iPhone Gems: Four Handy Apps for Designers

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Welcome to the latest edition of iPhone Gems. In this installment, we take a look at four applications aimed at designers. Whether you’re picking a typeface, choosing a color, or decorating a room, these apps can offer help for common design needs and problems.

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Our top picks are myPantone and The Typography Manual; read on for more details on all four apps.


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Color Expert ($10) from Code Line Communications is a color picking and research tool, which allows designers to play around with and create color palettes on the go. The heart of the app is its color wheel interface, which lets users manipulate, save, and share single color selections or sets of monochromatic, analogous, complimentary, split complementary, and triadic colors. Depending on the selected color scheme, anywhere from one to five individual draggable color selection points appear on the wheel for picking the saturation and hue of the color; base colors feature a point on one end to easily differentiate between these and related colors.


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Color Expert offers a variety of color swatches, including Pantone solid coated, solid uncoated, Goe coated, and Goe uncoated colors, web safe colors, and HTML colors, all of which can be browsed in a separate list-style interface, and then selected for use on the color wheel. Also available to iPhone users is the ability to snap a picture from within the app and sample the colors found in the image; while useful for getting a “ballpark” hue which can be adjusted to more closely match the actual tone, the feature is limited to the far less than accurate color rendition of the iPhone and its own algorithms. iPod touch users get the ability to sample colors from pictures saved in the Photos app, but obviously lack the necessary hardware for on-the-spot color sampling.


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Overall, Color Expert is a fine application that was truly great when it first launched but has not been updated with several key features that users have been asking for over the last year. The developers claim that a 1.1 update, expected this month, will address several of these concerns, including support for CMYK colors, the ability to email Adobe Swatch Exchange files which can be imported into a number of common design and print applications, and an improved color wheel. While it remains a useful tool for designers looking to research and create color combinations while away from their computers, the application’s lack of updates has left the door open for a very large competitor to release a competing tool—one that we’ll be looking at later in this article, and bests Color Expert in several ways while maintaining the same price. Color Expert may be worth a second look if the 1.1 update arrives as expected, but for now it’s the second-best application in its category, and worthy of only our limited recommendation. iLounge Rating: B-.


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Mark On Call ($3) from M.O.C. Interior Designer, LLC is what its full name suggests: a home interior/decorator/room layout/space planner. The app is designed to allow rough approximations of different room layouts and furniture, with the ability to customize colors and patterns on the go, and allows users to save multiple floor plans and rooms, as well as build shopping lists of items needed for a job.


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The app offers a reasonable number of different objects to place, with appropriate items for the living room, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen, as well as more specialized objects such as pool tables, statues, and pianos. Each item can be customized with color, a pattern, or a custom pattern using an image saved to the Photo Library or taken with the iPhone’s built-in camera; options are also offered to add a custom name, price, vendor, notes, and a picture of the actual item itself. The floor plans unfortunately aren’t as numerous, with square, L-shaped, T-shaped, and U-shaped layouts available, each of which can be customized by measurement and color. Once a room has been designed, a picture of the layout can be saved to the photo library or emailed to a contact.


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While Mark on Call does offer quite a bit of utility for those needing an interior design sketchpad, its interface can be confusing at times; for instance, to add a pattern to an item using the camera, the user must select the object in the “Pan and Zoom” mode, double-tap on it, and then hit a “+” button to add an image. The main editing interface is similarly confusing, with a central button at the bottom for moving between move, rotate, measure, and the aforementioned pan and zoom modes. Interface gripes aside, the app does more than any competing application we could find, and is quite versatile for the price. We find it to be generally recommendable, however, a more logical interface and an expanded library of room layouts and items would make it better. iLounge Rating: B.


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Released nearly a year after Color Expert, myPANTONE ($10) from Pantone is a functionally similar, company-specific application that offers small but noticeable improvements over the former app. myPANTONE offers a full selection of Pantone Color Libraries, including the Pantone Matching System, Pantone Goe System, Pantone Pastels, and the Pantone Fashion + Home Smart Color System, accessible through “fandecks” that mimic the company’s physical color samples, which often sell for $100 or more. Double-tapping on a particular set brings up a larger, scrollable view of the selected and nearby colors; a single tap on any of the colors presented in this view displays the color “card” full screen, with the color’s Pantone name, as well as RGB, L*a*b, and HTML values. A small fandeck button in the upper left-hand corner lets users switch between color libraries while a search button in the upper right hand corner allows users to search for specific colors.


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At the top center of the main screen is a button for switching between the fandeck and image views. As with Color Expert, the image view lets users load an image either directly from the iPhone’s camera or from the photo library, with an option to automatically sample the most prevalent colors and add them to the palette well near the bottom of the screen. In our testing, myPANTONE seemed to be more accurate in its color sampling, with a more polished, photo-style loupe for picking a single color out of the image. It’s also worth noting that Pantone already sells a device—the Color Cue—that offers similar functionality, and while it’s undoubtedly more accurate than any iPhone’s built-in camera, it’s also $300, enough to make the budget iPhone solution a fine rough compromise. Another improvement can be found in the palette well. While Color Expert supports palettes of up to five colors, myPANTONE offers a scrollable palette list, letting users work on up to ten different palettes at once, for a maximum saved color capacity of 50 colors at any given time.


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Once a palette has been selected and is ready for use or sharing, the app lets users share the palette in a nicely-formatted email that also contains application-ready swatch files capable of being used in applications such as Adobe’s Creative Suite, CorelDraw, and QuarkXPress. Other options include the ability to post the selected palette to the myPANTONE website, send it to another iPhone or iPod touch via Bluetooth, view the palette in a layout view that mimics a tack board—complete with customizable background—or view palette details; this view lets users give the palette a name, and add location information for the palette if so desired. While it lacks the HTML color sets of Color Expert, myPANTONE offers several features the former does not, and executes several of the features the two apps share more efficiently and with better results. myPANTONE is a valuable tool for nearly any type of designer, and is well worth the $10 asking price. iLounge Rating: A-.


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Whether it’s a website, logo, print advertisement, or film title sequence, typography can make or break a design—which is why The Typography Manual ($4) from Justin Stahl is bound to appeal to designers across a variety of disciplines. Part reference book, part utility, The Typography Manual includes a 60+ page type manual, a 100+ word visual type anatomy glossary, a style guide, and several small but handy tools. The manual itself is broken into several sections, including “A Brief History of Type,” “Basics of Type,” “Typesetting,” and “Type on the Web.” Each section is well written, well researched, and interesting. Long time fans of type may find a lot of information they already know in the text, but most users will find a host of new information, and the anatomy glossary is a very useful tool when trying to individual elements of a typeface.


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Tools included in the app’s Resources section include an Em calculator, a font size ruler, a conversion table including inches, millimeters, and points, an interactive tool to find special character keystroke combinations on the Mac keyboard, a standard ruler, and lists of web resources, HTML characters, common paper sizes, type foundries, typographic and design periodicals and organizations, inspirational links, and blogs. Although The Typography Manual is rather short on interactive material, it is a worthwhile reference tool for any professional dealing with type, and presents its information and tools in a well designed, easy to use interface. The manual could stand to be expanded upon further in future updates, and new tools added, but what’s here is a reasonable value for the money, and worthy of our general recommendation. iLounge Rating: B.

Hundreds of additional iPhone app and game reviews are available here.