Logos 6: Balancing Surprise with Familiarity

Eli-300x300You wouldn’t know just by looking at it, but Logos 6 represents a giant leap forward for Logos Bible Software.

When we sat down to design Logos 6, we wanted it to be the same, but different.

It’s always important in design to maintain a balanced tension between familiarity and surprise. Too much familiarity, and a new design is underwhelming (“Ho hum. So what?”). Too much surprise, and it becomes inscrutable and off-putting (“That’s bizarre—kill it with fire!”).

So no, the interface hasn’t changed much, except that it’s more polished. No, the feature set hasn’t been radically altered. Logos is still built on the foundation of a large library of resources, with guides to mine those resources for information, and new tools to act on it. Search is still search, only better. Way better.

Yet Logos 6 is very different from past versions—not so much in how it does, but what it does. When we started deciding the feature list for Logos 6, we asked two questions:

  1. What are people doing with Logos?
  2. What aren’t people doing with Logos?

Find me something to read

We know pretty well what people are doing with it: Bible study—that is, a certain kind of self-guided textual research that primarily answers the question What do I need to read?

That’s what Logos Bible Software has been about since the very first version: find all the stuff you need to read or watch in order to understand and interpret some passage or idea.

The large-library concept is an obvious application of this premise. So is the homepage, and all the guides, and most of the tools and documents. Notes, clippings, highlights, passage lists, word lists, reading plans, and even sentence diagrams—they’re all just different ways to capture what you’ve read and what you think about it. Datasets like Biblical People and the Bible Sense Lexicon are, when you boil it down, more new exciting things to read.

So we’ve got that base covered.

I’ve read everything—now what?

After talking to users one-on-one and in the forums, we heard a common theme emerge: Logos is a fantastic tool for study, but studying is a means to an end, not just an end unto itself.

As it happens, most people are not digging through all these books to find nuggets of wisdom to hoard them for themselves, but to “spend” them on making something for others—a sermon, a lesson, an article, a paper, a blog post, or an email to a friend in need. It’s kind of beautiful when you think about it. Logos Bible Software delivers its treasure up to the user, who in turn multiplies it by giving it away to others.

That’s what the Logos 6 theme “delivering insight” is really all about.

Yet, Logos 1–5 only addressed one side of the “delivering insight” coin. They’re great at delivering insight to you, the person on the other side of the screen, but they don’t offer much in the way of tools and resources to help you deliver that insight to others.

We talked to one youth pastor in particular who said he used Logos Monday through Friday, then he spent his Saturday looking for visual aids online to spice up his slide show. That is, he was throwing every search term he could think of at what he called the “World Wild Web” and hoping for the best.

Enter Logos 6

We realized that a lot of what people need is to communicate what they’ve learned. They need to present it. So, building on our foundation of a library of resources, we designed the following brand-new tools to address that need:

  • Visual Copy: You’ve found the perfect quote that illustrates the exact idea you want to convey. You select it and copy it. Visual Copy gives you a place to paste it: a library of slide templates, specially selected to surgically target exactly what you’ve copied. No more fiddling around within presentation programs, and no more searching the Internet for a vivid and compelling rendering of that perfect quote (or one like it).
  • Media Search: Logos 5 introduced Image Search, which was a huge hit. Logos 6 extends that functionality to include maps, charts, videos, and audio clips. But what’s more, it also finds slides made by the Logos’ professional design team, as well as some hand-picked images from the web.
  • Interactive Media: Imagine a textbook with a few illustrations inside. Now imagine those illustrations can be manipulated and come to life. And further, that it’s not just one illustration of one example, but of lots of examples. We think these will be useful tools for learning and teaching, either one-on-one or in a classroom setting.

Logos 6 is the biggest release we’ve ever made: here’s a list of 44 new features, 16 updated features, 37 new exclusive resources, 10 new Media Collections, 16 new datasets, and 12 updated datasets.

But time’s running out to save on a new Logos 6 base package: discounts and introductory gifts disappear at 11:59 p.m. (PST) on February 2.

Don’t wait: get Logos 6 today!

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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