Learning Illustrator

I’m finding Adobe Illustrator to be quite inefficient and hard to learn. In comparison to Inkscape or Xara, Illustrator seems to require more keystrokes for similar tasks, and the GUI feels very picky about where I click. It is hard to explain, other than to say my mouse hand gets very sore when using Illustrator. I spend a lot more time very precisely trying to move the mouse to the right location, which is very tiring.

Today, I wanted to learn how to adjust Illustrator’s default marquee selection mechanism. In other drawing tools I’ve used, you drag a rectangle around a part of the drawing to select objects. The tool then selects whatever objects are completely enclosed in the rectangle.

Illustrator is different, however. Instead of selecting enclosed objects, it selects every object you touch with the rectangle. When I make comics, this is a constant irritation. I find myself dragging around a character’s whiskers, for example, and his whole head ends up selected. So then I have to painstakingly Shift-Click on other objects to de-select. This comes up repeatedly, and contributes to my hand getting so damn sore with Illustrator.

I’m not the only one to notice this behavior:

Another baffling omission in the product: A way to select multiple objects when they’re amidst others, by NOT having the marquee select everything it touches. There should be an option to select only the objects that are fully enclosed by the selection rectangle.

Corel Draw has always offered this, and in practice I never needed to turn it off. I can’t think of another UI feature that enhanced productivity more. What are Illustrator users doing as a workaround? Shift-clicking on things one at a time? Tedious and omission-prone!

I assumed this was a configuration option that I could switch, but as I learned, there is no way to change the behavior!

For now, I think the best workaround is to use layers more heavily. There are also some scripts that provide a way to de-select partially selected objects, though this requires digging through some menus for each selection, or setting up a custom keystroke (and remembering it).

Maybe I should switch to Windows 7 so I can use Xara. Or Linux so I can use Inkscape. I’m very frustrated that all of my favorite tools require specific operating systems. ** update: Unless one is willing to suffer with a less-than-ideal port, which I am not. **

Scrollbar Improvements

I think I saw this on Digg a few weeks ago…or perhaps somewhere else. Anyway, I think this is a great idea:

Popup Scrollbar Concept Demo

It seems to address some very obvious limitations of scrollbars, I like the little triangle when the “thumb” gets down to 1 pixel, and I like that it’s easier to grab quickly with the mouse without having to very precisely point at the exact right spot. I suspect that GUIs supporting quick gestures are a lot more productive than GUIs requiring super precise pointing and clicking.

I do not have time to work on this, but I wonder if anyone out there is interested in putting together a Swing implementation of this component?

Next question…is this component a new innovation, or is this something that already exists, for instance, in OSX or some other GUI toolkit?

Flash Usability Tragedy

The My Coke Rewards site features one of the worst examples of keyboard navigation I have ever seen. Their Flash GUI is painfully slow, focus jumps randomly from field to field, and it is rife with what appear to be threading bugs. Entering codes from bottle caps starts with this dialog:

My Coke Rewards

I played a bit with this dialog and discovered the following:

  • After typing the code, I can click somewhere else in the GUI. Now, when I click in the field again, the cursor jumps to position 0.
  • If I use the keyboard to move the cursor to a new location, and then click somewhere with the mouse, the cursor jumps back to the previous location. No matter where I click in the field, after a few moments the cursor mysteriously jumps back to the old location.
  • I hit Tab once, and nothing happened. Hit Tab again, and focus moved to the Done button. Wait a moment, and Done loses focus. Now I cannot see which field has focus.
  • Click in the code field again. Now the cursor again jumps to position 0, NOT where I clicked. Press Tab once and all of the text in the field is selected, hit Tab again and focus jumps to the Submit button. After less than a second, Submit loses focus.
  • Now I click in the code field and start hitting Tab. The focus order appears completely random if I keep hitting Tab: Help, “nothing”, “Select All”, Submit, Help, Help, Done, “Select All”, etc. It is complete nonsense, hard to explain without showing a video of some sort. It just randomly jumps from field to field.
  • After all this tabbing, now Submit doesn’t even work. But if I click Submit again, it accepts my code and grants 3 points. But wait…the code is still there. So I submit again, and get another 3 points. But several seconds later, an error dialog appears.

This is a huge company with nearly unlimited resources. This site is the centerpiece of a hugely expensive ad campaign. Yet…they can’t even make fundamental keyboard navigation work. These are not subtle bugs, either. They aren’t even close to correct.

I don’t get it.