Expression Blend 3 features: SketchFlow, Behaviors, PSD and AI import, TFS support…

Dear visitor: Please keep in mind that this post is originally from Vibor Cipan's personal blog, the name of which we eventually adopted as our company name together with its conveniently-named URL. We're keeping the posts on our official company blog for all the subscribers to Vibor's blog who have read and commented on his previous posts. Please be aware that this post represents Vibor's personal thinking few years ago and doesn't necessarily represent the opinions of the UX Passion as a company today. 

Expression Blend 3 brings a bunch of new and exciting features. They target designers and also address some challenges regarding designer – developer collaboration. SketchFlow,  Behaviours, support for PSD and AI file import are some of the coolest new features.

Together with Silverlight 3 Beta at MIX09 conference, Microsoft has presented Expression Blend 3 preview. Expression Blend is without any doubt my favorite application since it was called Sparcle and was in some CTP phases. I liked it ever since and I am really excited to see it growing and reaching V 3.0 now.

UPDATE: Silverlight 3 has been released. Expression Blend 3 and SketchFlow are available as release candidates. Learn more about Silverlight 3 and new features in Expresssion Blend 3 in this article.

So, what’s new with the Expression Blend 3?

Clearly the emphasis has been put to designer – developer workflow improvements and bunch of newly added features are targeting exactly that kind of workflow. Now we have SketchFlow – a truly rapid prototyping capability that enables you to easy communicate design ideas and prototypes to stakeholders (and much more, I’d say from my personal experience with SketchFlow), also design – time support for sample data that basically allows you to design and test apps without access to live data. Furthermore, something that is really great addition and I find it extremely important in terms of making Blend a tool which can fit into virtually any design workflow is the support for Adobe Photoshop (PSD) and Adobe Illustrator (AI) files directly within Expression Blend 3. For designers that are not really comfortable with coding, Blend 3 brings in something called Behaviors – extensible and reusable components that add interactivity to your apps without writing code (yup, I know you like that). And now when thing is public I can say it loudly – Blend 3 brings support for full code editing of XAML, C# and VB – and yes – that means IntelliSense. I’ve received almost a dozen of emails from people asking about this – and now you have it – you can write XAML, C# and VB code in Blend 3 without need for Visual Studio. Of course, if you need (and you certainly do if you are developer or designer that is not afraid of some coding) more advanced code support and features like debugging, breakpoints and stuff like that – you will still find Visual Studio to be a must have!

Well, what follows is the more detailed list and explanation of coolest Expression Blend 3 features…

SketchFlow

SketchFlow introduces a new set of features designed to make it easier for you to experiment with dynamic user experiences and create compelling prototypes. SketchFlow also helps communicate design ideas to other stakeholders, and makes it easier to collect in-context annotated feedback. SketchFlow enables the navigation and composition of an application to be modeled in a very visual manner from a simple prototype that uses a series of sketches, to something much more evolved. A prototype can be made as real and interactive as it needs to be to communicate design intent and SketchFlow can leverage all the existing features of Expression Blend.

UPDATE: Be sure to take a look at this great SketchFlow video from MIX09 where Christian Schormann presents some realy cool things about SketchFlow. Big thanks goes to Sara Summers from UX Array, Microsoft User Experience Evangelist for pointing me to this video.

Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator import

Expression Blend contains powerful import tools to enable smooth integration with workflows the designer already has in place. Designers can import files in both Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator file formats.  The designer has freedom to view and import Photoshop files layer by layer. Layers can be easily regrouped and elements retain their original formats; layers, layer positions, editable text and vectors remain available for editing within Expression Blend.

Behaviors

Add interactivity to your application, without having to write code. Behaviors can encapsulate complex design interactions into reusable components which can be directly applied to a user interface element in the application. Developers have access to a rich API that they can use to write their own triggers, actions, and behaviors for use in their Silverlight and WPF projects.

Sample data

Design time sample data makes it easy to build data-connected applications without access to live data. You can generate sample data or import sample data from an XML file and is available to controls on the artboard at design-time. You can extensively customize your sample data details, and you can easily switch between using sample data and using live data at run-time.

Improved design and development experience

Expression Blend 3 includes many features that improve the overall design experience including a brand new design surface making Blend more accessible to visual designers. Team Foundation Server support allows easier integration of the Blend user into Team System. Improved animation and easing functions, 3D transforms, visual effects and an improved visual state manager enable a great tooling experience.

What’s next?

Expression Blend 3 Preview (think of it as it was regular beta version) provides full support for Silverlight 3 features such as shader effects, perspective 3D, control skinning… Microsoft also provides a set of project templates for Visual Studio 2008 including the support for XAML IntelliSense, designer, code editing and tools for building and deploying your solutions. More features will be added to the Visual Studio 2010 beta.

Expression Blend 3 Preview creates content that targets Silverlight 3.

IMPORTANT: A Silverlight 2 project opened in Blend 3 will ask to be automatically updated to Silverlight 3. This cannot be undone. To edit Silverlight 2 Projects continue to use Expression Blend 2 SP1.

Here you can learn more about Silverlight 3 features – don’t miss it.

For even more detailed Expression Blend 3 feature list, go to official page.

Comments (7)

  1. Could you compare (in a post, maybe even some screencast) SketchFlow prototyping with prototyping in Excel, as described in “Effective Prototyping with Excel: A practical handbook for developers and designers”?

  2. @Vatroslav: Gladly, but I don’t have access to “Effective Prototyping with Excel: A practical handbook for developers and designers” book currently. I will take a look and see if it is available in our internal library. I must say that I am curios about usage of Excel as a prototyping tool. I prefer Blend, investigating SketchFlow and I know that number of people in my team use Visio, but never seen Excel being used to be honest. I will explore it, thanks for suggestion!

  3. The sketchflow demo from MIX (57 minutes), does a nice job of showing off how it works. Link below:
    http://videos.visitmix.com/MIX09/C01F

    • Thanks a lot for sharing the video Sara, I will include the link in the article!

  4. Čestitke i zahvala na objavi HR tutoriala za Blend i Web na PIL2! Izuzetno korisna stvar

    • Hvala i prenijet cu cestitke i ostatku tima. Takodjer, uskoro ce biti i sadrzaji za Expression Design!

  5. [...] UPDATE: Here you can find article explaining new Expression Blend 3 features. [...]

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