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UI Design Tool(s) for the Artistically Challenged?


I am an aspiring micro-isv with a total of 1 people (me).

One of the products I am designing, has, like many products, a UI element to it. As far as how complicated the UI is, I suppose you could put it close to par with something like an Outlook look and feel, but not nearly the number of features.

I am the first to admit I have near-zero artistic ability.

So the proper and best answer to this question could indeed be hire a designer to develop the UI and just code behind it.

OK, so let's look for the 2nd best answer.

This is initially going to be a .NET desktop application. I am looking to WPF and Visual Studio 2008 as part of my toolbox.

So if I were to do all of the UI design and development work myself, what would be the most appropriate toolset?

Is it just Visual Studio 2008 with its Cider capabilities?

Should I get Expression Blend to complement Visual Studio 2008?

Something else?

This is all remembering that I am not generally a UI designer.
Joel Marcey Send private email
Friday, November 16, 2007
It probably depends on the product and the primary mandates of the marketing program (and where you are in the campaign) designed and planned for the product. Would you kindly point us out to sketches or details about your product, and how you feel the marketing directions for this product should take shape?

My personal take is that assuming your functionality is butressed by great quality, great functionality, and great price--you are already doing well. Just from word of mouth you'll get quite a bit of buyers. But you can turn word of mouth into a viral marketing campaign by making something awful delicious. But it's not just one factor catalysing for something else--this should all be planned.

I'd say instead of getting an artist, ask a college student interested marketing and gorge the kid with pizza and soda until you flesh out a marketing plan that makes sense. You want to be in an enviable position where you can say, I can tell whether my spending for Artist X measurably under-performed compared to Artist Y. And so on. And that sort of scientific measurement is being applied at the tactical level for much of your business to support your well thought out strategic plans (this is where that MBA student or marketing student is going to be your BEST FRIEND(S)).
Li-fan Chen Send private email
Friday, November 16, 2007
If you have got your marketing ducks in a row (thanks to ducksinarow--which apparantly is now being looked at as an unhelpful mental disease by the mISV crowd on BoS) sorry for this off-shoot.

If anything, try to find someone who is better than setting up a workflow for you than just do a one-off project. Basically try to find a great and experienced graphics designer who has worked in a team environment and has worked in some heavy projects, where things like the following are answered for you with the help of her/his involvement:

1) what is our style-guide? if we don't have one, at least have all the questions written down;

2) What is our look, and why? When we want to refresh a consistent look with new seasonal assets, how does that fit in? Some of this is answered by a graphical style guide.

3) What is our work-flow? When a designer drops in to add graphics, what does she/he have to know about Java/.NET/C++/Flash to prepare or update graphics project files she/he will be inheriting? Figure out the input, output: determine who talks to whom and who needs what. Exercise it, napkin sketches are not enough. Debug this flow. So right off the bat sign on an artist with the intention of retaining her/his inspirations and thoughts and mind share for the whole year. It's not just a $700 one-off.

4) Understanding what they do and their language is going to get you a ton more than being totally ignorant. I think learning 2D/3D/Color design, taking a strong interest in visual arts and design would totally pay off. Start asking what graphics artists learn and what coffee table they gorge on.
Li-fan Chen Send private email
Friday, November 16, 2007
"Is it just Visual Studio 2008 with its Cider capabilities?"

Design a product using beta software?  Are you serious?
Karl Perry Send private email
Sunday, November 18, 2007
The support for WPF design has somewhat increased in VS.NET 2008 but is still not what you would want it to be. In my experience Blend is a beast. You really have to get dirty and learn it. Although the design experience is way better than VS 2008.

I consider myself to have no graphical design skills either, but I do know how to layout a form. So my approach is usually to do the layout (user interaction design) myself (in pure xaml using vs 2008) and then just leave it -or- get one of my collegue designer friends to do some UI pimping.
Marc Jacobi Send private email
Monday, November 19, 2007
> "Is it just Visual Studio 2008 with its Cider capabilities?"
> Design a product using beta software?  Are you serious?

Um, no. I haven't started the design process yet. Hence that is why I am asking this question. And Visual Studio 2008 is coming out this week, I believe, so it will be beta no more. Come on, give the people on this forum a little bit of intelligence credit.
Joel Marcey Send private email
Monday, November 19, 2007
Given what you said, my advice is "don't design the interface". Don't ask somebody to design the interface either. Instead, find an interface that is like what you want and copy that. If you choose a tool, make use of its template feature if it has one.

Be consistent with the target platform -- use common menubars, toolbars, fonts, colors, etc. and avoid anything unconventional. Use proven layouts and components. Read Joel's book "User Interface Design for Programmers". Avoid the temptation to add any features that aren't strictly necessary.

Remember, your goal is to make something that helps the user get their job done, not prove to the world you can make a pretty application (or website).
Pragmatic Programmer Send private email
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Pragmatic Programmer,

Good point, thanks; and that should indeed be something that bubbles up to the top of my approach list.

Figuring out what to clone and how to easily clone a UI will be the hard part for me. I definitely don't want to "trace" a UI from scratch.

Thanks for the advice.
Joel Marcey Send private email
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
You should also look into the fluent design guidelines -
Here is a link ( to MSDN hands on lab to create outlook like application UI using expression and VS 2005.
Ashish Jaiman Send private email
Wednesday, November 21, 2007

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