Category Archives: Technology

The Midnight Lunch: My favourite apps for busy consultants

toddler apps by jenny downing, on Flickr

A few people have commented to me recently on the number of apps on my iphone and ipad or have told me they are unsure how to use their ipad for business and which apps to use. So I have put together my recommendations – and most of them are around organsing yourself, communication and business rather than specifically interior design or architecture – and so are equally useful for engineers, real estate or project management professionals.   While I’m talking specifically ipad as thats the platform I use, most of these apps are available android as well.  Where I’ve mentioned them, prices are the USD prices on the itunes store.  You will notice I’veexcluded all the social media apps from this post.  While social media and apps go very much together, I am writing my next post as a follow up to go into more more detail about social media for designers and architects.

Evernote is one of my favourite apps for so many things. Evernote is designed as a digital notebook library. You keep notes in notebooks. Notebooks can be sorted out into groups to easily separate them. Notes can be words, images taken with your device camera, snippets captured from the web or even recordings. The notes can be tagged and can be searched for words they contain (think like having google for your notebook). You can share notebooks and you can have a business account too. You can have Evernote on all your devices and on your desktop PC, and you can access it via the web. Supposedly (and I would agree  having experienced this), Evernote gets more useful the more you have stored there – because you really then benefit from its power to find things. I use Evernote with a premium subscription (for more space) for work, blogging and research and personally too (its great for your tax return). A great example of how I use it for work is an event like InDesign, a big trade show. During the day I take photos and make notes for each suppliers showroom or stand I visit. I tag the notes with “lounge”, “planting”, “lighting” and things like that. Later in the office when I am looking for planting ideas, I can filter the notes by tag and find all the notes I have made (in the past 2 years!) related to planting ideas. It’s amazing. If you want to know more, there are some great books out there plus lots of blogs, websites etc with tips. If you are really interested in how I am using it, let me know – I could easily write a whole post on it.

Evernote Hello
So I’m not quite finished with Evernote yet. There are a large number of apps that work alongside Evernote for added functionality and one I use is Evernote Hello. Hello allows you to scan and store your business cards as records in your Evernote account. You can make notes on where you met people and add links to their social media at the same time as you add them into the app. You can search within the Hello app or later in Evernote. Because you can make notes and in Evernote you can add reminders, you can also use it as a basic client relationship management software.

Remember the Milk
One feature I don’t use much in Evernote is the reminders. This is because for many years (even before iphone) I have used Remember the Milk. Like Evernote its available on multiple platforms (However only with the ability to sync between them all if you pay for a premium subscription), you can also share lists (I haven’t personally tried this feature). RTM allows you to create multiple lists (for example I have one for work and one for personal, plus a few more specific ones), set prioritys and deadline times, send reminders (you phone moos!) and set location. It can now also be linked to Evernote (I just set this up yesterday) as well as google, outlook and a whole host of other platforms.

I spent ages looking for an excel app and tried at least half a dozen. My advice – give up and go tablet native with Numbers, Apples own spreadsheet app. It costs $10.49 but its worth it. Its so easy to navigate, creating and formating spreadsheets is so much easier with this app than with the apps that try to mimic your PC. And compatibility with Excel seems to be pretty good, I’ve been using some pretty complex spreadsheets back and forth and they seem to be OK (Formatting, formulas and multiple sheets included).

Dragon Dictation
This is an awesome app. Turn your iphone into a dictaphone, as as you record it types. Its not 100% accurate, but its not bad. I use it sometimes for blogging and also on site for recording defects.

This is my go to for a PDF reader, there are free ones, but at $5.49 I have been happy to pay for the extra functionality and useability of Goodreader – I’ve been using it for over 2 years now. It opens up your PDFs, allows you to sort them into folders and annotate them. One thing I like is that your PDFs in Goodreader are stored on your device, not on the cloud, so you don’t need wifi to open them up. I use this for everything from drawings, to meeting minutes, to programs. The day I realised my ipad was super useful for work beyond just the internet, was when I sat in an airport lounge marking up drawings that had just been emailed to me. I use a stylus pen for marking up in goodreader.

OneDrive and Dropbox
I have both – too much cloud strorage is never enough. Both OneDrive and Dropbox allow you to store your files in the cloud instead of on your hard drive. You can download the apps to access your files from your mobile devices and you can install on your PC to save files directly to the cloud. Both give you a certain amount of free storage with bonus storage available by installing apps, recommending to friends or purchasing a premium subscription.

Flipboard and Feedly
Flipboard and Feedly are both RSS readers with beautiful magazine style formatting. This means you can add all the blogs you follow as well as online magazines and social media.  The app has built in recommendations you can pick from too (for example under Architecture Arch Daily).  The app then builds you a magazine with a mix of articles from your selected sites. Flipboard gives you a separate magazines for each feed (site) which I don’t like (it used to be able to integrate with Googlereader to give you one magazine only). I just went back to Feedly again which seems to have developed a bit more since I originally joined last year and I’m going to see how that goes.

Project Management Systems – Acconex, Conject etc
They seem to be something we all have to live with these days. For me personally being on the interior design side, I find PM systems seem to be a lot of work with very little project benefit, but hopefully the PMs get some benefits out if them. Anyway most of the systems have an app,so that at a minimum you can read and send messages on the go. The Aconex app for ipad seems to have pretty full functionality, I am able to upload documents while I am out an about.

This is a great little scanning app – it works better than a photo because it takes 3 photos and adjusts out the fuzziness and converts it to a PDF.  I find it worth the $2.99 I paid.

This app allows you to run your PowerPoints from your ipad. You can choose if you want to view your slides full screen or with speaker notes and you can set it up also on your phone and use your phone to control the slides remotely. Whilst there were no compatibility issues with displaying PowerPoint, you can’t edit PowerPoints on this app. Maybe I will have to switch to keynote…

Bluebeam Vu
I haven’t personally used this app but one of the guys in the office has assured me it’s awesome for defects. You can take photos, annotate them and link the to locations on a PDF of the floor plan. Bluebeam Vu is free and then you can upgrade to Bluebeam Revue (not sure what the features for that are)  It’s the next app I’ll be testing.

I have had a kindle for ages, however when I first bought it there were a lot of architecture and design books I would still buy in hard copy – black and white for images was not really worthwhile. However, now I get these books delivered to my ipad and read them using the kindle app. It syncs with your kindle and your amazon account and the images look great on ipad.

This app allows you to remotely view your PC screen. Create an account, Install it on your PC and on your ipad and you can view your PC screen on your ipad. Pretty cool…but clunky to use. Good really for quick changes to word documents or emailing or moving files to the cloud. Free for personal use.

Facetime and Skype
Especially if you need to contact people overseas, both Facetime and Skype are great simple to use apps for making video calls over the web. Yes, sometimes they drop out – but hey it’s free.

Unroll me
This is not an app but it’s a super useful service I discovered recently. You sign up and it scans your email account for subscription services. Then you choose which ones to “roll up” into a daily digest, and at the same time, easily unsubscribe from any you don’t want anymore. It then sends you one email per day at a time of your choosing for all your ‘rolled up’ emails.  I have all my linkedin subscription emails arrive just before breakfast instead of getting 20 or more scattered throughout the day.

So there you have it – my favourite apps. I’m always on the look out for new ones, what are your favourite apps to use to keep you working whilst out and about or make your work life easier?

P.S. Come Out to (Midnight) Lunch. Meet fellow The Midnight Lunch readers at an informal industry event to be held next Friday 11 April from 5.30pm at Chicane bar in Sydney (10-20 Bond St). Email me at if you are interested in attending or just turn up on the day.  Note the event is not sponsered, buy your own drinks and food. 


Image Credits:

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  jenny downing 

Social media – design collaboration via digital means?

Water cooler by Jason Pratt, on FlickrIn my last role I used to spend a lot of time working with remote teams – often remote from me and sometimes from each other. Over time I realised that one of the biggest challenges in working this way was the lack of informal “overheard” conversations. For example I might be briefing one person in the team on a task but start talking generally about how the meeting I had that day went, someone else in the team sitting near by might overhear and join the conversation with a new idea. This lack of proximity and informal collaboration is also a traditional problem in the relationship between interior designers or architects and engineers. The question is, is it possible to replicate this casual form of interaction digitally?

Social media is frequently described as the new water cooler, just one recent example can be found here. HP’s internal social media platform was also called WaterCooler.  Although I have to say – the image I found looks just the opposite doesn’t it – and I’ve always found coffee to be more popular than water! Regardless of your drink preference, is social media the current or future digital means for casual work interactions and collaboration though?

Personally, I found social media useful on certain occasions – I became the first person in my company to post my redundancy on yammer the internal network – for me this meant a lot of people found out in hours rather than weeks (and I also had posted personal contact details).  However on a day to day basis it wasn’t a tool I used extensively. I found instant messaging to be much more useful, but the limitation is that it is generally a one on one conversation. The guy that sits next to me can’t overhear and put his 2 cents in (this privacy is in fact often becomes the reason people chose messaging as the means of communication).

However, I still don’t believe that social media can completely replace the informal, overheard, in person element of communication. Firstly by typing something into a social media site it is much more of a deliberate sharing action. Secondly I find that people are less likely to respond. If I speak to you in person or on the phone you are more likely to say something than in front of a large meeting. If I instant message you rather than email you, you are more likely to respond partially because of that annoying flashing but also just social convention. If I post something on social media (or to this blog!) it has become a combination of email and the large meeting – for most of us it becomes too public, too deliberate and just too much effort to respond with a comment. Perhaps partially because we know that if we start commenting on everything we will be there all day – and maybe no one will notice – unlike if we spend all day at the water cooler or coffee shop!

I think the issue of informal communications and collaborations remains a challenge to be solved in order to fully realize the benefits of working remotely and globally. I started to think about the part that videoconferencing could play in this and then I came across this suggestion:

“One fix, he suggested, could be a screen set up in your office space that shows a colleague who is working somewhere else. It could enable the types of informal conversations that often lead to fruitful ideas, and maybe “frost up and go into privacy mode” when that person takes a meeting or a phone call.”

This came from yet another blog on the workplace of the future, but its certainly the first time I’ve seen this suggestion (and I do have quite a lot of time to read blogs right now…hey its research for you right?)

I started thinking about this one, maybe this means the whole office will become like a giant telepresence room where half the office is a mirror image of somewhere else. Or maybe through one window we see one place (say Perth) and through another we see another place (the engineers down the road). For anyone not familiar with telepresence – right now its typically limited to meeting rooms.  Traditionally you have 2 identical rooms, each one is only half a table though, the other side is a video screen. Its still pretty expensive so not that commonly installed. The technology has been around since about 2006 but doesn’t seem to have made much impact – probably due to the cost and the need for the 2 identical locations.

Today I found another alternative on – that holograms will be the next big thing.  (though I do admit this was posted to you tube in 2010 so obviously I’m behind the times)
Maybe we all sit in different places but have our holograms working in a shared project office?  This hologram would seem to have more potential as an architectural or engineering collaboration tool. because not only can we share ourselves, we can share our models as holograms too.

All of this moves away from social media as a solution, and back towards physical solutions – even if they are driven by technology, they are still attempting to replicate a physical environment. Do we need a physical environment to collaborate best or is social media already taking over and replacing this? Will this perhaps change as the workplace demographics change?

What is your experience worth social media in the workplace? Do you think social media is the new water cooler? What are your success stories (or horror stories) of using social media for collaboration in interior design or architecture? Do you want your engineers (or interior designers or architects) right there with you? If we were having this conversation in person would you comment?

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