Art & Development

Artists’ Software: The Dark Ages

Just came across GYST 2.5, software for artists. The package looks really interesting: a combination of databases for tracking contacts and artwork inventory, checklists for different exhibitions/artist’s jobs, goal-setting and to-do list making, and resources — much of the same material covered in the artist’s professional development workshops.

This software looks like a good way to get organized. Cheers to the developers! It’s about time. I’m all in favor of artists getting organized. I’d recommend giving it a shot to any artists who haven’t gotten organized, but are self-motivated and organized enough to learn and stick with a new software. (The one thing it doesn’t seem to cover is time management — especially the week or so it’ll take to get up and running on their system).

The price — $149 — can seem high for individual artists, but for a software license, it’s not too bad. The designer in me advocates for artists to see that programming is work too, and it’s only fair for software developers to get paid.

Still, I’m not buying the software–at least, not this version of it. Here’s why:

First, my design sensibilities are too easily offended to overlook the ham-fisted interface. The olive-pumpkin-cranberry color palette reminds me of design projects driven by clients’ favorite colors, rather than the colors that best present the information. The typography isn’t especially screen-friendly or modern. It seems like an attempt to make what’s essentially a management database and digital book friendly and accessible, which seems a bit infantalizing to artists. This interface in particular seems like something that would appear in an Edward Tufte information design book — as an example of what not to do. A grid of hard-outlined buttons (with no clues to organize or distinguish the content) duplicates the list to the right. The only way to find what you’re looking for is to read every menu option, so why bother with the buttons? The round buttons seem especially problematic: white pixelated GIF edges show, and an initial appears where an icon or text should be. “NDFSEB” may be more iconographic, but it’s unintelligible. “New, Delete, Find, Sort, Email, Back” is clearer.

I like GYST’s for-artists-by-artists ethos. The only problem is: I wouldn’t expect an interface designer to make great art, so why should GYST expect artists to make great interfaces?

Secondly—I have to admit—I might not be GYST’s target user. I have lots of systems in place already: Quickbooks for bookkeeping, a series of folders named with an 8-digit deadline for competitions (YYYYMMDD keeps the closest deadlines sorted on top), an identity system for artwork labels, Address Book for contact management and exporting mailing labels, a goals binder from a previously attended workshop, Excel for budgets (compare Excel to GYST, whose budget is in a list format that lacks basic formulas like Hours x Hourly Rate, or Quantity x Amount).

The one component that I’m missing is an artwork inventory program. This software essentially has a Filemaker Pro-derived interface with an image field for a photo of the artwork. That’s a nice feature, but then again, Filemaker Pro is flexible, highly refined, and versatile, so $299 for Filemaker seems not too bad, if it means I can manage my art inventory plus any custom database I’ll need in the future.

GYST’s website is vague about cross-application integration. It doesn’t say much about simple set-up tasks like importing contacts from Apple Address Book or Microsoft Entourage, much less exporting to-do items into iCal, a feature offered in Quickbooks.

Third, it seems like part of GYST’s features is information. In this way, GYST functions like a resource book. And this is confusing—help sections are useful, but resource texts are a different beast. I think most people don’t read much in a software’s resource section, because the interfaces are not very reader-friendly (I don’t know what GYST’s is like, but being able to expand the window size and text size would go a long way here). And Web and software realms are different than books: in this realm, knowledge should be free, like in a Wiki K-base or’s constantly updated support section; and if the knowledge isn’t going to be free, it should be comprehensive, like how Dreamweaver comes with O’Reilly’s HTML and CSS reference.

GYST is in its early stages and I’m looking forward to seeing how it advances, streamlines and improves with a little bit of constructive criticism.


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