My drawing abilities stopped evolving some time around the third grade, so I tend to avoid situations where I need to sketch something out for other people, especially if it has to happen as part of a live conversation. My debilitating lack of artistic skill is the reason I was intrigued by Think Kit, a new set of tools for the Paper app from FiftyThree. It uses the company's patented Intuition Engine to translate my wobbly circles and miserable sense of scale into a sharp-looking flow chart or Venn diagram.
Paper is one of our favorite drawing apps, perhaps not the best for professionals, but certainly for the casual user. For a while it was one of the top grossing apps on iPad, and critically acclaimed by creative types. But the company has been shifting to target the enterprise and education markets, which means figuring out ways to help people be capital P "Productive." It's also changing up its business model, making all its software free and hoping to earn its money by selling its Pencil stylus.
"The Think Kit tools are aimed at people who do a lot of sketching and white boarding, but aren't artists by trade and maybe don't always feel comfortable," said Bill Morein, the company's head of product. "The most common thing we would hear when showing people the Paper is, well I can't draw so this isn't for me."
I tried the new features out at FiftyThree's office in Lower Manhattan. It took a little while to learn some of the tricks you need to help the software understand what you're after. Closing off your shapes transforms them into beautiful, orderly units, but if I was sketching too loosely, they remained my normal, sloppy polygons. Creating arrows requires you to leave a lingering press on the screen to generate a discrete connector instead of a random line. These little rules were easy to learn, and I was soon sketching at the speed of thought.
There are limitations to Think Kit, though. While the original teaser images showed bar charts, you can't really input data or craft things at a particular ratio. The software helps you to communicate ideas, but it won't convert a spreadsheet into something pleasing to the eye. Still, FiftyThree is hopeful that these new tools will make it an attractive option for presentation in boardrooms and classrooms where it might also sell a lot of Pencils.