Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Zoom Smarter, Not Harder

Here's what's new in the latest Gigantt showcase.

Navigation Panel

I've added a navigation panel to the top of the page. It shows you where you are in the plan and how you got there. It also lets you jump up to "parent" items.

Details Panel
A details panel shows extra information for each item that's in focus. 
This is a bit of a break from the initial design that tried to display every related piece of information about an item inline. Inlining is cool, but after trying out a few alternatives I think this is the right direction to go. This clears up the graph area which makes it easier to visualize relationships between items.
In the future this panel will also let you specify resource allocation (i.e. who does what), show conversations people have about the item, history, attachments and more.
Also, there'n an awesome new logo for Gigantt.

Smarter Zoom

The user-interface is now truly infinitely zoomable. This means the UI works just as smoothly and as fast when you have 10,000 items in your work plan as when you have 100. This is achieved by "streaming" the relevant parts of the work plan to the UI for display, instead of displaying the whole thing as one huge scaled interface.
Instead of free-hand zoom this showcase tries a different approach: double-click to zoom into an item and click [Up] to go back. I think it's much more efficient and easier to navigate.

So, what are you waiting for? Go check it out.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Robbing three casinos at once

A few weeks ago I watched the movie Ocean's Eleven a few times and spent a whole night writing down the plot's entire plan as a work-graph in Freemind. The result was a not-so-big graph (around 170 vertices), but when you try to view it all in one screen you get this:

I chose this particular plan because it illustrates a few problems with current planning tools.

Notice it's not such a big plan. 170 work-items, when each item measures in hours, is about two weeks' worth of work for a small team. Yet when you try to visualize it all in one screen you get a mess. Granted, Freemind isn't exactly designed to do this, and there are other tools that do a slightly better job at laying out graphs. But these tools don't allow you to write down and edit your plan as easily as mind-mapping tools like Freemind do.

The same plan in MS Project looks like this:

A bit less messy, but still: you can't really make out the text; the connecting lines overlap and you can't tell what depends on what; and if you zoom in you have to scroll the screen four times just to view the whole plan. And editing? Forget about it. Writing down the initial plan in Freemind took me 1-2 hours, but doing the same in MS Project was just impossible. I just couldn't do it.

And what if the plan had 1700 steps, instead of 170? Both of these tools would have failed spectacularly.

Now here's the same plan in Gigantt. Click any item to zoom into it, or use the mouse wheel. By zooming in on each level of the plan you maintain your 2D orientation and you're not lost in the details. 

What's missing? A lot. Obviously, it still doesn't show connecting lines between items. And of course it's read-only. But with time I'm going to add the ability to edit the graph as conveniently as you would a mind-map. But that's all in future showcases. Right now you can just have fun zooming around this skeleton of a Gigantt plan and hopefully be impressed by how difficult it is to rob three casinos at once.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Logo Design Contest is Over

The logo design contest I launched a week ago on 99 Designs has ended, and it's time to choose the winning design. I'm going for something that will convey some of the key aspects of Gigantt: zooming-in on a huge fractal graph that represents a work plan. I asked designers to create logos that capture these ideas. I mostly got logos that play on the letter G.

I got about 70 designs; about 10 good ones. Out of these, I chose the top seven that I actually see myself choosing and now I'm asking you to go ahead and vote for the winning design. The more people do, the better choice I can make.

So, what are you waiting for. Go vote.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Showcase 0.2

I think it'll be a good idea to post, from time to time, showcases of what I'm working on. At the moment I'm developing a demo, which is client-side only and read-only, to show how large graphs (work-plans) are going to look in Gigantt. I'm doing this not just for outside feedback but also for me, since the best way to design is to develop mock-ups and POCs. Keep in mind, these are tiny scraps of functionality, so please don't expect them to impress you in any way. :)

So, without further ado, here's showcase 0.2: a recursive flex control that can take any XML tree and render it by creating sub controls. So instead of scrolling and expanding the tree nodes, as you would in standard tree controls, you can just zoom in to see more and more details. The tree in the showcase is trivial - just a few nodes. Next, I'm going to work on something that can take any MS Project file and convert into the XML input format. Then I'll have more interesting trees to visualize.