Receipts and Taxes Keywords.

NoteBook’s automatic text indexing makes it easy to locate items without having to worry about categorizing them as you add them a Notebook. Keywords require some set up, but when combined with the Multidex can be a powerful way to locate important information when you need it.

Follow us