Blender User Interface - An Opinion

The interface, modeling, 3d editing tools, import/export, feature requests, etc

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gospel_virus
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Blender User Interface - An Opinion

Post by gospel_virus » Sun Mar 05, 2006 7:34 am

OK, before I say ANYTHING, let me say that I have thought about this a lot, and I believe that I do have a genuine point here. Please take the time to consider this.

As a user of Blender myself, I have known it to be an EXTREMELY powerful modelling package, in my experience comparable to Maya or 3DS MAX. However, one thing has prevented my studio from using it - the interface.

As someone who learned Maya first, I have a hard time learning to user Blender, simply because it is not intuitive.

And I've noticed this in other Open-Source software, too... the package underneath is wonderful... but the interface to use it is either crap (GIMP, anyone?), or is not up to par with the industry standard.

And I think this is a result of the Open-Source mindset. I am an Open-Source developer myself, and I believe that it encourages a certain...freedom in the way things are done. However, in that same respect... a user interface is not meant to be "free", it is meant to be as simple and intuitive as possible, to encourage productive work and little confusion.

Take a look at GIMP (or GIMPShop) vs. Photoshop, or Blender vs. Maya, and you'll see what I mean.

---
(General Note: I know it may sound like I'm bitching here... and maybe I am. But at a base level, this is true. And to the Blender developers, I read the FAQ on why you have the interface as it is...)
---

Perhaps this is not the right forum to post this in, but I do think it's time for a change. I'm currently honing my programming skills so I can rewrite the source for my favorite tools to make them more usable...

Please post here and tell me what you think. I would like to hear from users who like these tools... and perhaps Open-Source software can out-run proprietary software... it just needs a makeover, is all.

jesterKing
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Re: Blender User Interface - An Opinion

Post by jesterKing » Sun Mar 05, 2006 12:24 pm

gospel_virus wrote:As someone who learned Maya first, I have a hard time learning to user Blender, simply because it is not intuitive.

[...] ... a user interface is not meant to be "free", it is meant to be as simple and intuitive as possible, to encourage productive work and little confusion.
You have to be careful about "intuitive usage", since your case very much smells like "it's not what I'm used to, thus not intuitive". I have not really used anything else besides Blender, and when I have to do something in another package, they strike me as very unintuitive.

The user interface is not like it is because it wants to be "free". The user interface is, because it is optimal. Forgive my counter-opinion, but I believe "n00bing"-down an interface for the sake of perceived intuitivity is *not* the way to go. One small example is the late great game Tribes 2, which got totally destroyed by the "make it accessible for those who don't care to practice"-mentality. The same would, IMNSHO, be the case for Blender. (Note that I'm not saying that the interface should be made inaccessible). Sure, there is a learning curve, but at the end of the rainbow there is a pot of gold.

/Nathan

ps. noobing-down analogy is not the best possible, I know, but the point of perceived intuitivity still stands. (and I got to say my opinion about the sequel to Tribes 2 :P )

matt_e
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Re: Blender User Interface - An Opinion

Post by matt_e » Sun Mar 05, 2006 12:51 pm

jesterKing wrote:The user interface is not like it is because it wants to be "free". The user interface is, because it is optimal. Forgive my counter-opinion, but I believe "n00bing"-down an interface for the sake of perceived intuitivity is *not* the way to go.
Be careful making blanket statements like this - just like in all areas of Blender, there are plenty of things in the interface that are sub-optimal. Many of them are known, and will be fixed in time. Assuming that because something is in Blender, or even might have been for a while, that it's perfect is completely wrong.

Things often get added in order to fill a need, (particularly in our case at Orange) where just having the feature working in some weird kind of way is all there's time for, without enough time for UI analysis and coding, which is quite difficult for many people, and time consuming. We're constantly being frustrated by UI issues that have been ignored or put on the TODO list. There are also many things that get left as is because they make sense to the technologists and scientists who may have developed it, rather than artists trying to get work done.

A concrete example of this sort of thing is in the compositing nodes - the AlphaOver node layers the second (bottom) input over the top input. It is done this way for technical reasons, Ton explained it to me, something about the order of operation on the nodes or something, but what it means for someone like me is that every time I add an AlphaOver I have to stop and think for a second "wait a minute, so how does this go again? Right, the bottom is the the one that goes over", rather than just adding away, knowing intuitively which is which, and not having to waste time thinking about technical details. Having to do this sort of thing is a real interruption to thought processes when I just want to concentrate on my work, and as much as people like to say "intuition is just what you're used to", I'm used to the thing that's 'over' being on top, thankyou very much, no matter what the rationale behind it is. Though of course in our case, if it's a choice between fixing a rendering crash or improving the UI in whatever area (NLA comes to mind!), we'll prioritise the crash. That sure as hell doesn't make the left-out stuff 'optimal' though, and this sort of thing happens all the time.

There are also far more coders submitting code, than there are UI designers doing reviews or fixing anything, and the rate at which things get added is far greater than the rate at which things get cleaned up. Often the people that try to volunteer to do such things (for better or worse) get shunned or ignored by the coding community. I think many developers either make things to satisfy themselves, or really don't understand what most graphics artists who want to use Blender are like (No, they're not stupid if they don't understand what a transformation matrix is. That's not their job.)

The good thing is that with the right understanding and focus, there are many things that can be improved, bringing benefits to both new users and experienced ones. Of course the original post isn't helpful at all, without any concrete proposals or critiques, and of course I wouldn't agree that the UI in Blender is bad, far from it. But it's also far, far, far from optimal and perfect, and it's counter-productive to get all conservative and take a 'change is bad' stand. Evaluate ideas or changes for what they are, not on the grounds that they're different.

end rant.

iluvblender
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Re: Blender User Interface - An Opinion

Post by iluvblender » Sun Mar 05, 2006 6:50 pm

jesterKing wrote: Sure, there is a learning curve, but at the end of the rainbow there is a pot of gold.
I second that.
...imagine...create....express...share...enjoy...
My Website

roofoo
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Post by roofoo » Sun Mar 05, 2006 9:00 pm

gospel_virus:

I agree that a user interface ought to be "intuitive," but who appointed you to be the one who determines what an "intuitive" interface is like? And define exactly what "intuitive" means? It's a relative term. What's "intuitive" to one person may not be to someone else. So it's rather egotistical of you to say that your way is the right way. It's like saying Windows interface is more intuitive than MacOS or Linux, or vice versa. Different users will have unique preferences. You say that you learned Maya first and have a hard time learning Blender. Well, the opposite is true for me. I am very comfortable with Blender and abhor the Maya interface.

If you think that Blender's interface is "unintuitive" now, you should have seen what it was like back in version 1.5. The only way to do anything was to memorize the hotkeys for commands, there were no drop down menus or tooltips or such "intuitive" things. It was hard, but I learned the program anyway, and I never boohoo'd about it. I still was able to use the program effectively and productively, and that's what a program should be all about--where you end up, not how you got there. If I want a "One-click" solution to everything, how will I learn to do anything for myself? Blender has powerful features that rival the commercial apps, if you are willing to learn how to use it. Anyway, if Maya is so intuitive, why are there scores of books and DVDs on how to use it? I bet you didn't learn to use Maya on your own. I DID learn to use Blender on my own.

So go ahead & code your own version of Blender with a "sleek" interface if you want, nobody will stop you. I seriously doubt I would find it "intuitive", however.

poutsa
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Post by poutsa » Sun Mar 05, 2006 10:45 pm

-I have to say.....Blenders GUI is for me the best User Interface i ever see in a 3D Application!
Why?
Very Fast!....very Stable!...non Overlaping Windows! and very good Organized...you can work very Fast by Using the Right Hand in Mouse (Buttons)(gestures) and with other Hand in Keyboard with many Combos Buttons!

also..... a very very good "Undo System" and Autosave function!
with many many Prof.. Features and Tools,Plug Ins....Python Scripts...e.t.c!
Very Fast Development speed...the Fastest Development i ever see!
every Day or better Hours a new Feature is added!!!
Amazing Woldwide Community and Support!
....and thats not all! this is the minimum what i have to say about Blender!!

In the beggining it was hard to learn Using Blender but now its a Dream to work with Blender!

seeYa

joeri
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Post by joeri » Mon Mar 06, 2006 3:33 pm

Interesting.
I'm glad broken has a seq edit example. It's hacked in blender in 1 week to replace even more crappy video editors and it's been there for 10 years. I would be ashaimed if nobody could find something unintuitive about it.

Truth is, the sequence editor is bottom-up and that makes no sense at all for people who read top-down. But makes perfect sense for people who had a little math and know that the origin of all things is bottom-left. This "intuitive" nonsens from artists is mostly "Top-left -> Top-right -> Bottom-left -> Bottom-right" thinking super imposed on all of us :)

Yes, opensource is about nice code and not about usability by users. So?
Stop complaining about it. There are 20+ coders on blender, 2 Gui people who have no time and 0 managers. That's a typical opensource project, nothing news there.

But in the case of blender it's a bit weird to project Opensource values upon, because the interface is pre-opensource. It's the opensource that's going to make it more "intuitive".

But I'm a little confussed on how the Maya interface is suppost to be intuitive. I know it took me more then a year to change from Blender to Maya. And while it takes most of the time no effort to learn new features in blender, it's always a day or 3 before I understand a new feature in maya.

How is the constraints in maya intuitive?For example: Because it's the last selected that get constraint to, this means that if I want multiple objects constraint I need to do them all one by one. I rather have the blender "the active is the constraint to" method. Far more intuitive.

Then again, I'm not much of a reader.

Another thing that you seem to confuse is "not intuitive" and "easy to learn". I am personaly very against an easy to learn blender interface when it's going to cost work speed once I've learned it. I don't know if the oposite is currently true, there are people saying that it is. And I'm sure improvements can be made all around. But I always look at it like I look at a cockpit. If it can be simpler so it's easier to learn; great. But let's not make it so simple that everybody can learn it, and then while flying it turns out it's no longer a plane.

Broken had a session about metaphores in software (gui) enginering at bconf 2004. The advantages of metaphores are that they are fair. Everybody knows that a sheet of paper over another sheet of paper means that the over one in above the under one. Creating or inventing metaphores can thus remove the "intuitive to you!" issues. Ofcourse we can still argue on what metaphores to use. For instance I had a nice discussion about time/clock vs timecode. Should the blender time be in movie frames, clock time or tape timecode? For us frame lovers blender is very intuitive, for the clock/timecode people it's pure horrid.

jesterKing
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Re: Blender User Interface - An Opinion

Post by jesterKing » Tue Mar 07, 2006 8:54 am

broken wrote:
jesterKing wrote:The user interface is not like it is because it wants to be "free". The user interface is, because it is optimal. Forgive my counter-opinion, but I believe "n00bing"-down an interface for the sake of perceived intuitivity is *not* the way to go.
Be careful making blanket statements like this - just like in all areas of Blender, there are plenty of things in the interface that are sub-optimal. Many of them are known, and will be fixed in time. Assuming that because something is in Blender, or even might have been for a while, that it's perfect is completely wrong.
end rant.
I stand corrected - I let sentiment get the overhand in this particular part of the post (see the Tribes II part, which is the actual reason for bringing it up ;) ). I do also agree that the UI is not perfect - there is always room for improvement.

/Nathan

efflux
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Post by efflux » Wed Mar 15, 2006 7:35 am

I have just been experimenting with other 3D applications including Maya. I found that Maya and some of the other programs I was testing did not have nearly as good an interface as Blender. Blender is not easy to learn because it is different not because it is unintuitive. You only realize this after putting some learning effort in. In time, when more programs improve their UIs, I think those other apps that don't change will seem very clunky and old hat.

MicWit
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Post by MicWit » Thu Mar 16, 2006 2:18 am

I have had a lot of people just starting blender say they dont like the interface and give in. Its so anoying, because its the best one out there. I mean, you make it to your own specs, and its not at all a challenge. Then you can choose your presets for (I think its 6) different tasks, now how many programs can you do that in (to be honest, I dont know, never tried).

Maybe an option in blender would be to have another option under the menu where u choose ipo, 3d etc of noob :P Under there would be some traditional menus kind of like the ones in 3ds, maya or c4d. That way if new users really want to (new to blender, not 3d. People new to 3d have no experience, so dont find blender hard I dont think), they could choose an interface more like one they are familiar with.

I suppose I am kinda against this idea though, as blenders interface (once known) is one of its strong points, and having another interface, if the users used only the other type, they wouldnt see the program as being useful, as they wouldnt change over the the blender traditional interface.

Time to end my ramblings,
MicWit

joeri
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Post by joeri » Thu Mar 16, 2006 10:51 am

MicWit wrote:
Maybe an option in blender would be to have another option under the menu where u choose ipo, 3d etc of noob :P Under there would be some traditional menus kind of like the ones in 3ds, maya or c4d. That way if new users really want to (new to blender, not 3d. People new to 3d have no experience, so dont find blender hard I dont think), they could choose an interface more like one they are familiar with.

MicWit
I suggested noob and pro setting button, but UI experts say that's not going to work because nobody wants to be a noob. Modes are not very good for usage.

But maybe if they ( the Gui experts) would call it "Easy To Learn" and "Fast to Use" then there is no "noob" word negativism. Then again, how basic will the "Easy To Learn" be? And this would mean that a Gui Modes would need to be implemented, which is not easy in current blender code.
It might even be easier to split of a branch and call that "Blender light". With only a few buttons and lots of widgets and text menus.

MicWit
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Post by MicWit » Thu Mar 16, 2006 11:43 am

yeh, I was more thinking of a submenu, with window options like in other programs, then it can be said that it may be easier for people using other 3d packages to use this submenu.

joeri
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Post by joeri » Thu Mar 16, 2006 12:56 pm

Well I think that the most powerfull part of blender is context sensitve hotkeys. They are not easy to understand (no other program has that), difficult to learn (just like learning german words), but very fast in workflow.

This issue will never be solved. Hardcore blenderheads don't want popdown (3 mouse clicks and menu reading) for some function that can be accessed with one (or 2) keystroke(s). And "Lets see what this thing can do" people dont want to learn 400 pages manual for "add-cube" or "extrude face".

The Gui people have a hard time combining the two and do it (in contrairy of what gospel_virus claims) in my opinion very well.

I think that the word intuitive and conformative get mixed up alot.

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