Lemieux Design

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Email Comb

Posted on: June 24th, 2020 by alemieux No Comments

So you’ve inherited an email template from another source or you created one a year ago and changed the copy and images, but didn’t address the styles. Sound familiar? Email Comb, an online email tool, will examine unused styles in your HTML email input and strip them out. No reason to deliver bloated code, right?

Email Comb Interface

Brand Thinking

Posted on: February 13th, 2017 by alemieux

NY Trip

1. The Trump Building on Wall Street. 2. A view looking down Wall Street. The NY Stock Exchange is on the left of the Church building. 3. The residence of president George Washington, before there was a White House. 4. The boardroom at the NY Stock Exchange where the team met for the first time. 5. A view inside the NY Stock Exchange. 6. Below the flag is a balcony where they ring the bell to start the trading day. No trading starts until the bell is rung. 7. The live set of SQUAWK ON THE STREET. 8. The boards at the NY Stock Exchange. 9. The ringing of the bell to start trading. 10. The South Tower reflection pool. The names of the deceased are carved and illuminated around the outside. The water cascades down endlessly. 11. A view from the Observation deck on the Freedom Tower of Lower Manhattan. 12. The altar at Our Lady of Victory church near my hotel.

I had an opportunity last week to meet with other designers from my company in New York to talk about and kick the tires on a new brand direction. The company did some research and found that their current brand wasn’t reflective of how the users perceived the company. As anyone in brand knows, moving in a radical direction for a big company can be risky. When Tropicana made a big change to their orange juice packaging, their sales dropped dramatically and they were forced to revert to the old design. Other branding endeavors ended in fiascos, like the London Olympics. The challenge of setting standards and visually identifying the company’s values and appeal to its target audience is rigorous.

A core team set out to define a framework for the new brand initiative and shared that with a group of stakeholders who reacted positively to the direction the team set out on. We got to test that direction by applying those assets to everyday corporate assets – PowerPoint and email templates, website and UI/UX elements, event graphics, and video assets. Through discovery and adaptation, each working group found problems and solutions to working with the new brand assets.

What amazed me is the process, strategy and thinking that has to go into a brand. First, overall, what kind of image or idea that a brand should convey to its clients and to the public. The imagery, colors and graphics that are created can create a tone. Think of Apple’s branding and logo. Their approach is minimalistic, with vivid imagery and finely tuned typography. Even without their logo, their ads and billboards have a sense about them that unequivocally says Apple. That idea is captivating and most companies are scrambling to attain something that’s on par, if not better.

Apple Ad

Advertisement from Apple, Inc. Even without the logo, the typography and imagery tell that it is from Apple

The second thing that stood out to me is that a brand can’t be strict and unchangeable. If it’s so tight, it gets stuffy and difficult to work with. A brand that is nimble and flexible can afford itself multiple applications and still sustain its overall look and appeal. Nike has a variety of applications in the sports world – from running to soccer and xtreme sports. Yet their logo, quality fabrics, graphical treatments still represent a recognizable brand.

Nike Ad

As long as the logo is represented, this ad from Nike uses powerful imagery and effective typography to adhere to its brand.

There are so many considerations that go into a brand and its usage. Our working groups brought questions back to the core team about color when it’s presented on screen, for example. One of the chose colors in the palette didn’t end up working in presentations. We also had questions about graphics interfering with the logo positioning. We collaborated on possible solutions and it was energizing! We focused on a goal of getting the brand to work in a variety of situations. It was exciting!

Monoprice Tablet

Posted on: May 23rd, 2012 by alemieux

Affordable pressure sensitive tablet

A few weeks ago, I read a post by Ray Frenden about an alternative to Wacom tablets from a company called Monoprice. Turns out they make a bunch of different tablets, much like Wacom, without the hefty price tag.

Monoprice Pressure Sensitive Tablet

Monoprice Graphic Drawing Tablet with 8 Hot Keys

I’ve had a medium sized Wacom Intuos tablet on my wishlist at Amazon for a year now and the price barely budged, even when Wacom introduced their new tablets last month. I ended up buying the Monoprice 10×6.25 inch graphic drawing tablet with 8 hot keys for $50, which is extremely affordable. Even the low-end Bamboo tablets from Wacom don’t come down to that price.

What made me decide to purchase is the customer reviews. Everyone who purchased one was incredibly satisfied with their experience. I got mine yesterday and installed the drivers and got it up and running last night. At first, it didn’t seem like the pen was tracking right, but after I restarted my Macbook Pro, it seemed to track better. There seemed to be a little latency in some of the brushes in Photoshop, but I’ve seen the same latency with the Wacom tablets there.

The tablet comes with software controllers that don’t install as a preference pane in OSX. There’s a strip at the top of the tablet with assignable items. You can assign these to open applications or other commands, similar to Wacom. There’s also 8 pre-assigned buttons down the left side of the tablet with functions such as copy, paste, group, zoom in/out, save, and close window.

The pen requires a AAA battery, which is different from Wacoms pens. The battery powers up the pen on contacting the tablet. If you’re not using the pen, it powers itself off, there’s no switch. It has a plastic nib that feels spring loaded and a toggle switch with two programmable buttons. One thing about the pen is that it doesn’t have an eraser, like all of Wacoms pens.

The pressure sensitivity is remarkable. It registers really light touches well. I was surprised. I have noticed that in some programs with the Wacom tablet, that these light touches don’t register at all. I find myself having to configure brush settings or tablet settings often.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with this find and I would highly recommend to others who have been wishing that they could afford a tablet to seriously look at this one.

In Review: Flash CS5.5

Posted on: May 11th, 2011 by alemieux

Mobile/Table Development

So Adobe recently released CS5.5 without a lot of hoopla. This is a mid-cycle release which focuses primarily on mobile and tablet publishing. We all are familiar with the promise to publish to the iPhone from within Flash CS5 that quickly got crushed by Apple, then slyly approved of later. Well now the floodgates have opened and Adobe has zeroed in on making their apps capable of delivering content to the iPhone (IOS devices) and Android market.

Flash, despite the fact that SWF files cannot play on the iPhone still, can publish for the IOS platform now with a new template specifically for that platform.

AIR for IOS file type

Essentially, Adobe is wrapping the Flash content in an AIR application with all of the necessary Objective-C language to play well with an IOS device. The same is true for Android development. You can reliably test your applications in Device Central and port your content directly to connected devices. It’s much easier to do this now than it ever was before in Flash.

When you take a look at the Publish Settings dialog, you’ll notice an update in the look of this and some other similar touches to other panels, like the Properties panel:

New Publish Settings

If you click on the wrench next to the AIR for IOS player drop-down in the Properties panel, you’ll get the deployment settings for your application:

IOS Settings

As I mentioned before, you can test the application in Device Central by going to Control > Test Movie > In Device Central. You can also test directly on the USB connected device.

Another feature that’s been added is the ability to convert vector based clips into bitmaps. At first, I thought this was a feature that was only for improving the performance of complex vector graphics – which Cache as Bitmap already handles. In fact, this feature is for mobile devices that can’t handle vector graphics. I wonder if we’ll see SVG and canvas support in future versions, but I doubt it.

Layers

In applications like Photoshop and Illustrator, it’s easy to copy a layer. That functionality didn’t exist in Flash until this version. You can now Cut, Copy, Duplicate, and Paste layers. I for one, have been waiting a long time for this feature. Sure, you can copy and paste frames, but the ability to copy layers from one FLA file to another is great. Duplicating layers will be a huge time saver for animation.

Pinning Bones

If you tried the Bones tool in CS5, you probably got a little frustrated. OK, well maybe frustrated a lot. Chris Georgenes did an excellent job explaining the hidden reasons why the tool didn’t work the way most people thought it would in his book How to Cheat in Flash CS5. One of the techniques he used was to use an empty movie clip as a kind of global anchor to pivot the whole armature on. The other technique he mentions is creating sets of armatures in separate movie clips. In other words, you don’t necessarily want to create an entire skeletal armature system on a character, but maybe connect certain parts together that make sense when it comes to moving them.

New in CS5.5 is the ability to pin a bone down so that it doesn’t move, freeing up other appendages to move around on the axis of that bone. Sure, you could’ve done this before by constraining a bone, but I could never figure out the right degree angle settings for the kind of constraints needed for an elbow (as an example).

Pinning Bones

This will be a big help specifically with neck bones and other difficult armatures than require a bone, but not necessarily a motion on that bone, only the ones connected to it.

Snippets Panel Improvements
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The code Snippets Panel has a new HUD on it for each snippet. There are also new snippets for mobile devices, like swipes and gestures. What’s annoying about the HUD is that after you open it, it doesn’t want to go away until you click on some other part of the interface. Still, it’s a nice reference and there are some code examples in there to get you started. Each snippet is heavily commented to show you what is static and what needs to be changed.

Snippet Panel HUD

ProLoader for TLF

TLF text on its own is great. Used in conjunction with external classes or with loading SWF files doesn’t work (as chronicled here), until now. The problem really wasn’t with the TLF engine, it was Flash’s Loader class and a little-know bug caused by its internal preloader. This has actually prevented me from using TLF in any of my projects.

Adobe put out a temporary fix called SafeLoader which worked for some people and not for others. The solution in CS5.5 is a new Loader class called ProLoader. I guess the name SafeLoader implied that the previous Loader wasn’t safe, so they went with ProLoader instead. You can actually see the ProLoader in action by using the Click to Load/Unload SWF or Image snippet in the Snippets panel.

I’m pleased to tell you all that ProLoader does indeed correct this major issue and now we can explore TLF, which has its own set of problems. Adobe did spend some time improving TLF for this release by adding a tab ruler and support for style sheets. There’s just other things that developers need dynamic text to do that TLF maybe isn’t built for.

The ProLoader class works and behaves just like it’s stepchild the Loader class, there are just some methods and properties in that class that specifically handle the preloader/TLF issue. Nicely done Adobe.

Other Features

Almost every Microsoft application has an auto save feature, which is a God send when you encounter a hardware or software crash and you have an auto-recovery pull in that autosaved version of the file. Flash finally gets an AutoSave, which is on by default. You can set this up in the Document Properties dialog:

Auto Save

Another small enhancement is Incremental Compilation, which caches parts of your SWF file every time you test the file so that you don’t have to wait forever for each incremental test. That will certainly save time.

Conclusion

Adobe’s push into the Mobile/Tablet market is smart and timely. It comes on the heels of the whole Steve Job’s open letter on Flash thing and it’s in line with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen’s vision of Publish once for multiple platforms. InDesign and Dreamweaver also have a lot to offer in these areas. The ProLoader is the fix that I’ve been waiting for the most and will have the most impact for me. The lingering question, of course, is still what will people use Flash for now that HTML5 and CSS3/jQuery can do a lot of its tricks. I, for one, strongly believe that it has its place on the web and now on the mobile/tablet space.

Adobe really needs to bolster the Flash platform and continue to improve it to show developers what’s possible with those tools. It will be an uphill battle, but if they can position Flash just right, it will be around for a long time.

Creative Suite (5.5) (6) (Enter version number here)

Posted on: March 26th, 2011 by alemieux

So recently Adobe announced at the end of their 1st quarter, that the next version of the Creative Suite will be rolled out in April (April 11) ref: InDesing Secrets. Of course, they are being tight-lipped about it and no one’s certain if this will be a minimal upgrade or something more substantial, since it doesn’t fall into line with their normal production cycle (ref: InDesign Secrets).

CS?

CS What?

PC magazine recently ran an article about it in January talking about:

…a new tool, dubbed Helium, that will enable designers to create content using HTML5 and CSS3

– emphasis added.

Seems odd that they would have to add a tool for HTML5 and CSS3 when Dreamweaver already does all of that. I’m sure that’s not what they are talking about though. Since HTML5 came out, there really isn’t a good toolset out there for working with the Canvas object or to create CSS3-based animations with a tool, other than just hand coding it (correct me if I’m wrong).

I’m pretty happy with CS5, but it’s still buggy and I do experience limited, yet frustrating, crashes and odd behaviors. At the most, we can hope for more bug fixes mixed in with some extra web trickery in all of the applications. I’m personally hoping for better font performance in Flash. Since Adobe prides itself on it’s own font technologies and has a good footing with them in Illustrator and InDesign, it’s so different in Flash. The inclusion of TLF (Text Layout Framework) in CS5 was supposed to be the answer to so many issues, but it falls short when it comes to actually using it with Actionscript.

I’d also love to see improvements in the 3D filter in Illustrator. There’s so much potential to really boost that part of the application to develop rich product renderings and such, but the interface is pretty limited. Live Trace, while a good tool for refined images, really needs an overhaul too.

I’m sure on the InDesign side, we’ll see more of the features that Quark has been rolling into it’s latest release, with advanced ways to publish to portable devices of various kinds.

Of course, we’ll probably have to shell out a few hundred dollars more and it will probably come in different packages, but it’s something to look forward to. What are you hoping for?

My Blog has moved home

Posted on: March 17th, 2011 by alemieux

Installing a wordpress blog on your local domain may be easier than you think. My site is hosted with MediaTemple.net and they have some 1-click applications that make it easy to do just such a thing. In a few minutes, I was able to install my wordpress blog on my own domain. I was able to import my blogs posts from Blogger and it was really easy.

GoDaddy has a similar way of transferring a WordPress blog to your own domain. Now I need to get some juicy content up here.

Stay tuned.