There are several iPad apps in my arsenal which the developers regularly update, improving their value to users. Notability, by Gingerlabs, is one of those apps. I first bought the app about a year ago, but switched to something else because it was too sluggish on my iPad 1. A recent update changed that.
Notability falls into a category we used to call a decade ago the “super-outliner.” The origin of super-outliners on the Mac can be traced to two apps – Circus Ponies’ Notebook, and Aquaminds’ Note-Taker. For years I used Circus Ponies’ Notebook, though with updates the app has seemed to lose its way.
After abandoning Notebook, I moved to DevonThink. DevonThink is great for storing snippets and ideas, but its interface has a very German aesthetic that I don’t find visually inspiring. I use DevonThink for much of my creative work, but not at this early stage. When capturing idea snippets I like something like Curio’s List feature (with some custom coloring, which I detail here) so that I can see similar ideas at once, reorganize them, and explore how they interrelate with each other.
The closest iPad app I could find to Curio was MagicalPad, which uses the motif of an idea space, just as Curio does. But MagicalPad didn’t quite scratch my creative itch. Enter Notability, which fulfills the promise that the super-outliners made a decade ago and allows me to write papers, make outlines, audio notes, revise easily, and capture ideas, while also being visually exciting. Today I’ll focus on how I capture ideas.
With Notability I use two types of what I call concept pages – places where I store ideas. I use a general ideas page to store ideas that don’t have a theme yet – typically moments of inspiration – and a projects ideas page for more developed concepts. I could use an outline or even a text page, but I prefer something more visually interesting – the text box. A text box allows me to capture ideas, expand them, group them together, and move them around into a flow chart. I can also change the color of the text box to excite the eye and inspire imaginative thinking.
Here’s how I do it.
To create a text box, hold your finger down on a blank part of the page until the contextual menu appears. Select + Text Box on the right.
A box with boundaries will appear for you to type your idea inside.
Next, select a background and format for your text box.
Use the handles at each corner of the box to resize the boundaries of your note and eliminate dead space, and you’re finished.
That’s just the beginning. From here I can draw connections, circle and highlight words, or expand ideas with ease. I find the iPad’s touch screen more intuitive and responsive for making connections than Curio’s approach, so I’m more prone to play around with idea combinations in Notability to see how ideas gel or collide against each other (to learn more about the collision of ideas, take a look at Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation).
One of the challenges I have with the iPad, particularly with writing, is that it only allows me to have one window open at a time. This can make navigation difficult, especially if I have ideas sitting in other apps. Notability’s Swiss Army Knife approach, which allows me to write, outline, draw, and record audio in the same app makes it an ideal environment to develop ideas. The text box feature itself is so powerful that I’ve deleted my old outline and mind map apps from my iPad.