Expression Blend and Design

The team blog of the Expression Blend and Design products.

Expression Design -- New name, new UI

Expression Design -- New name, new UI

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Expression Design is a vector based graphics design tool that is part of Expression Studio.   It is targeted at graphic designers who need to build visual assets for new WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) applications.  The goal of Exrpession Design is to bring artists into the process of building great user experiences.   We've been getting feedback on CTPs for a while now under the codenames of Acrylic and Expression Graphic Designer.  Now we have a shiny new name and a brand new interface.

New UI

Back in 2005, we released a preview of Acrylic, a graphics design program based off the venerable vector tool Creature House Expression.  As the months passed, we realized that the UI just wasn’t clicking with our audience.  The whole Expression suite is about bringing elegant and beautiful design to the process of application development.   So why not create a UI that embodied our team’s core principles?

After many moons (and numerous late night dinners by our rock star team), we now have a stylish UI running in WPF on top of our C++ artboard.  Stylistically, the UI matches Expression Blend so you’ll be comfortable in both applications.  For now it comes in a soulful dark gray, but there is also a light theme in the works for all those folks that like a dash of sunshine in their lives. We still have quite a bit of polishing to do, but the foundation is in place.   This is mad scientist stuff.  I like working with mad scientists.

Designers on the team

I’m a big believer that a good product is a collection of a lot of little things done right. This only happens when you ask good questions and get a ton of rapid feedback from your actual users.   Taking this feedback philosophy to the extreme, we hired some very talented graphic designers to be part of our team.  They slogged through our daily builds and attended the feature design meetings.   When stupid decisions were made, they yelled.  Along the way, the programmers listened and fixed hundreds of subtle workflow issues.    

Expression Design has a long life ahead of it and we wanted designers to be part of the development process (and culture!) from the very beginning.

All those little improvements

This release has dozens of small workflow improvements that add up to a much nicer experience.  You can find the big list here:http://www.microsoft.com/products/expression/en/expression-design/free-trial-faq.mspx

Here are some of my personal favorites.  

·         Fewer palettes: I’m constantly switching between various applications, which means inevitable resizing of the app. I must admit I tend to get a bit retentive when it comes to keeping my palettes so I waste a surprising amount of time lining the half dozen palettes straight again.  With fewer palettes that you can dock with a click of a button, this isn’t an issue any longer.

·         The color dropper on the color palette:  When you select this color dropper you can pick a color anywhere on the screen, even if it is outside the current application.  Quite the time saver.

·         Pen tool:  The Bezier pen tool is a subtle instrument.  Most designers I know play the modifier keys like a piano when they are drawing vector shapes.  Half the time, when you ask “What steps are you performing?” they honestly can’t say.  It is all muscle memory stored up from years in the pit of production.  But if you put change how the tool works, it is immediately obvious.  The feel is wrong.  We spent a lot of time getting the feel of our pen tool right.

·         Updated XAML exporter:  This is really the heart of why you would use Expression Design right now.  It is currently the best way to get complex graphics into Expression Blend.  

You can grab the December CTP of Expression Design here: http://www.microsoft.com/products/expression/en/expression-design/free-trial.mspx 

Take care
Danc.

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