Reimagine Learning

QA Points of View

Svend

by Svend on Mar 16, 2012 12:54:48 PM

This week, we're going to look through the eyes of our Senior Quality Assurance Analyst, Svend. Whether you work in a QA role, manage projects, or own a business, we know that you will benefit from considering these tips.

When testing a piece of software at either the Alpha or Beta stage, it is important to keep certain questions in mind. These questions will help you identify areas where you can improve the software and should be asked alongside a standard quality assurance testing pass.

1. Client Point of View:

  • Will the software satisfy the goals in the Statement of Work?
  • Will the software satisfy the client personally?
  • Has the client been prepped for the release so that they will have realistic expectations?

2. End User Point of View:

  • Is the software easy to use?
  • Any confusing areas? If so, where are they located?
  • How could the user experience be improved?
  • Is the software useful/educational/fun for the user?

3. Purchaser Point of View:

  • What could be added to increase the likelihood that someone will purchase the software over a competitor’s product?
  • In the case of educational software, what features would be eye-catching for the teachers/school districts/publishers who purchase the software for the end users?

4. Company Point of View:

  • Is this software suitable for the company portfolio?
  • If not, what could be added to make it so?

These are all questions that should be asked whenever you test software for your company. It is most useful to ask these questions at the Alpha and Beta stages, as changes made at Gold are usually far more expensive to accommodate.

Until next time,

-Svend

Topics: Blog, QA, Technique of the Week

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An Overview of Photoshop's Brush Tool

Jackie

by Jackie on Feb 17, 2012 8:06:48 AM

Many working artists nowadays use Adobe Photoshop to create digital paintings and illustrations. This week, we will be exploring the Brush Tool and its various options.

Photoshop’s Brush Tool seems simplistic at first glance. You choose a color for your brush using the color palette or color picker. As for the shape of the brush, Photoshop provides plenty of brush presets for shapes and effects that you can choose from in the Brush Preset Picker. You could also make your own brushes or download brushes online, but we will not be covering this right now.

 

In the Brush Preset Picker window, you will notice two sliders. One is to adjust the brush size. The other is to adjust the hardness of the brush. Changing this slider determines how hard of an edge the brush has. A hardness of 0% gives your brush a soft, feathered look.

Next, we will discuss Mode. The Mode works just like your layer Blend Modes; changing the bMode makes the brush apply color using that mode. For example, if you change from a “Normal” mode to “Multiply”, your brush will apply a “Multiply” effect to the canvas.

The Opacity and Flow sliders sit next to the Mode menu. Opacity is self-explanatory - the less opacity, the more see-through the brush will be within a stroke. Changing the Flow effects the rate at which your brush produces color during the stroke. It can be difficult to differentiate Flow from Opacity, so it’s best to think of Flow like you’re applying multiple layers of thin paint within a stroke as you go over already painted canvas.

You will notice a button next to the Flow slider that looks like an airbrush. When activated, the brush will slowly produce color while you hold down for a stroke - just like an airbrush! You can use the Flow slider to help control this.

PRO TIP: The Brush Size, Hardness, Opacity, and Flow options can all be change using keyboard shortcuts! The use of these shortcuts allows you to complete your work quickly and efficiently. Use the square brackets [ ] to change Brush Size. Hold down the Shift key while pressing the brackets to adjust the Hardness. The number keys will change your Opacity to that percentage (Press “5” to get “50%.” Press “5” twice quickly to get “55%.”). Hold down Shift while pressing the number keys to adjust the Flow. If you are in Airbrush Mode, the Opacity and Flow shortcuts will change so Flow is changed without use of the Shift key. The Brush Tool grows in complexity with even more options in the Brush Window. Here you will find a bunch of additional adjustable qualities, including roundness of the brush, the angle of the brush, cool effects like Noise and Wet Edges, and more. If you have a pressure sensitive tablet, this is where you can make these qualities react to the pen pressure.

I will not go over all of these options here, but it is worth playing around with them yourself to get a feel for how they all work. Here is a showcase of some different brush effects:

If you are interested in learning more in-depth information about the Brush Tool, leave a comment! We’d be happy to hear from you! Until next time, Jackie

Topics: Blog, Technique of the Week, Art, Tutorial

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Do You Have Klout?

admin

by admin on Jan 27, 2012 2:21:02 PM

Klout, one of the more recent and prominent additions to the social space, is a network worth checking out.

Another social network-- I know what you are thinking. Hear me out.

Klout is unique in that it attempts to determine your social influence across a myriad of other social networks. Each user is assigned a Klout score between 1 and 100 based on their total influence, as determined by Klout. The more social networks you connect to your Klout profile, the higher your score (theoretically) grows. Options include everything from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to Flickr, Tumblr and Instagram. A recent update to the algorithms behind Klout improved ability to measure interactivity within each of these networks.

A score analysis breakdown measures three specific metrics:

  • True Reach: the number of people you influence, within immediate and extended networks
  • Amplification: how much you influence others
  • Network: how much influence your network has

Think of Klout as the digital cousin of your real-life network of friends and associates. How well you are networked depends not only on your personal network, but also the reach of your contacts, the friends of those individuals, and so forth.

Your personal Klout profile even has an engagement style, just like the real you. Do you mostly observe, cultivate conversation within a tight-knit community, or broadcast information to a wide network of people? Your social profile is important, and should be cultivated to be something that you are proud to have tied to your name.

Become influential about various topics (keywords) and get rewarded with fun perks tied to your expertise. Klout picks up on your conversation and interaction with these words, which generates a fluid, evolving list of topics. Topic lists aren't perfect, of course. I've seen firsthand how tweeting about something not related to your expertise at all can sometimes curiously spark a plethora of subsequent @replies (and engaged conversation!) and thus add that topic to your list. The good thing is, those you influence can give you Klout (+K) to steer your profile toward accuracy. Or, of course, you can (+K) that oddball topic that somehow appeared on your friend's topic list and watch hilarity ensue.

Are you intrigued yet? Hop on over to Klout and get connected.

Signing off, Emma (Specialist, 48)

What's your score?

Topics: Blog, Social Media, Technique of the Week

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The Value of Twitter Chats

admin

by admin on Jan 20, 2012 12:48:20 PM

Remember message boards? In many ways, they were the predecessor to twitter chats.

If you're already on twitter, you should be familiar with hashtags, designated by placing a '#' symbol before a word or string of text. Do you use them? How often do you click on threads to see what others are saying? Not only can you find yourself deep in a whirl of conversational pings, but using hashtags to involve yourself in conversation is a smart way to network. Individuals and organizations alike can also more easily discover you.

The opportunity exists to cultivate your own community through participation in twitter chats. You can engage your followers to sign on at a given kick off time, simply share their thoughts, and (of course!) add in the chosen hashtag. Often your feed can become cluttered with a plethora of topics, which can be distracting when you want to hone in on something specific. By clicking on the chat hashtag, a streamlined feed will display a real-time progression of the conversation as it unfolds. Nearly every conference and major event carries an official hashtag. If you're unable to attend in person, following the stream of chat from attendees and live bloggers is a great way to participate. For popular events, dozens of updates will flow in by the second. Lively indeed.

If you are eager to give it a try, and at a bit of a loss where to dive in, start with your favorite field. For instance, a popular way to plug into what is currently happening in education? Check out #edchat to see what is happening in the educational sphere.

Also fun to take a peek at: this Twitter Chat Schedule contains a (growing) list of hundreds of current, regularly scheduled chats that you can participate in.

A feature recently rolled in the latest release of twitter, the #Discover tab at the top of the screen. Top trending stories are featured, with links to the news source and a feed of current tweets. (There is quite a bit more to this tab that does not pertain to the topic of this post, so let's save that for another time.) Meanwhile, check us out on twitter. Looking forward to chatting!

Until next time,

Emma


 

Topics: Blog, Social Media, Technique of the Week

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Line Art: An Adobe Illustrator Tutorial

Jackie

by Jackie on Jan 13, 2012 10:43:18 AM

Happy New Year from Second Avenue! After taking a couple of weeks to enjoy the end of the year holidays and festivities, we are back with another Technique of the Week. In this installment, we will be returning to the creative side with tips on how to create a black and white line art piece using Adobe Illustrator. (NOTE: You should be familiar with the Pen Tool prior to following this tutorial.)

The use of line art can be an effective technique depending on the type of look you are going for in a piece. Its stark contrast makes for a striking appearance that puts emphasis on the edges and form of your subject. Since line art provides a lot of clarity, it is a style that is often used for educational or informational artwork. Using this technique in Adobe Illustrator allows you to maintain full control of line width and shape, creating a very crisp look to your artwork.

For this example, I found this photo of an African elephant and will be making a line art piece of its head. The wrinkles will provide for an interesting result. When preparing an image for reference, you should keep in mind that a higher resolution will allow you to include more detail.

We will begin by placing the reference image onto the art board. If you do not know how to do this, simply go to File > Place... and a file browser will pop up, allowing you to choose which file you want to place. I generally keep this image in a separate layer from my line art and lock the layer once it is all set. If your reference image is ever in the way of your line art creation, you can try altering the opacity in the Transparency Panel to make things more clear.

 

 

After placing our image, make a new layer for your paths. I organized my layers according to region of the elephant, but it’s up to you how you would like to organize your paths.

It’s time to make art! We will be using the Pen Tool (No Fill, black stroke of varying weight) and Selection Tools exclusively for this. Take your pen tool and start tracing the outer parts of your reference, beginning the path from one end of the line you want to create. After you are completed with the outer line work, start tackling the inner details in the same fashion, using a thinner line weight.

 

Here is what we have so far, sans reference. It’s rather... flat. We can help fix this by varying the weight of the strokes. When doing this, keep in mind that the thicker strokes should be used for objects closer to the viewer, shadowed areas, and outer line work while the inner details, farther objects, and lighter parts should be a thinner width.

 

Before the Stroke Change
And After!

 

The result is not perfect, but it is an improvement. Unfortunately, the lines are still looking a bit blocky and the piece isn’t very clean yet. Assuming your strokes are close to the final width you would like them to be, it’s time to start refining the line work with some tapering and smoothing. In this part, we will be making good use of the nifty command known as Outline Stroke.

Before we go on to the next step, I highly recommend duplicating all of your artwork layers because you will not be able to go back to your original strokes once you use the Outline Stroke command on them. If you are ready, select the path you would like to work with first and select Object > Outline Stroke.

 

 

You can see the results above. The stroke of the path is now its own shape. We can use the anchor points of this new shape to morph the stroke.

If you are working with an organic form or a form where the lines represent a flowing shape, I recommend tapering all of the ends of your lines. This technique will get rid of the block-like feel of your original lines most effectively. There are a couple ways you can go about doing this.

Before Tapering
After Tapering

 

For almost all of my lines, I use the method pictured above. I completely deleted one of the end anchor points from the path by left-clicking on the point with the Pen Tool. One point is remaining to cap off the line, making the line appear tapered rather than chopped at the end. Note that your lines will not usually come out looking clean like in this example and the path will most likely need further tweaking.

Another method, which I used for the tusk detail lines, is to Average the two end points. You can do this by selecting the two points and selecting Object > Path > Average... (Alt + Ctrl + Join on Windows). This will bring up a window that will ask how you want to average the points. Choose “Both” so the points meet up with each other and the line will appear tapered. This method is a little quicker, but I do not like it as much as the previous method since there are multiple points to deal with if you want to edit the shape further.

 

 

To help bring the line work together, I use the Pathfinder Panel to Unite intersecting lines. To do this, you must have this panel open (Window > Pathfinder). Select the two shapes you would like to be united and click the top-left button. This will combine the shapes into one path.

Before Uniting Paths

 

After Uniting Paths

Now that the paths are combined, you can either leave them, or smooth out the shape and create the effect of an implied shadow as explained below.

In the area you would like to edit, add anchor points to either side of point you would like to smooth out as shown above. Delete the middle anchor point at the intersection by left-clicking the point with the Pen Tool. This will smooth out the intersection as well as create an implied shadow effect. You will probably want to clean this up, as simply deleting the middle anchor point will not be enough in most cases.

 

Before Editing
Adding Points...

 

After Editing

Continue to edit your line work using these techniques until the entire piece is complete. Always keep in mind how wide your lines should be depending on the placement and how the light is hitting the object.

Here is my final result! Don’t be afraid to experiment a little with colors as well.

Until next time,

Jackie

Topics: Blog, Technique of the Week, Art, Tutorial

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Are You Connected?

admin

by admin on Dec 22, 2011 9:33:09 AM

This week, we're thinking social. That is, the importance of plugging into the social media sphere. We'll delve deeper into specific platforms here on the blog in future installments, but for now we'll keep it high level.

Where to start? An important first step (before you debate the merits of facebook versus twitter) is to determine your primary audience. Find your niche. It's possible to participate in the social realm both as a contributor and an active listener. The most successful participants find a balance between roles. Typically, it's easiest to talk about your own interests-- but the best connections often derive from engaging with others.

Who do you wish to reach? What message will you bring? It's absolutely worth spending some time brainstorming about your goals. Even if that goal is as simple as integrating with members of a given community-- K-12 education, technology, or whatever else that might be.

Think about your tone. Would you want to engage with yourself, if you came across your own profile? Perhaps the most important consideration of all is to be true to your own voice. The beauty and appeal of social networks is that they show personality, that human touch. Your voice will become your personal (or professional) brand.

So, brainstorm. And then dive on in.

Next up, we'll talk Twitter (in the meantime, check us out here!)

-Emma

 

 

Topics: Blog, Social Media, Technique of the Week

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Technique of the Week: A Festive Art Tutorial

Steve

by Steve on Dec 15, 2011 2:46:35 PM

'Technique of the Week' is an ongoing series where the art and development teams here at Second Avenue will dish out some quick, useful, and hopefully fun tips and techniques. We will try and provide some insight on the skills that allow us to realize our projects or observations about works that inspire us creatively.

With this being the inaugural 'Technique of the Week' post, I wanted to kick things off with the infinitely useful skill of crafting custom holiday wrapping paper. Okay, well-- the practical part of this is making a seamless pattern with custom characters and designs. This work flow will let you make quirky and fun patterns that are great for fabrics, print designs, and in this case: wrapping paper.

Let's dive in.

I used Adobe Illustrator to create my pattern, however any graphic editing tool can be used in conjunction with hand drawings as well as digital ones.

First, I made a few characters.

 

Try and implement color and shape diversity to break things up, as this will make the end product more interesting. I also made up a few smaller elements to spice up some of the white space and fill out the final result.

Once you have your designs built, set up a perfect square. I went with 400x400 for this exercise.

Behold, a square.

I like to populate the edges first. This is where elements are going to be cut off and need to be aligned to ensure seamless repetition.


I placed my Santa on the left edge and will need to duplicate him and align him along the x-axis so that he will be cut off on the exact same spot on the opposite side of the square. The best way to achieve this is to look at where the first instance is located on the axis, and then use the transform box to position the duplicate.

We know that the square is 400x400 pixels, therefore we need to move the duplicate Santa over exactly 400 pixels in the x-axis.

 


Located in the top right of Illustrator, the transform box allows you to manually position or scale the selected item based on its registration point. In this instance, I changed the x- axis box from 0 to 400. Exact positioning is necessary for a seamless pattern. Use the x and y-axis boxes to ensure that everything is in line.

Double Santa all the way!

Next, start to place your other elements around the border.

 

Finish your composition making sure to use the smaller elements to fill in where the pattern might start to break apart.

 

Once you have everything how you want it, we can make this into a pattern.

Duplicate the box and paste it on top of all your elements. Delete the original box that is on the bottom layer.

 

 

 

Use your cursor to select everything. Go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make.

Name your pattern in the box that pops up, and hit OK.

Now, a square will remain with the pattern area defined by the mask. The background will be transparent if you deleted the original square.

Almost there!

Select the masked square and go to Edit> Define Pattern.

 

 

Name your new pattern in the pop up box (leave all other settings the same) and hit OK!

If you look in the Swatches palette, your pattern will be there.

Create a new shape of any size and scale you want, and then select your new custom palette from the swatches.

It should apply to the shape and have a transparent background. The reason I like to give it transparency is because now that you have the pattern, you can duplicate the shape and place it underneath the original, and then fill the new shape with any color. This allows for quick and easy color manipulation.

 

 

Now you have a great custom pattern that you can have printed and use for giving your gifts that extra personal touch!

 

-Steve

 

 

 

Topics: Blog, Technique of the Week, Art, Tutorial

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