My name is Clark and I’m a Macaholic. My grad school experience was largely around applied cognitive science, particularly interface design, and I’d followed the leading edge work at PARC that made it into the Mac (after the Lisa flopped). If you care about user experience, you sorta have to practice what you preach and use a Mac if you can (and I understand if you can’t).
I recognize that Microsoft won the workplace war (Apple shot itself in the foot), but the superior design of Apple is finally getting wider acceptance (c.f. the iPod). Not that I don’t know how to use Windows (we have a PC in the kitchen, next to a Mac), but when I want to get work done, rip my MacBook Pro out of my cold dead hands (which of course was how I felt about the Treo until the iPhone came out, now I’m split :).
The reason I bring this up, however, is to laud a program that runs on the Mac that is exemplary of how to design a program to match the way you think. I have no idea if it’s similar to Visio (which I haven’t used), but it’s superb in working the way I think about things, making it easy to do the things I want to do. And I know I’m not taking full advantage of it! It’s often amazingly intuitive (an over-hyped concept in interface design), usually knowing how I want to finish what I just initiated. I’ve had really great customer service from them as well.
This program is OmniGraffle, which is a Mac only graphing program. You’ve seen the output if you’ve looked at any of my diagrams (e.g. the models page). I went back and recreated all my diagrams in OmniGraffle once I started playing with it because it’s really close to fun to use it. And you’ve got to admit that’s a powerful thing to say about what’s essentially a tool!
My academic integrity (still extant after these years away :) means I couldn’t laud a program I didn’t really believe in, so trust me that this is truly an avid fan’s unsolicited testimony. The colleagues I’ve pointed towards it also rave. If you use a Mac and create diagrams, I recommend checking out the free trial. If you use a PC, you might try to find a way to sample it just to see what an interface *could* be (try, for example: creating a shape, then cutting it and pasting a second one and moving it where you want it, then paste again and see where it ends up).
Jane Hart had a very clever idea and surveyed learning folks’ favorite tools, but I’m particularly interested in ones you use to think better (I use diagrams as my way to model and understand the world, as well as outlines in MS Word to write). I’d welcome hearing your ThinkerTools.