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.
I've written before about how varied my use of Accordance tends to be. I use it for my own research projects, to do quality control checks of modules which are nearing release, to help with the occasional tech support question, in family devotions, in teaching a Sunday School class, and more. This usually means that I have dozens of tabs open at any given time, and it's rare for all of them to be focused on the same task.
Since I've been using Accordance 10, I've noticed an interesting shift in my workflow. Where previously I would use a single workspace with a hodgepodge of tabs devoted to different tasks, I now tend to open a new workspace when I shift from one task to another. For example, my main workspace is devoted to a big research project I'm currently working on, but when I need to prepare my Sunday school lesson or lead a family devotion, I now go to the File menu, choose New Workspace, and then dedicate that separate workspace to the new task. By using separate workspaces for different tasks, I can be sure the resources I need for my Sunday School lesson don't get mixed up with the ones I need for my research project.
The strange thing about this shift in workflow is that it happened naturally when I began using Accordance 10, even though I could have done the same thing (but didn't) in previous versions of Accordance. Ever since we introduced the Workspace window way back in Accordance 6, you have been able to open multiple workspaces and dedicate them to distinct purposes. I just never did so until now.
I'm not sure what it is about Accordance 10 that prompted this change in behavior, but I suspect the move to a single-window interface has made the idea of opening multiple workspaces seem less daunting to me. Put another way, perhaps the integration of all those palettes has made managing multiple workspaces seem more palatable. (Pardon the pun!)
When I think about it, it wasn't any harder to manage multiple workspaces when the Library window, Resource palette, and Instant Details Box stayed put in their respective places on my screen, but perhaps the presence of those separate floating windows made me feel like it would be harder to keep track of more than one workspace. Now that those palettes are integrated into each workspace, it is as if I can simply switch between two or more self-contained study environments. I therefore find myself doing that more and more.
This is just one example of how improving the design and aesthetics of a program can also enhance its usability.
What about you? Do you find the changes in Accordance 10 have affected your workflow in surprising ways?
In January of this year, I heard a conference speaker make an oft-repeated observation about the book of Ephesians: namely, that it is clearly divided into two parts. The speaker asserted that in the first three chapters, Paul uses verbs in the indicative mood—that is, verbs that make a statement or convey information. In the last three chapters, Paul switches to imperative verbs. Thus, he moves from theology to application, from instruction to exhortation. This inspired me to blog about how you could use Accordance's Analytics tools to see if Ephesians really is that divided.
In that post, I searched the tagged Greek New Testament for all indicative or imperative verbs in the book of Ephesians and then graphed the results using an Analysis Graph. The initial graph looked like this:
I then showed how you could customize the appearance of the Analysis Graph by opening the Set Analysis Graph Display dialog. Through that dialog, we reduced the number of words per hit to achieve a more detailed graph, chose an area graph rather than a bar graph, chose to overlay the two graphs rather than stacking them, and changed the background from white to black. The modified graph looked like this:
Now, the reason I'm bringing all this up again is that I want to show you how much more accessible Accordance 10 makes these various display options.
First, there is now a new slider that lets you adjust the number of words per hit and see the changes on the fly. While hits per 1000 words is a good sample size for a large search range like the entire New Testament, it is far too large a sample size for a small book like Ephesians. That is why the initial graph looks so blocky and imprecise. To see more detail, simply drag the slider to the left until you're happy with the look of the graph. Here is what it looks like with the slider set to 100 words per hit.
The new Gear menu likewise lets you set the most-used display options right from within the Graph itself, rather than having to go through a dialog box. Simply select the options you want until you achieve the desired look. Here is the resulting graph when we change from Bars to Areas, Stack to Overlay, and white background to black.
As you can see, the sample size slider and the Gear menu now make all the cool graph display options far more accessible and discoverable.
Oh, and the graphs look better too!
Last week, I blogged about how Accordance 10 tries to strike a balance between hiding lesser-used features that might add to a new user's learning curve, while still keeping them easy to find and easily within reach. Today I want to show how some of our efforts to simplify the interface have actually made many features more easily discoverable.
One example of this is the new gear icon in the top right corner of every text pane. Click this icon, and the first item you'll see is Move Up or Move Down. This option replaces the pane orientation icon that you could click to move a pane to the top or bottom of a search tab.
While selecting an item from a menu is admittedly less convenient than merely clicking an icon button, the menu item offers a clearer explanation of what you can expect to happen. What's more, the gear menu enabled us to include other pane-specific commands that had previously been available in the main menu bar (such as Set Text Pane Display… and About This Text…), as well as one new feature (Reading Mode), and an old one you may never have discovered (Auto-scroll).
Auto-scroll has been around since Accordance 7, and it has long been one of my favorite features. It basically turns Accordance into a teleprompter, slowly scrolling the text of any pane so you can read it hands-free.
By the way, here's an interesting bit of Accordance trivia for you: our lead developer actually programmed the auto-scroll feature in the exhibit hall at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco! While the rest of us were demonstrating to the conference attendees, he was quietly writing code on his laptop. When I got a break, he called me over and showed me the cool new feature he had developed right there on the floor of the Moscone Center. When it comes to improving Accordance, we don't even let a major convention slow us down!
Prior to Accordance 10, auto-scroll had to be enabled in the Preferences. To start the scrolling, you had to command-click one of the arrows of the scrollbar. Consequently, few people discovered this cool little feature. When Apple removed the arrows from the scrollbar in Lion, we had even more incentive to offer a better way to activate the feature. The new Gear menu was the obvious solution, so we put it there.
Now I think we can safely assume that more of you will discover Auto-scroll and take advantage of it, along with all the other features available through the new Gear icon.
Interface design requires finding the right balance between two often conflicting objectives. An interface is intuitive if it is easy for a new user to understand. This typically requires hiding advanced features and options which they are not likely to need. On the other hand, a program's usability typically depends on having those features and options right at one's fingertips. The more the advanced user has to go digging to find those options, the more difficult the program is for him or her to use. It is relatively easy to create an intuitive interface by hiding all but the most basic features, but the result is a program that is clumsy to use for anything beyond the basics.
I like to illustrate this difference by using the analogy of a paint-by-numbers kit and an artist's studio. The paint-by-numbers kit is intuitive. It has a few options and a clear step-by-step procedure to follow. However, for anyone beyond a rank beginner, the paint-by-numbers approach is terribly confining. The artist's studio, on the other hand, is stocked with a wide array of materials and tools, typically arranged so the artist can use them whenever his creative impulse demands. The novice sees those things and has no idea when or how to use them, but the master needs them all within easy reach.
Accordance has always been a bit like the studio of a professional artist who teaches less experienced students. In order not to overwhelm his students, he must simplify his studio to make it less confusing and intimidating. Yet in order to be able to work efficiently when he is creating his own masterpieces, he can't hide the things he needs in a closet across the room; he must keep them in a cabinet which is easily within reach. They must be hidden, yet easy to find and easily within reach.
Like that artist's studio, Accordance has always sought to keep advanced features hidden, yet close at hand. When we've had to choose between the needs of the master and those of the novice, we have tended to err on the side of the master. This has made Accordance as smooth as silk for power-users, but with a moderately steep learning curve for new users. In Accordance 10, we strove to simplify the interface for new users without unduly complicating it for experienced ones. That has meant hiding a few features and options, yet in such a way that they remain easily discoverable to new users, and easily accessible to power-users.
Here's just one example. In Accordance 9, when the Words button was selected, you had access to several important search options, such as the ability to set the range to be searched and the field in which multiple items had to appear.
The natural language prompts made them relatively easy to understand, but they took up screen real estate and gave the new user two more options to learn right away.
Those options have now been hidden, but can easily be accessed through the familiar plus button to the right of the search entry box. Click the plus button once, and you'll be given the most used option: that of setting the range. If that's not the option you want, you can easily switch to a different one. You can also click the plus button again to add a second or third option. Obviously, this means an extra click or two on those occasions when you need those options, but it greatly simplifies the interface when you don't. They're hidden, yet easy to find and easily within reach.
In the next few posts, I'll show you some other places where we hid features and options to simplify the interface, while still keeping them easy to find and easily within reach.
Accordance has always been extremely customizable, but Accordance 10 offers new ways to adjust its look and functionality to your own personal tastes. Here are a few of the new options you should be aware of.
Customize your Toolbar: The new toolbar now places a number of features and resources at your fingertips, but you can customize it by control- or right-clicking it.
The contextual menu which appears lets you choose how you want the toolbar items displayed. I prefer to use the small icon size and to display both icons and text labels. Users with small screens may want to choose the Text Only option to save on vertical space.
To customize which items are included in the Toolbar, select Customize Toolbar… from the contextual menu.
You can then drag additional items from the menu onto the toolbar, or drag items you'll never use off the Toolbar to remove them. In addition to the default set of items, I've added the Atlas, Timeline, and Search Selection items. The last of these replicates the functionality of the Search button on the old Resource palette: namely, it searches the current text or tool for any word you select.
Change the Zone color and look: Open the Preferences dialog and select Appearance from the list of settings.
You'll see a couple of options related to the appearance of zones. First, you have the option to Hide tab area if only a single tab. Check this, and whenever you only have a single tab in a zone, you will just see a thin zone title area rather than a full-blown tab.
Tabs won't appear until you open a second tab, saving vertical space in single-tab zones.
You can also customize the Active Zone Color. I prefer Dark Blue, but Molly Ringwald might prefer something like this:
You can choose from a variety of pre-selected colors, or even create a custom color.
Library Panel or Popover? Also in the Appearance settings is an option to display the Library as a popover rather than as a panel. Where opening the Library as a panel moves the other content in a Workspace to the right…
opening it as a Popover leaves everything in place and simply places the Library on top of it:
If you want to leave your Library open all the time, you'll want to open it as a panel, but if you like to leave it closed and only open it when you need it, you may find you prefer the popover interface. Whatever you select as your default, you can always choose the opposite simply by holding the Shift key down when you click the Library icon in the Toolbar.
So which of these options do you prefer? What items do you have in your toolbar? Do you always want tabs or do you like saving space when there is only one tab in a zone? Which zone color do you like best? Do you prefer the Library as a panel or popover? Do you ever switch between the two? Let us know how you've tailored Accordance 10 to your own tastes in the comments on this post.
The Accordance Construct window has been around from the very beginning. In fact, when I first saw an early prototype of Accordance way back in 1992, our lead programmer was showing how you could drag grammatical tags onto the Construct window to perform incredibly powerful searches. Accordance was the first Bible study program to offer such a graphical search interface, and it enabled students and scholars to search the original texts of the Bible without having to become experts in computer science.
Back when I first saw it, the Construct window had that simple, understated monochrome appearance of most Mac apps. Over time we added a little color, anti-aliasing, and shading, but the appearance of the Construct window never changed all that much. So as with most other aspects of the interface, we gave the Construct window a complete overhaul for Accordance 10. Now the Construct window looks as sleek and smooth as it operates.
We hope those of you who already use the Construct window will enjoy its new look. And now that it looks more inviting, we hope those of you who haven't yet taken advantage of it will give it a try.
When it came time to redesign the Accordance 10 interface, we were determined that there would be no "sacred cows" we would be unwilling to sacrifice. On the other hand, we were equally determined that we would not engage in unnecessary slaughter: that is, we saw no point in change merely for the sake of change. In every design decision, we tried to simplify, declutter, and beautify, while being careful not to fix what wasn't broken or to lose Accordance's distinct advantages.
One example of this can be found in the redesign of the Search tab. There were some previously sacred cows we sacrificed, but without sacrificing the benefits those elements were designed to provide.
One such sacred cow was the search button: the button to the right of the search entry field which you could click to perform a search. Accordance has always let you hit Enter or Return to perform a search rather than clicking the button, so the button has always been a bit superfluous. Such buttons were an interface standard when Accordance began, but over time they have disappeared, and new computer users simply know to hit the Return key.
Yet while the search button had fallen out of interface fashion, it still served a valuable function: its state offered visual feedback that you had actually performed the search. Once you clicked that button or hit Return, the button would become grayed out, and you would know that the results you saw in the display pane matched what you had entered in the search field. Once you made a change in the search entry, the button would become undimmed to indicate that you had not yet performed this new search.
We retained that button for as long as we did because we felt the visual feedback it provided was important. For Accordance 10, we decided it was time for that "sacred cow" to be sacrificed, but we still wanted a way to offer visual feedback with respect to whether a search had been performed. Eventually we decided to dim the actual words you enter rather than a separate button. So whenever the contents of the search field are changed, the text appears black. Whenever you hit Return, the text becomes gray. In this way, we removed the clutter of an extra button, while offering even stronger visual feedback than that button provided.
Another sacred cow we sacrificed was the need to enter an asterisk when searching by verses to display the entire text. This was an interface convention we had had since Accordance 1.0, and believe it or not, there really was a logical reason for it. Nevertheless, it was a requirement new users often found confusing, so we sacrificed it. Now any blank search will display all verses. Entering an asterisk with Verses selected will still work, but there is no longer any need to learn that little idiosyncrasy.
By taking a hard look at every aspect of the interface, including many that had been around since the very beginning, we significantly simplified Accordance for new users, and streamlined it for existing users. Yet we did so in a way that avoided sacrificing important functionality or visual feedback. So far, both new users and old hands have been enthusiastic about the changes.
In my previous two posts I've discussed the new zones feature of Accordance 9. Zones lets you open different kinds of Accordance resources in different areas of your workspace. But what if you find the proliferation of zones to be a little too much? On a 27-inch iMac screen, you can view a half-dozen or more zones quite comfortably. But on a thirteen-inch MacBook screen, too many zones can quickly become unwieldy. That's why we let you limit the number of zones which Accordance can open.
If you go to Preferences, the first item in the General settings lets you set the Default maximum number of zones. If you're on a MacBook, try setting this maximum to 2 zones. If you begin with your Bible text in a single zone and open a tool, that tool will be opened in a second zone. If you then open other kinds of resources, they will only appear as tabs within one of your two existing zones. They will never automatically open a third zone in your workspace.
That doesn't mean you can't create a third zone yourself. Simply drag one of the tabs in either zone to a different area of the window and you can create a third zone. Do it again and you can add as many zones as you want. The preference setting merely restricts the number of zones Accordance can create automatically.
If for some reason you open a resource which cannot be opened in any of your existing zones, Accordance will simply open a new Workspace window. For example, Search details are a special category of resource which cannot appear in a zone with other kinds of resources. So if you set your default maximum number of zones to 2 and you already have a zone for texts and a zone for tools, when you choose to display Details those will be opened in a new Workspace window rather than one of the zones of your first Workspace.
If for some reason you want Accordance 9 to function just like Accordance 8, you can simply set your Default Maximum number of zones to 1. New resources will then always open as tabs within that single zone. Even so, you can still create additional zones when you want them.
By setting the maximum number of zones Accordance can open for you, you can ensure that zones are always a help and never a hindrance. On that 27-inch iMac, you may allow for an unlimited number of zones to be opened, while on your MacBook you may restrict it to just two or three. This simple preference setting puts you in control of how zones function for you.
Yesterday I described the new Zones feature of Accordance 9. Zones are areas of a workspace which can each contain multiple tabs. You might have a zone with tabs containing Bible texts, another zone with tabs containing dictionaries, and a third with tabs containing commentaries. Or you might divide your resources among zones completely differently. Zones are designed to let you work however you like.
Today I want to explain how new zones are created and how Accordance attempts to guess which zone you're going to want a new resource to appear in. While there's no way we could anticipate every possible use of zones, we have tried to create a system which is flexible enough to adjust to your way of working.
By default, a new zone will be created for each different kind of resource you open. For example, let's say you have a workspace containing only your default Bible and you choose to open the tagged Greek New Testament (GNT-T) from the resource palette. Since you've opened a second Text module, the GNT-T will appear in a new tab within your workspace's one zone. The first time you open a new Tool module, however, a new Tools zone will appear next to the current Texts zone. If you then open other tools, such as Greek or Hebrew lexicons, commentaries, or dictionaries, those will appear as tabs within the Tools zone. Other kinds of resources, such as Maps, Timelines, or Parallels, will open in additional zones.
That's how zones and tabs within those zones are opened by default, but if you create custom zones for specific purposes, Accordance will try to utilize those zones as effectively as possible. For example, let's say you have a tools zone with two tabs: one containing Anchor Bible Dictionary (an English Tool) and another containing the New American Commentary (a Reference Tool). You decide you want your commentaries to be in a separate zone, so you grab the tab containing NAC and drag it to another area of the workspace to create a new zone. You now have one zone with Anchor and another with NAC. From that point on, any additional reference tools you open will appear as a tab in the zone containing NAC, while other kinds of tools will be opened in the zone containing Anchor. In this way, Accordance tries to open resources in the most logical zone available.
Here's another possible scenario. Let's say I combine a Greek text like the GNT-T and a Greek Tool like BDAG in the same zone. From that point on, any Greek Text or Tool I open will appear as additional tabs in that Greek Resources zone.
In short, when you open a new resource in Accordance 9, Accordance looks at the available zones to see which one is the best fit for that kind of resource. And the logic is flexible enough to consider various ways of grouping resources: by resource type, by language, or by some combination thereof. Knowing this, you can hone your use of zones so that new resources open right where you want them.