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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.

You should follow us on Twitter here.

All in a Day’s Work: Making an Ugaritic Font

First, we acquired rights to the Conchillos Ugaritic databank. Then, we acquired the rights to produce several Ugaritic textbooks, grammars, and other helps as well. We put together a product.

Then we had to figure out how to support Ugaritic. [Cue scary music.]

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Genre & Source Visual Filtering for the OT

Daniel Foster just came to me and said, “Hey, I didn’t know that the Andersen-Forbes Analyzed Text has two resource-specific visual filters!” I said, “Sure, I thought everybody knew that.”
Well, if Daniel doesn’t know … okay, I guess almost nobody knows.

Visual What?
“Visual filter” may sound like something you do to a photograph to reduce red eye, but in fact it’s a simple and flexible feature that the Libronix DLS can use to modify a book’s formatting or content on the fly — that is, right when it’s being displayed. A simple visual filter is the Page Numbers visual filter, which shows page numbers inline (for resources that have page number tagging).

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Syntax: Talking Animals in the Bible

Several readers have requested that we produce more examples of syntax searching. Your wish is my command — at least in this case. I made a video that shows how to make a syntax search to find all the places in the Hebrew Bible where an animal speaks, or more specifically, where a clause has a verb of speaking with a “creature” in the subject. The query uses the semantic categories present in the A-F markup to narrow the hits down to only verbs of speaking with “creature” subjects.

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Logos Chili Cook-Off Results


As promised, here are the results of the seventh annual Logos Chili Cook-Off. A good time (and a little indigestion) was had by all. There were thirteen chilis entered, but three were named the crowd favorites.
Watch a 3.5 minute video of Chili Day 2006! (.wmv | 9.4MB)

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RevInt IV: Reverse Interlinear Bullets

(See also: RevInt I: Reverse Interlinears as Books and RevInt II: Reverse Interlinear Lines and RevInt III: Reverse Interlinear Symbols)

Occasionally, when I assemble a piece of furniture — say for instance a “Jerker” desk from Ikea, like the one that I sit at — I am left with a few odds and ends lying on the floor. Then I scratch my head and wonder, “Do I really need that lock washer?” The real question, of course, is: Do I really want to take the whole thing apart again to figure out where it goes?

Occasionally, when you are reading along in a reverse interlinear, you will encounter some of the nuts and bolts that are left over in the process of assembling the alignment. Here and there will be a round dot (bullet point) in either the original language line or the translation line of a reverse interlinear, indicating that no reasonable equivalent for that word could be found in the other text.

For the most part, our editorial philosophy for making these reverse interlinear alignments has been optimistic. That is, we assume that if the translation committee thinks they’ve translated the original language words of a particular verse, then we assume that they are. The goal, then, is to account for the translation, not to demonstrate elementary principles of Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic grammar. As a result, we give the benefit of the doubt in making links between the words of the original text and the translation. Our editors try — sometimes quite creatively — to account for all of the words in the translation. All of which tends, we hope, to minimize the presence of bullets in the text.

But they do happen, for various reasons.

Does this mean the translation is “bad” where you see bullets? Not necessarily.

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RevInt III: Reverse Interlinear Symbols

(See also: RevInt I: Reverse Interlinears as Books and RevInt II: Reverse Interlinear Lines)

There are quite a lot of symbols that you need to master in order to read a reverse interlinear alignment. Each of the symbols is has a popup definition in the Libronix resource, so you won’t have to memorize what they mean, but understanding them in the first place will help you with reverse interlinear fluency.

Nearly all of these symbols are in the original language line; it was decided early on in the reverse interlinear design process that we would try to keep the translation text as uncluttered as possible. After all, it is the top line.

So, let’s take a look at those symbols, shall we?

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RevInt II: Reverse Interlinear Lines

(See also: RevInt I: Reverse Interlinear Resources)

You can profitably use a reverse interlinear by just reading it. I’ll look into some of the ways that Reverse Interlinears can be used in later posts, but first let’s just look at all the lines of information that are available in the two ESV reverse interlinears.

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RevInt I: Reverse Interlinear Resources

Some of my favorite new Logos Bible Software 3 (LBS3) resources are the new reverse interlinear Bibles (after Hebrew Syntax, of course) — and not just because I worked on them.

A reverse interlinear in LBS3 is many things: It’s a Bible version that shows the original language words behind the translation; it’s a Bible with stronger-than-Strong’s tagging; but most importantly, it’s a bridge from here to there, from a translation back to the original language text that lies beneath. Furthermore, it’s a bridge that anyone can cross.

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I don’t take my Bible to church any more …

The ink-on-pressed-tree-pulp-wrapped-in-calfskin one, that is. Nowadays, I take my laptop with Logos Bible Software 3 instead. Sure, I raise a few eyebrows, but most everyone at church knows I work for Logos, and so they know (I hope) that I’m not surfing the internet or playing a first-person shooter game during the sermon. I do have to remember to turn the mute button on, though. The Libronix startup sound is nice enough, but not during the opening prayer.

I don’t know about you, but I just can’t turn my dead-tree version fast enough to find Scripture citations when they come fast and furious from the pulpit. If the sermon jumps around a lot, I’m lost pretty quickly. I find myself singing the Bible books song to myself to remember where the books are. Even then it’s tough, because I usually work on original language versions of the Old Testament, so I get messed up by the differences between the “English” and the Hebrew ordering of the Tanakh. (Ruth isn’t after Judges, it’s after Proverbs, which is closer to the end than it is to the middle. And the last book isn’t Malachi, it’s 1 and 2 Chronicles, which are after Ezra and Nehemiah … well, you get the picture.)

But with Logos on my lap, I can keep up pretty well. I can better than just keep up, in fact.
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