NEW YORK—Microsoft has been touting the benefits of its design tools for a couple of years, but examples of those are just beginning to emerge with the advent of the companys Expression suite of design tools.
At the Jan. 30 event here dubbed ExpressionSession07, Microsoft showed off the intimate details of its Expression tools to an invite-only audience of design professionals. The New York event was the third of three, with the other two occurring in San Francisco and Chicago earlier in January.
“Great [user] experience requires designers, not programmers,” said Eric Zocher, general manager of Microsofts Expression tools. “Platform plus craft plus tools equals user experience,” Zocher said.
“The design community has changed Microsoft and were looking forward to working together” with the community, Zocher said.
Microsofts Expression tools represent the companys initial foray into providing tools for professional designers. The Expression Studio consists of four tools: Expression Web, Expression Blend, Expression Design and Expression Media. These tools build on top of core Microsoft technology such as WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) and XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language), among others.
Robby Ingebretsen, director of creative development at IdentityMine, a user experience consultancy in Tacoma, Wash., said at the event, said, “We started with WPF early on because our clients were looking for experience” and WPF laid the foundation for creating that user experience. Prior to joining IdentityMine, Ingebretsen was a program manager on the WPF team at Microsoft, where he helped build WPFs component and templating infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Mike Soucie, chief executive of Boulder, Colo., company Electric Rain, demonstrated his companys newly announced technology for creating presentations, known as Standout.
Standout is a Windows Vista-based application “built from the ground up using Expression Blend” on the design front and Microsofts Visual Studio for the back end, Soucie said.
“Our vision for the product is to change the way presentations are created and delivered,” he said.
Though Electric Rain announced the product on Jan. 30, Soucie said the company came up with the concept for it in 2002, but it was not until they got hold of the .Net platform and Expression Blend—or “Sparkle” as it was previously known—that the technology actually came together.
“Standout is an example of the kind of applications that should be built with WPF,” Zocher said.
Soucie said he recalls Microsofts Jim Allchin at the 2003 Microsoft Professional Developers Conference saying in effect, We build the platform, now you go build the applications. He said he took that as his own marching orders to bring the concept for Standout to a finished product.
“So now this [Standout] is the first incarnation of a product enabling businesses to deliver next-generation presentations,” Soucie said.
Indeed, the focus of the product is to enable designers and business professionals to come together “to deliver a rich-media, cinematic kind of experience,” he said.
Prior to tapping into the .Net platform, Electric Rain experimented with C++, Adobes Flash and some other ancillary technologies, Soucie said. But through the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program, or TAP, which Electric Rain got into through its Zam 3D technology, the company was able to see early versions of the Microsoft Expression tools. But Electric Rain kept its own product plans to itself so as not to tip its hand, Soucie said.
Before WPF, “we had to license software to go do things that we get now from the .Net Framework by simply tapping into an API,” Soucie said. “We actually doubled productivity with the .Net technology.”
Standout—which was created by designers—allows designers to build custom presentation templates that are dynamic, feature amazingly crisp motion graphics, and exceed the visual impact and quality of traditional slideshow applications, Electric Rain officials said. Moreover, Standout enables business professionals to easily edit and personalize these broadcast-quality presentation templates within an intuitive interface that exemplifies the next-generation user experience possible with Windows Vista, officials said.
Electric Rains Standout Presentation Solution is comprised of two software applications—Standout Designer Edition and Standout Presenter Edition. Standout Designer Edition uses Microsoft Expression Studio design tools to allow design firms, ad agencies and in-house design departments to build presentation templates, called Design Kits, for business clients, Soucie said. These Design Kits are delivered to the clients, who can use Standout Presenter Edition to edit and personalize the content.
Soucie said he and his brother started Electric Rain in their basement in Boulder in 1995.
“We watched movies like Star Wars and others and we loved special effects,” he said. So the team created a 3D program called Font Effects, he said. In 1998 they came across Flash and built a Flash-based product called Swift 3D and sold more than 70,000 units, he said.
Then at a Flashforward conference in 2001, the annual congregation for Flash users, Soucie had a revelation. He was a presenter in a panel of three, and both the presenter before and the one following him used Flash to help animate their presentations. But Soucie used a plain-vanilla presentation of bullet points and static graphics.
“I sunk down into my chair and said I was going to have our Flash designer create all my presentations from then on,” he said. But he also said that experience gave him the idea that Electric Rain needed to come up with a better way of doing presentations.
Like Microsoft, Soucie said Electric rain realized design is the answer.
“Design is definitely becoming a differentiator,” he said.