Microsoft Expression Design: A quick review by me.

I am a huge fan of vector illustration; this made it easy for me to transition from Adobe Illustrator right into Expression Design. Design is a vector based illustration program which generates XAML code for the images a designer creates, while working directly with Expression Blend to develop Rich Internet Applications in Silverlight and WPF. Creating clean, stylistic layouts for web application and sites is made easy with Design, with the intentions of bridging the gap between designer and developer.

Microsoft did a pretty good job of mimicking Illustrators user interface. Most of the tools in Design are easily recognizable and designer friendly. With Design, a more simplistic layout is revealed, and admittedly there are not as many options or tools when compared to Illustrator. I so rarely use those extra features that I never find myself looking for them. I noticed only minor differences in functionality in the interfaces, for example selecting stroke and fill colors, and in my opinion Design does that better.

I have read neutral or negative reviews about Design that bring up points such as “Why are there hidden tools in the toolbox side bar? It is odd that you would need to Right-Click to activate them.” My response to most of these observations is that anyone who is familiar with Adobe products will not be lost. Most designers aren’t venturing into these Expression products with zero experience with the Adobe Suites. I have also heard superficial complaints about Designs “Dark” GUI, but there is an included feature to switch it from Dark to Light in color.

For a designer or developer that doesn’t like Illustrator, or possibly hasn’t used it before, Design might be a challenge to learn. The idea of the pen tool, creating arcs and plotting points can be difficult for someone who hasn’t practiced at all. Still, I believe that Design and Illustrator make it fairly easy to practice these skills without being overwhelmed. The differences between Illustrator and Design are minimal usability-wise; for the purpose of learning how to use the different tools, I would not suggest one product over the other. For the sake of industry standards, I would lean towards Illustrator. However, if working with Silverlight or WPF applications is a goal, Design would be the way to go.

What I love about Design is how it actually interacts with its counterpart product, Expression Blend. Expression Design actually creates XAML code for you, and it allows you to copy the actual objects right out of the design-creation software (Design), directly into the web design software (Blend). That means – Directly into Your Website, and that is a big deal. You can also export individual items, or entire layouts to a XAML document, which you can then import directly into your Expression Site. It’s pretty cool, and it literally cuts out hours of time in website design.

  • Tip: When copy/pasting directly from Design into Blend, make sure your image in Design is ungrouped. Once you have copied your image into Blend, “group it” into a grid, and then set the margin points to 0. This will keep most of the styling and positioning from design.

Some cons about Design start to come into play when you want to work on projects from a printing aspect. Expression Design does not allow you to work in CMYK, and there are only a handful of export formats. If you have a copy of Photoshop, you can usually work around most of these details. If you don’t want to spend the money on that, you could always get GIMP, and get the add-on that adds the color mode CMYK. The need for a work around is always annoying, I must admit.

All in all, I personally find the dislikes of the Expression products are from those who are fairly set in their ways, who have already found their niche, so they are not interested in working with different software. There isn’t a problem with that; though I would not shy away from Expression solely based off of the negative feedback from several of the comments I have seen. Blend and Design offer a smooth transition between the design phase, implementation and development of complex applications and RIAs. I find this a huge bonus as a designer, and I look forward to see more improvements to the Expression family further down the road.

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Monday, November 30th, 2009 Design Tips, Expression Comments Off