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:
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.