Mark Coleran has created the user interfaces for cool gadgets in movies for years. His futuristic designs have been used in movies such as Mission Impossible 3, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and The Island. Now he’s used his talents to design a new kind of software program for Ottawa, Canada startup GridIron that makes it easy for people to find files within complex projects.
The company’s shipping its visual workflow software, Flow, today. Coleran’s influence shows in the unique user interface that makes it easy for creative professionals to do their work and file it away in a system that gives them lots of visual cues about how the files are interconnected. Coleran says it lets people see, access and share all of their files on a creative process using a drag-and-drop visual interface.
GridIron’s decision to hire Coleran is an enlightened approach to a hard problem. Software coders make software, but it’s really the user interface designers like Coleran who are closer to what delights users. In a way, designers such as Coleran are becoming more important than the coders when it comes to making software that is simple and easy to use, yet not simplistic and lacking depth. It may seem crazy to hire someone who knows more about science fiction than he does about software, but Coleran is the kind of person you want to make sure that your software is connecting with everyday users.
Coleran says he admires the creativity in the 2002 film Minority Report, in which actor Tom Cruise controls a computer in a 3-D space by using his hands to move objects around on a screen. The vision in that sci-fi movie led directly to the creation of gesture-based user interfaces, such as Jeff Han’s touch-based flat-panel computers, which were used by CNN on election day to visually display voting results.
Coleran designed clever user interfaces in films such as The Island. But those weren’t as challenging as real-life software because there was one critical difference: the stuff in the films had to look good but didn’t have to work. His real life software had to be fully functional, which sometimes meant trading off design and function.
Coleran believes you can convey something complex without making the software incredibly complex to use. GridIron Flow is designed to reduce the maddening searches users have to go through when they can’t remember where they placed a certain file. You can track files associated with a project no matter where it is stored or who is working on it. A feature dubbed Share Maps lets creative professionals look at the same workflow map across a network. It automatically keeps track of versions of a file so everyone knows who worked on a file last and what changes they made.
More than 10,000 professionals have been using the software since it began beta testing in February. The company says creative professionals can use it to get a lot more done in a lot less time, while still using older software packages they’re already familiar with. They can directly access GridIron Flow from software such as Adobe Creative Suite 4. The software sells for $299 for a single user and $399 for three. You can buy it on the company’s web site. If it takes off, then the wisdom of hiring people like Coleran, who come at product design from a non-traditional view, will be clear.
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