Home > Articles

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

The Benefits of Expression Blend

Besides working with a really cool product, you will probably inadvertently start using more and more cutting edge applications to keep in line with the requirements of not only Visual Studio, but also the changing landscape of the .NET Framework and the various operating systems.

You will also pick up new, fresh ideas for designs and methods of working because you will see how working with Blend and WPF has inspired others to reach for new ground in ease-of-use control designs. Expect to see user experience discussions increasing. Those discussions should also generate greater understanding of what is important, as opposed to what was never perceived to be so.

Blend will have different levels of engagement for the different types of roles played by those who use it. Interactive designers will use it for one purpose, while a developer will use it in an entirely different manner. In the following sections, try to see how Blend may or may not work for you in some areas and how it might be well-suited to helping in others.

The XAML Architect's View

The XA will get most of the praise from the commissioners of a project. After all, they (the commissioners) don't care if an application can split a call into 16 threads to speed up a data return by 0.0005 milliseconds. Most of the time, the big boys and girls (e.g., managers and directors) have no fundamental understanding of what it is you are doing or how it will help with their business. The most important issues to them are higher productivity within their workforce, a strong presence of professionalism, and brand projection. Higher productivity brings enormous cost benefits, which can, by themselves, justify the cost of development.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to a XAML architect is greater responsibility in projects which usually (not always) end with the XA earning more money then a standard developer or designer. XAs need to be able to speak different languages (designer and developer) effectively and act as a mediator between the designer and developer camps. Translating requirements and understanding the designers' vision will enable an XA to make sound architectural judgments about the requirements of the user interface layer.

In any environment in which the power base changes from designer to developer and back, the XA will have the benefit of being in both camps. Even if the XA can't perform as a developer, just understanding their language and concerns is enough. As long as the XA can appreciate and ultimately implement the visual goals of an interactive designer, the XA will see his or her Christmas card list expand!

Blend, along with Visual Studio, will absolutely be the tool of choice for the XA because the workflow between the two products will enable him or her to make quick decisions, test updates, and merge new resources into a solution. Blend becomes more of a XAML management tool for the XA than a visual design interface.

The Interactive Designer's View

Some day designers and developers will recognize the fact that unless the user sees it happen on the screen, they will never be 100% sure it actually has happened. What I am talking about is simple user psychology. As an example, I ask you: How many times have you clicked on the Add to Basket button on a website and then had to go check the basket because you were not entirely sure your goodies went in there? With Blend, you can show the user, the item actually flying across the screen and into the basket to dispel any concerns, negative thoughts, and bad experiences that the user may ordinarily have.

I know that is a very simple example—and one that could be overcome using some special DHTML or something else wonderful. But this problem has been part of the user nightmare that interactive designers have been trying to stem, with only moderate success, for years, mainly due to project budgets (time/cost ratio).

An interactive designer might want to get down and dirty with some coding, not so much that the vein in her head will pop, but just enough to make sure the control(s) and/or UIElements perform as they are designed to.

That same designer might want to show some empathy and allow users to apply different control schemes and colors to allow them to feel where they are and how they are doing with the application. With Expression Blend, the interactive designer has the freedom to design a control that can show, for example, an ordered list of movies in thumbnails, ensuring that the listing is displayed in the application so that it fits with the overall continuity and visual perception of the project and the vision for the application.

The interactive designer also wants to be able to use his or her favorite graphic design package to create masterpieces of style and then export them into Blend. In this way he or she can ensure that design elements actually look like they are supposed to instead of having to ask a developer to try to make the elements look like the image the interactive designer just printed out.

Designers want to be involved much more in the lifecycle than they are at present. With the power to create fully functioning prototypes with Blend, which therefore expedites production lifecycles, the importance of the interactive designer's role is moved much higher up the food chain.

Going back to the games industry, interactive designers and graphic artists are the super stars, not so much the coders. Interactive designers take a leading role to ensure that the entire application is smooth in its appearance and that every animation, the music, and the fonts in the menus all come together as a perfect match of design integrity.

The Coder's View

I am sure that some of you reading this book as developers have, at one time or another, been told by a project manager or IT director that the application you have slaved over just does not look like the application they envisioned or were sold on. Another common concern is that test users complain about the time it takes to perform a certain task after taking numerous steps in order to navigate a complex screen. It's possible that your application has used controls from various third parties and that they just don't fit the overall visual perception because you can't modify the appearance or style of those controls. Even Microsoft still distributes controls like the CLR TreeView control that doesn't support transparent background colors. These are all very common issues relating to large application development solutions where designs are always changing to address functional, presentational, or usability issues.

Such issues most often occur in Agile environments, because development cycles are short, fluid, and incremental. Developers are often hamstrung by strict adherence to timelines in which they must provide functionality and maintainable levels of bug fixing. As a result, the user interface often gets the least attention, which leads to the poor user experience I keep talking about.

Blend means that developers can finally just focus on making sure that code functions as it is required to in a specification. Their objects get a value in, and then they make sure the correct value goes out. It's as simple as that. The developers can even test the object code to make sure someone else doesn't change the designed functionality. You can be guaranteed a format or a value type every time. The interface can either be designed around that format, or, preferably, the coder's objects can be designed by what they are required to input/output.

A lot of middle tier and backend developers will be extremely pleased that they no longer have to think about the user interface—nothing scares them more. They can just get on with coding and even help with the logical client layer, all without ever seeing the UI that they are developing for. They also have the added bonus of being able to apply unit testing to the logical layer, which fits in well with the psyche of the nonUI developer.

The Workflow

Traditional workflow in the development lifecycle has always depended on the development company's work practices and is based on whether they use standards to ensure quality products. Not all businesses do, and some even think they are not big enough to go to the trouble. As a single developer, I always use standards in my everyday work to ensure that I can provide not only quality results, but also auditable paths of my work to my clients.

You may, at present, be involved with designer and developer teams. Perhaps a move to a new job at a new company in the future will put you in this position. Either way, it is important to understand how this designer/developer workflow is supposed to work.

I have previously stated how Blend will significantly reduce the production time on solutions; but until you understand the time periods that will be removed, it is hard to see that becoming reality. Many interactive designers have their own methods of producing mock-up applications or prototype designs. Some choose to use animated environments such as Flash, some use PowerPoint, some use Visio, and others like to create traditional storyboards to indicate how they see the interface working. End users are then brought in to give initial feedback. Refinements are then made based on this research.

This design process allows the interactive designer to spot user workflow issues and other process improvement opportunities that are vital to an application being accepted by the end user. The process, called the blueprint, may also require a variety of diagrams: a structural diagram (or application map), a process diagram to provide architects an essential view, and sometimes a wireframe diagram to illustrate how different screens will appear.

The only problem with the blueprint now is that almost all the work done during its creation process is wasted when it comes time to actually develop the solution. Developers may (and it's not always the case) be able to use some of the visual assets created, the static images and the color palettes; but they certainly won't be able to use any animation sequences or event-driven reactions that are so crucial to informing the user of what has occurred. Remember the Add to Basket scenario?

Applications like Flash, Visio, and PowerPoint, when used in the interactive design context, are purely conceptual, whereas Expression Design, Expression Blend, and Visual Studio are production tools. Using the production tools, you can reach the end goal a lot quicker and the integrity of the design can be controlled and maintained by the designers instead of the developers.

Using Blend to deliver the blueprint now means that the interactive designer is creating the actual user interface that will be present in the end product. Blend provides all the tools necessary to deliver the animation of objects, providing the rich user experience end users crave; and perhaps more importantly, Blend provides a separate layer of development that the code developers never really need to modify or be involved with.

The workflow between Blend and Visual Studio allows the interactive designer to quickly test object implementations in the data binding scenarios and customized controls that are present in many applications.

The interactive designer along with the XAML architect, then, have the ability to accurately describe the required object model to the development team, which will, in most cases, provide a base object model with testable methods. That allows the interface to provide data, as well as test data being returned, all before the majority of the backend code is written.

The End User or Client

End users always want simplicity. The Chinese discovered thousands of years ago that it was simpler to remember topics or points of interest when those topics were displayed as a picture or icon. The old adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words," rings true with today's marketing gurus who believe they can sell you anything if they can show it to you. People need to see vivid imagery to give themselves perspective.

According to George A. Miller (founder of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard), we mere mortals tend to have a memory capacity of 7 + -2 items (Nelson Cowan revised this to 4 + -1 in 2000); yet, we can recall large collections of images, especially those that form part of our habits, which our brains are particularly fond of.

Why would you give the end user a static image button when you could show them an animated response to their choice? Why would the end client be happy having to rely on old data when they could be viewing the information live and in a graphical representation? The quick answer is they won't be happy. If your company's competition provides a better user experience in their products, you shouldn't expect to keep your job for much longer.

When designed correctly and composed with perfect harmony, a WPF application will give users an extremely positive experience. In some cases, people will forget they are using a computer and feel at one with the application. I have witnessed people who are single finger typists who suddenly discover extra fingers. The positive experience has added to their productivity.

You would have at one time or another experienced these really high levels of positive flow and productivity because the most common side effect is losing track of time. Time flies when you are having fun and enjoying yourself.

Again, when applications are built with the cooperation of the designer and the application developer, the end user will have no doubts as to what they are doing, what has just occurred, and how they should proceed next. With WPF there is simply no excuse for not delivering fantastic user experience. If you become a XAML architect, you could ensure the application delivers the appropriate user experience.

Having a well-designed product in terms of usability and visual appeal will ensure that your company earns development costs back in the long term because of the loyalty that a professional, easy to use, and fun application brings. Positive feelings are also transferred to a brand so, in the case of a publicly released piece of software, happy users are much more inclined to use new, different, and simple applications. Most importantly, they are likely to tell their friends and colleagues about it.

The end user demands perfection. We (the collective industry) can't expect them to keep shelling out for new hardware every 18–24 months if we are not going to make them feel good about their purchases by giving them a positive experience.

Would you buy a sports car if the seats where uncomfortable, the suspension was rubbish, and the driving experience was not up to the level that you expected—even if the motor was an absolute beast? Maybe...maybe not.

Maybe next time, instead of buying a PC, the user will go with a fruitier choice of computer, to see what it has to offer. If this happens too often, you and or I may lose our jobs.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020