How to Keep your Dropbox Organized

A while ago I wrote about how Dropbox can be a tool to organize your life. One of the secondary benefits of Dropbox is that you can share folders with other people to exchange files in a transparent way.

The problem is that if you share Dropbox folders with several people, you can easily lose control of the situation.

Stu Maschwitz makes a comparison between sharing Dropbox folders and having roommates: when you have only one roommate, is easy to know who left the dirty dishes. But when you add a third one, maintenance and finding who’s to blame becomes complicated.

Hence, Stu wrote the three rules of happiness for Dropbox:

  1. Use a non-stupid name for the shared folder. Don’t place the name of the person with whom you are sharing it with, put also your name, so that the other person knows where the files are coming from. Example: John and Peter, Ashley and John, etc.
  2. Use a system within your folder: Create subfolders, name those folders with a date, or the project name.
  3. Do the dishes. Delete unnecessary files after using them. Eventhough is a drive in the cloud, Dropbox files occupy space in other people’s hard drives.

Read more about Dropbox Etiquette

Sparklines and datawords


We have seen a lot of sparklines over the last few years. They’re one of the most used high-density charts out there and, if applied properly, they can be a killer feature of any dashboard or report.

The sheer amount of information that can be condensed into sparklines makes them a viable resource to provide a quick at-a-glance story of the evolution of a measurement.The best are the ones which provide additional context, like the normal range, filled with gray in the following charts:


But it wasn’t until I read Beautiful Evidence by sparklines inventor Edward Tufte, that I discovered that these charts were originally designed to be inserted within a text. Becoming datawords, a beautiful term:


If they’re not abused, datawords can be extremely helpful to illustrate points made in the text.

This reminded me of the explorable explanations and reactive documents by Bret Victor. A very clever way of inserting what-if explorations within a text. Test it below by clicking and dragging over the number of cookies:


When you eat cookies, you consume calories. That's % of your recommended daily calories.


I think datawords and explorable explanations (explorable datawords?) go together quite nicely. Don’t you?



Beautiful Evidence also provides some tips on the correct usage of sparklines. Some of those examples can be found in this page.

Some tips samples on how to create and use sparklines in Excel. More samples here.

Tangle, a javascript framework for creating reactive documents.

jQuery plugin to create sparklines


How to make an app or website skeleton

website wireframe

  1. The client requests a new design
  2. You discuss what the new design should include.
    • Best case scenario: you prepare a specifications document that no one reads.
  3. You do your best effort
  4. The client suggests “minor changes”.
  5. You both realize that some contents and key design pieces are missing
  6. You lose 3 months of your life.

If this has ever happened to you, by now you should know –or not– that creating a skeleton or wireframe is one of the first steps for designing a webpage or app.

Most wireframes don’t include graphic elements because the goal is to provide the client with an idea of the structure and hierarchy in order to identify the contents (text, data, images) that are missing and the potential problem areas.

Furthermore, a skeleton allows you to identify and mark design “areas”.  This way, phrases such as “remember to send me the text that goes under the image located between the video and the form”, becomes  “remember to send me the text that goes on A7”.

Tools for wireframing

I use Omnigraffle for mac along with the excellent Konigi templates. Just to give you an idea of what you can do with both, check out this video:

The user-interface expert, Henrik Olsen, has an excellent template for Visio in his site. This template offers the additional benefit of having a sketch mode where elements appear as if drawn by hand.

According to Aaron Travis, another user-interface expert, offering computer-generated sketches, decreases the barriers for client participation while “softening” the criticism and decreasing the tension. By offering a hand-drawn diagram, all involved parties can understand that it’s a work in progress and that this is the time to suggest changes.

traditional wireframe vs. “sketchy”

And this leads me to the tool that I’ve been trying for the last few days (and partly the reason for this post): Balsamiq Mockups: a web wireframing app that works on PC, Mac and Linux.

Mockups is integrated with Dropbox so you can share progress with your clients while reviewing minor changes and during long distance meetings.

Also, take a look at their website, the small and reliable company image is very well done and the slogan is one of the most honest slogans I’ve read in a long time:

Balsamiq is a small group of passionate
individuals who believe work should be fun
and that life’s too short for bad software.

(None of that “we’re a leading company in blah blah blah”)


However, the wireframe is not everything you need to be happy

Every project needs some sort of guide. When you analyze the skeleton with a client, it’s important that you agree on not discussing the graphic elements, instead that you’ll talk about the structure, hierarchy and requirements.

Susan Snipes makes an excellent summary of what each group (clients, designers and developers) should look for in a skeleton. For instance, if it’s a website, you should encourage the client to ask the following questions:

  1. What content is missing? What content doesn’t need to be on the page?
  2. Are the most important features clearly visible and easy to spot on the page? (Tip: On first glance of a page, what is the first thing you see?)
  3. Do you know what you can do on specific pages?
  4. Do you know where you are on the site? Can you figure out how to get to another page of your choice?
  5. Is it clear how to do your key actions (such as contact the company, or download a product manual)?

Once you’ve all agreed with the structure, you can discuss the graphic part, making sure you don’t reach the extremes of this The Oatmeal strip:

How to create a dashboard

Consider the dashboard of a car: in it, the driver can see the most important data: speed, RPM, mileage, etc. The dashboard displays decision-making information, in a graphical manner, in a single place.

The information dashboards should comply with the same requirements:

Although not necessarily copying the model of a car! This is a mistake. There are better ways to graphically display information.

CIO Dashboard, a Stephen Few classic

So, we take a few charts, some tables and we throw them all together in one screen, right?

Uh… nope.


What makes a good dashboard?

  • It contains the requested information (obvious? Not always!)
  • It has readable text with high contrast (black over white, or some other light shading).
  • It highlights the key information.
    • Charts are easy to find.
    • The problems are marked with icons or in bold letters.
    • The important information is generally at the upper left or lower right side.
  • It has no more than 5 or 6 data containers.
  • It displays useful data to make decisions.
    • Comparisons against goals, previously set standards or historical data.
  • It doesn’t require vertical or horizontal scrolling. All the information is shown in the same screen.
    • If you have a lot of information, you can use tabs.
    • If you must, use multiple screens. But remember: the key is to keep all the data related to each other in the same screen.
  • Its graphics have a high data/ink ratio without chartjunk.
  • It displays the right charts according to the type of data.
  • What seems interactive, is interactive. The charts offer details and drill-down when you click on them.

But I think the most important thing is that the dashboard tells a story, or helps you tell a story and, above all else, is esthetically simple. No color degradations or images with shading or use of 3D. Imagine for a second that your car displayed your speed with a 3D chart, would you be able to read it so easily? Would you be able to make right decisions? I don’t think so. Have that in mind when designing a dashboard.


At Excelcharts you can get various dashboard examples made in excel. If you need a little more spiritual aid, I recommend Information Dashboard Design, de Stephen Few.  A short and easy to read book; ruthless when it comes to tearing down old notions and clear when teaching the principles of good design for dashboards and reports in general.

Although it has some things specific to their product, the Tableau Visual Guidebook is an excellent guide on the basics of producing a good data visualization. The last pages contain a great checklist that you should complete before deploying your visualization.


4 ways of getting the most out of your dropbox

Dropbox is one of my essential tools. If you already have it, I’ve got 4 ways of using it that you may not know about:


1. Upload files via email

Send To Dropbox is a service that assigns you an email address linked to your Dropbox. Everything that you send or forward to that email will be saved in a Dropbox folder.

Imagine you receive an email in your mobile and you want to edit one of the attachments in a computer that isn’t your own. You send it to Send To Dropbox and then you can access your Dropbox account to see the attachments.

2. Receive files from anyone without sharing a folder

You want someone to send you a file that’s too large for an email? You can use Dropbox. But, what happens if you don’t want to share a folder or that person doesn’t have a Dropbox account?

DropitTome allows you to receive files in a safe way without having to share a folder and without the other person having to register on Dropbox.

3. Host your website using Dropbox

Do you want to have your own website but don’t want to pay for hosting or have to deal with FTP or learn to use a content manager? Host your page in your Dropbox account using DropPages.

Ideal for creating a LinkedIn contact/landing page, or market yourself in 15 seconds.

 4. Upload photos from Facebook, Twitter or Instagram directly to your Dropbox

Do you take pictures using Instagram and want it to automatically appear in your Dropbox? Use ifttt to create a connection between Instagram and Dropbox so you can keep your pictures in a safe place.

Note: ifttt is good for all kinds of things (like sending yourself an automatic copy when someone copies something from your dropbox, or automatically uploading your Flick pictures to your blog. Take a look at the “recipes”