Bible Study: Redesigned

The 3.0 version of Logos Bible Software has been out in the marketplace for several years, and it works pretty well. Still, it was built on an underlying technology that was better suited to 1999 than 2009, and has been starting to show its age. That, and I’ve always thought it could use a little more design.

So, four years ago, we embarked on a ground-up rewrite of the software and a ground-up redesign of the user interface. Yes, we re-used some of the code that shows a book on screen, some of the searching internals, and so on. But the user interface, the part that users see and interact with, is completely new.

My role in the Logos 4 rewrite was “designer”, which means I spent a lot of time making pages like this:


Some typical pages from the Logos 4 specification.

There are upwards of 1,000 (?) such pages.



I like to think of it this way:

  • If a software project is like a construction site, then I’m like the architect. I drew the plans. I didn’t build anything, and the core ideas weren’t mine. Still, I made a thousand tiny decisions every day, pondering such imponderables as: Link or button or link button? What happens when you click it? Where best to put it?
  • Bob (the President of Logos) was like the owner/client. It’s really his baby. He has ideas, lots of them. Sometimes he scribbles them on my whiteboard. My job as designer is to translate his ideas, along with customer feedback, marketing input, and a thousand other streams of information and opinion into workable designs.
  • The lead developers are like engineers. If an architect says, “We’re going to build a 10,000 square foot room with no support columns” the engineer is there to tell him that it can’t be done. Or that it can, but not with the budget we’ve been allocated. When it comes right down to it, the designs are just suggestions of what could be; once you get out to the job site and start sinking knee deep in the mud, your pretty blueprints may not count for much.
  • The other devs are like the tradesmen and craftsmen who actually do the work. Like carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and painters, they are all highly skilled at making wonderful things. The Logos team is the best. I’m sure Google and Microsoft have great teams, but the Logos dev team is a highly motivated, highly intelligent, highly worthy group of men and women.

In the process, I tried to adhere to three design principles that I shamelessly stole from the Shakers:

(1) Is it necessary? This is all about prioritizing the design goals, and not getting carried away with the client’s/user’s/marketeer’s exuberance. You try not to build the bad ideas, but given that you’ve only got so much time and effort, sometimes you can’t even build all the great ones, either. So the first question boils down to: Can we ship without this? We were relentlessly minimal about the design of Logos 4; it’s fully featured, but nothing on screen is wasted. At every turn, we asked ourselves: What’s the simplest thing that could possibly work? One of the mottos we used was: “What you need, when you need it.”

(2) Does it suit its purpose? This is really the hard one, because you have to know what goals a given feature is trying to accomplish, and then you have to figure out how to measure whether or not they were, in fact, accomplished. You can fail at either end: Identifying the right goals won’t help much if you build something that doesn’t accomplish them. Testing a product to death won’t help much if you’ve identified the wrong goals. “Yes, it does the wrong thing entirely, but it does it really well!

(3) Can it be beautiful? I don’t do final art, and I don’t make pixel-perfect specifications, but I do try to make sure my mockup screens and specification documents look as good as possible. Why? Because I find it’s not that much harder for me to do, and it gives everyone, from client to developer to art designer a better vision of what we’re trying to accomplish.

If those three goals can be achieved, then you’ve hit that sweet spot we designers like to call “elegance.” With Logos 4, I think we did. (I may be biased, of course.)

The design work doesn’t stop there: Parallel to Logos 4, we designed an iPhone app for Logos library resources, and we’re working on several other projects that I can’t tell you about. Yet.

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Comments

  1. Nice article. I do have a question. How can I access my Spanish Biblical People on Logos 4. Somehow, I can’t seem to find it. Also, how can I change the interface language. I believe that’s very important. Whenever I wanted my Biblical people to show in Spanish, I would change the interface to Spanish and it would automatically change Biblical people from English to Spanish. It would be really helpful to get those up and running again. One thing that disappoints a little with the Biblical people is that it doesn’t show the relationship when you put it on powerpoint like it did with version 3. Now I have to make my own notes on family trees to show people how each figure is related. Anyway, can’t have it all.

  2. Nick Reddin says:

    Logos 4 looks awesome! I looked at the iPhone app on a friends IPhone and it is pretty amazing. How about an app for the android software so I can access the app?

  3. Cary Wacker says:

    As an old time logos user I am finding the new format difficult. The 3.0 system seemed to be easier. Is there a comprehensive tutorial that is available for long time users. Also, it was my understanding when I purchased the system that all upgraders were free, I was charged for this upgrade.
    Items of difficulty:
    1) Changing the bible text to any of the translations, not just english.
    2) access to unlocked resources is not available from this program. As a seminary student I need access to many books not included in this my library.
    Please let me know of some of the solutions available.
    Thank You,
    Cary Wacker

  4. Daniel Foster says:

    Eli Evans,you rock, sir. First time I saw them drawerings of yours I said, “Ooh, la, la.”

  5. James Black says:

    Incredible job. I’m a software developer myself (novice) and I love the design principles that you have set in place.
    This is definitely an elegant piece of art. Best of all, everything I ever possibly could need as a Bible College student and disciple is here available with minimum effort.
    No more wasting valuable time and money seeking the material I need. Everything is available in one package. Legendary!

  6. Great Post, Thanks for writing it. I was going to ask who you were but then saw your name really tiny on the bottom of the post : )

  7. To the entire Logos staff, thank you, thank you, thank you!
    Logos4 is GREAT

  8. D. Haslam Sr says:

    Now that I have the new program how does my 3.0 figure into the scheme of things?

  9. Logos 4 can be installed and run side-by-side with previous installations of Logos Bible Software. So, if you still like 3.0, you can keep it around and use it for as long as you want. When you purchase a license to a resource, either on its own or as part of a collection, you can (for the most part) read that resource on either version. All your 3.0 books should be readable on 4.0, but not all 4.0 content will necessarily be readable on 3.0.

  10. Change is always difficult. :-)
    The easiest way to learn the new Logos 4 way of doing things is to watch a few of the videos at http://www.logos.com/videos. We’ll keep adding to those as we make them.
    Another great way to get help with specific problems is to post your questions to the Logos user forums: http://community.logos.com
    You can download upgrades to the *software* for free for life; if you were charged for a product upgrade, you probably got some new *resources* in the deal. That is, if you had 3.0 Scholar’s and you bought 4.0 Scholar’s, you got some new content as well as the updated software.
    Hope that helps!

  11. 4.0 is released in English only for now. We’re targeting Spanish as the next language to translate the interface and resources (eg, maps, Biblical people) into. No word yet on when. Watch this space; I’m sure we’ll blog about it when it happens.
    The 3.0 Biblical People graphs were automatically-generated from a database of relationships. This made for the oval-and-line graphs that 3.0 had. The thing we heard overwhelmingly from users was, “That’s nice, but shouldn’t these be family trees?” So, we stopped automatically generating the graphs and built lots of family trees by hand.
    In 4.0, the positioning of each person in relation to the other, as well as the shape and color of the lines joining them, indicates the relationship. We used pretty standard family tree notation: Two horizontal lines joining a man and woman indicates a marriage; we made the lines dotted to indicate concubines; children of a marriage will be one level below with a line coming down from the marriage; siblings will be arranged horizontally (as much as possible) and “bracketed” together with lines leading back up to their shared parents. In-laws get skewed lines, so when Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, appears on Moses’ graph, his line will run diagonal, not straight up and down.
    (Plus, you can continue to run 3.0 side-by-side as long as you like.)
    Hope that helps!

  12. Logos 4 definitely looks and feels great and it was worth paying for the new resources, but was there really a free for life upgrade offer? I was offered a cross grade option, but no free option. Should I have been?
    The need to pay for upgrades has put me off other Bible software in the past, so free software upgrades for life is really important. At some point, I’m bound to say that I really don’t need extra resources, just the ability to access what I have already bought on the latest Windows platform (or its equivalent). Where does Logos stand on this? And how could I have upgraded for free?

  13. idea: create a homepage search engine like yahoo, msn, or google(quality) and combine it with the capabilities of Logos. Not only that, promote Christian businesses, help Christians connect and serve in churches and community, advertise for Christian stores. Make it a site that is the Christian alternative that we can go everyday instead of the secular homepage that we are all use to. Not only that, my email address might look like mackelkin@logos.com instead of ymail…hmmm? This would be a great tool for the 21st century to keep Christians connected daily to the Word!!