I remember the days when Microsoft had announced they were introducing a set of design tools to help customers and partners build .NET-based solutions that were both visually appealing and focused on user experience.  In those early days, we introduced the tools with enigmatic yet interesting codenames like Sparkle (which became Expression Blend), Acrylic (Expression Design) and Quartz (Expression Web).  The journey that these early beta tools took has been an interesting one and I have enjoyed watching the product evolve into a very focused set of products that allow both designers and developers build truly awesome software experiences.

Since Expression Studio’s big launch at our MIX conference in May of 2007, we’ve seen a lot of amazing software experiences built with these tools.  Examples include large businesses using Expression Studio like the Online Video Player for CTVOlympics.ca, Hard Rock Café’s Memorabilia and The Weather Network’s WeatherEye, to small businesses like Pink and Yellow Media building sites like Design Schooled Kids.

That journey continues today; we are excited to launch Expression Studio 4.  This version launch represents some significant additions to the tools in our design suite and some great enhancements to features that have become not only popular with designers and developers, but in many ways essential to their work. 

What’s in Expression Studio 4?

If you have never used Expression Studio before but you are interested in creating innovative user experiences via software (web, desktop, smartphone or otherwise), then this product is one that you’ll likely want to know more about.  In a nutshell, these tools were built to provide you with professional-grade design capabilities in intuitive user interfaces.  In other words, if you can think up an amazing software experience in your head, these tools can help you make it a reality.

Expression Studio is a suite of four design tools meant to provide designers and developers a platform to build great software experiences 

XStudio4-ToolList[1]

You can find more information about Expression Studio 4 on our product website.  You can also check out our Expression Studio Community Site for tips and tricks from the pros!

What’s New in Expression Studio 4?

Well, in a nutshell, we’ve added and refined a lot of things in the suite, but some of the more popular changes and additions are detailed below:

SketchFlow[1]

SketchFlow – a more streamlined workflow with your clients

Publish to SharePoint provides an easy way to share your prototypes and also enhances their feedback mechanism, as before you can view client’s feedback in context on the design surface within Expression Blend and in addition clients can now view shared feedback when they review prototypes via the SketchFlow player.

Behaviors – accelerate your UI designs

Expression Blend 4 includes new Behaviors designed to enhance your application design process; multi-touch, the ability to preserve screen state from screen to screen, easily drag-able items between listboxes plus many more designed to keep you focused on the art of creating compelling UI designs.

Visual State Manager – bring you application to life one transition at a time

Bring your application to life with effective transitions. Add subtlety and texture to your UIs by taking advantage of the new pixel shader effects. Whether you want to manipulate color, add a drop shadow or animate a ripple transition or swirls, the extensible range of pixel effects gives you total control so you can create the transition you want through the Visual State Manager.

Team Foundation Server Integration

Share your Expression Studio project files with those of your colleagues by using check in and check out functionality with Microsoft Team Foundation Server integration. The feedback you receive via SketchFlow can now be converted into Team Foundation Server work items.

SEO Diagnostics

Expression Web uses the IIS Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Toolkit to improve your Web site’s relevance in search results by recommending how to make the site content more search engine-friendly.

Create Expression Web add-ins

Now you can extend Expression Web’s functionality with HTML and JavaScript. Add panels, menu commands, and tools to the toolbox. And share your add-ins with the Expression Community.

SuperPreview for Macintosh Safari

Expression Web now supports Macintosh Safari for browser compatibility testing with SuperPreview.  Having personally talked to web designers both on Windows and other platforms, the overwhelming consensus is that this tool is a game changer for them in ensuring browser rendering problems are caught well ahead of going live with a site.  (A quick hint:  if you just want to test your site for rendering issues between IE6, IE8 and IE8 Compatibility Mode – aka:  IE7, then there is a free version of Superview that you can download here.  You’re welcome.  :)   )

Support for Windows Phone 7

Build great mobile applications for the Windows Phone 7 platform using Expression Blend and Silverlight.

Are you building great experiences with Expression Studio today?

If you are building a great software experience with Expression Studio today and would like to share with us what you’ve built, drop us a line!  We would love to hear from you!

 

-Paul