Throwback Thursday: Every Mac User's Dream
In my last Throwback Thursday post, I explained how I went from being an early Accordance user to unexpectedly landing a part-time job with the company. I wasn't the first employee of Accordance Bible Software, but I am the longest running, having remained with the company for nearly twenty years now.
As I explained in my last post, I started with the company when Accordance 1.1a—a minor update which added support for the tagged Septuagint—was about to be released.
At that point in time, Accordance was narrow in scope but remarkably deep. By "narrow in scope" I mean that it only offered original language texts and English translations. There were no tools like commentaries or dictionaries, no user notes, and no English Bibles with Strong's numbers—all relatively standard features in more mainstream Bible programs. Still, Accordance was so deep, offering powerful grammatical searching with an easy interface, along with groundbreaking new features like analyses and graphs of search results, that early adopters were overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
The first projects I worked on were new English translations such as the New Jerusalem Bible and the Jewish Publication Society's Tanakh. It was exciting to be among the first to play with new Accordance modules like these, but the best part of the job was when I got to see what our lead programmer (he was our only programmer at the time) was working on for Accordance 2.0. Occasionally he would even ask for feedback or suggestions on how best to interface a particular feature.
This, of course, was every Mac user's dream. After all, most Mac users at that time quickly came to regard themselves as human interface experts, ruthlessly critiquing applications that were not "Mac-like" and looking down our noses at another computer operating system that was then surging in popularity. As I began to make contributions to the interface of Accordance, I began to see that good interface design is a lot harder than it looks. You have to think through how each new feature is going to remain consistent with the rest of the interface. You have to try to anticipate all the ways your users may interact with that feature, and do your best to adapt to their "mistakes." You have to look ahead to how users may want this new feature to be expanded in the future, and do your best to avoid potential obstacles to that expansion. I often found—and still find—that even my most brilliant interface suggestions have to be refined considerably before they can account for all these different variables. And even then, you can expect to refine the interface further after a new feature is released and users start putting it through its paces.
My two biggest contributions to the interface of Accordance 2.0 had to do with the design of the Amplify palette and the new Parallels window. Accordance 1.1a featured a roughly square floating palette with buttons for features like Context, the Plot (now called the Hits Graph), the Analysis, the Table, and the Parsing window. These buttons were arranged in two rows, beneath which was an option to display instant parsing for any word you hovered your mouse over.
As a user, I found that there was never a convenient place to put this palette without either obscuring some part of the main Accordance window or forcing me to make the main window smaller than I wanted. What's more, this problem was about to be exacerbated by the addition of new buttons for all of the features we would be adding to Accordance 2.0. I puzzled over the question of how to redesign this palette to make the best use of screen space. Eventually, it hit me that we could make the palette much less obtrusive by splitting it in two. I suggested that the instant parsing feature be given its own horizontally-oriented palette that could be placed neatly at the bottom of the screen. The Amplify palette could then be oriented vertically with a single column of buttons. This palette could then be placed along the left or right edge of the screen, leaving nearly the whole screen for the main Accordance window.
More difficult was the design of the new Parallels window, which would display several new databases of parallel passages such as those found in the Synoptic Gospels or in Kings and Chronicles. The basic interface was visually similar to that of the main search window, with an area at the top where you could enter a search, and panes at the bottom that would display the text of each parallel passage. But there was a key difference that made the design of this window challenging. When you entered a search, you were not searching the text of the Bible that would be displayed in the parallel panes. Instead, you were searching a database of parallel passages, such as places where Jesus talks about prayer or parallel accounts of a king's reign. Thus, when you search for "prayer" in the Gospels parallel, the result should be a list of parallel passages with the word "prayer" in their title. Once I understood the challenge of where to place this list of passages, I went home and began drawing mockups of how I thought the Parallels window should be arranged. The design I eventually came up with has remained relatively unchanged to this day.
Over the years, the Accordance interface team has grown to include programmers and graphic designers with far more expertise than I have, and they deserve much of the credit for all the design improvements in Accordance 10. Still, being a part of these discussions has always been one of my favorite things about working for Accordance. After all, what Mac user wouldn't love the chance to contribute to a program's interface?
Accordance 2.0 was released in April of 1996, a little more than two years after the program's debut. In terms of additional functionality, it was a huge upgrade, adding dictionaries, commentaries, parallels, user notes, reference lists, and more. With version 2.0, Accordance went from being a specialized tool for original language research to a fairly well-rounded Bible program suitable for anyone.
Last week I invited users who began with Accordance 1.0 to leave a comment reminiscing about their experiences. This week I want to ask those of you who started with Accordance 2.0 to do the same. If you do, we'll give you a $20 credit toward your next Accordance purchase. Just be sure to post your comment by March 20, and give us your full name.