March 9th, 2010
GUI Design Studio version 4.0 is now available and includes some fantastic new features in two editions, both with a 30-day trial.
The new features are grouped around interactivity and element and design sharing. They enable you to build more realistic and interactive prototypes and to share or reuse individual elements or whole design templates with ease.
GUI Design Studio is now available in two different editions.
GUI Design Studio Express provides the prototyping functionality that was in v3, but focussed on individuals without the need to share projects and generate specification documentation.
GUI Design Studio Professional builds on v3, adding new interactivity and design sharing features, and is better suited to those working on larger projects, in teams, or on multiple designs.
All projects created in one edition will run in the other, or in the free viewer, except that the enhanced interactivity features in the Professional edition (see below) are not available in the Express edition. You can compare the two editions here.
As your user interface design develops, everyone involved starts to focus on the details of interactivity. What process does the user need to go through to achieve certain tasks, how many button presses, how much navigation, is it clear and obvious, can they make simple mistakes?
All of these questions, and more, need to be considered in developing and refining a good UI and they cannot be addressed easily in a simple mock-up.
GUI Design Studio v4 introduces a range of new features to enhance the realism of your prototype, allowing you to model UI behaviour that depends upon decisions or input that the user has provided. We’re providing a whole set of flexible tools to make it easy to do this and more.
Interaction controls depend upon simple variables. You choose a name for your variable in the new Prototype tab of the Properties dialog and that variable is then assigned a value when you run the Prototype and interact with the element.
Most elements can have an associated variable, even Trees and Ribbon Bars, and these variables can be shared among elements.
This variable can control other elements in various ways. For example, you could use it to insert a name that the user has entered into a piece of text, provide a default value, or you could drive a progress bar from other elements.
Variables are also tied into the Storyboard elements, as you can set up values from the new “Set Data” box. This allows you to reset variables in your UI to a particular set of values whilst running the Prototype. You might do this to simulate having different users, to reset the UI to its default value, or to jump to a particular state.
With project-level presets, it becomes even easier to repeatedly test or demonstrate different scenarios.
Radio Buttons can be grouped so that they can act in unison.
Now that your users can start to interact with the design in a far richer and more realistic way, they are going to want to navigate around it using the keyboard just as they will in the finished user interface.
To do this you can click to gain focus on an element and use the Tab key to navigate around. The Spacebar changes the state of an element and the Enter key will “Close and Accept”, or the Escape key will “Close and Cancel”. Just like the real thing.
Not only can you control the value and text in an element, you can also control when an element is enabled and when it is visible. That means that you can make additional controls appear or disappear depending upon which options the user has selected, or make sure that the next logical control is automatically enabled based on the user’s selection.
Variables are firmly embedded in Scenarios and Conditional Navigation too. The Condition Box properties now include a “Condition” entry allowing you to control the flow of the user interface with more flexibility and clarity.
For example, you could set up conditional navigation to bring up a warning if the user tries to create a password of less than a particular number of characters, or to ask for confirmation of a destructive action if the user has set an option.
Wherever you need to test a condition or use the value of a variable, you can use a general expression to combine or process the values of your variables. A wide range of Boolean, binary, comparison, arithmetic, trigonometric and text operators and functions are included.
Conditional Panels (on the Storyboard panel) build on top of these conditions. Using a Conditions box, (like those in navigation scenarios), you can control what content appears within a particular area. In the example below, it controls whether a Log In panel is displayed or a Welcome panel depending upon whether the user has already pressed the “Log In” button.
The User Name also shows up on the Welcome panel when running the prototype, though it doesn’t show in design mode (as above). This example can also be easily extended to validate the User Name and Password.
Once you’ve mastered the basics of interaction control you’ll be ready to start using the advanced features to prototype the behaviour of your UI in detail.
Text substitutions, for example, allow you to perform complex substitutions where text content, or a variable name and value, can be set from other variables. You can even combine multiple variables to build new ones; we’re calling these “translation variables”.
Whatever your application, we’re confident that you’ll find that these new interaction features make it much easier and quicker to build a more complete UI prototype, and still without writing a single line of code.
Any folder (and its sub-folders) within the Project tree can be made into a Custom Element Folder. The folder icon then changes to indicate its new status.
You can create Custom Element designs within the folder and any existing GUI design that you want to be used as a Custom Element can be dragged into it.
A Custom Element design can be as complex as you like, from a single pre-styled element to an entire form full of controls. You can still edit this design just by double clicking on it, so it’s easy to update and maintain.
When you drag a Custom Element design onto another design, the whole content is copied across as if you’d added the elements individually. At this stage, changes to the original Custom Element will no longer affect the new design.
That means you can then modify it in your design to suit the particular circumstances, changing the style, size and layout, and adding in specific information relevant to its context.
Custom element folders can be created in any project but they really come into their own when creating library projects full of reusable designs that you can link into your working projects. These can contain house-styled elements, time-saving common groups of elements or entire design patterns.
Custom Elements are different from Components (also known as Masters) which remain linked to the original design. If you change the original Component design, each instance of use in your project will also change.
Although you can use overrides to change certain properties of elements within a Component instance, you can’t change their size or layout. They act as a single unit.
Among other things, Components are good for headers and footers on web pages, reusable panels and common dialogs; areas that you need to be consistent between many designs. They’re also very good for breaking your design into more manageable chunks, often with self-contained behaviour.
In comparison, Custom Elements are good for common patterns in your design that will most likely need to be customised for each use.
What if you want to add a Component to a design as a Custom Element? Well, you could put it into a Custom Element Folder first (perhaps as a copy), but there is no need. You can just hold down the CTRL key as you drag and drop it into your design and it will be added as a Custom Element instead.
Templates are a great way to start a whole project from a consistent pattern. Maybe you always like to have your projects set up with a particular set of pages, or with some standard elements that you always include. You could start with a copy of your last project, but a Template is a neater way to achieve it.
Templates can be inserted into an existing project so they can be used for creating complex, reusable design patterns that are beyond the single design restriction of Custom Elements.
A Template includes all GUI files and their contents, so loading a single template could set up lots of files, ready for you to dive straight into the design work.
Like Custom Elements, Templates are copied when they are loaded, so changing the original Template file will not change the projects that are based upon it. They provide a basis for you to edit and extend.
You can create a Template from your whole project, only the designs in the currently selected folder, or just the current design file. That makes it easy to turn what you’re working on into a Template for reuse in another project.
You can name the Template, categorize it, and choose to attach a representative screenshot to make it easy to find later. The new facility to export images from a running prototype can help here but if you don’t provide a screenshot, one will be generated automatically.
When you create a Template, it becomes available for immediate use within all projects. No library project linking is required.
We’re in the process of setting up a new community site to publish and share Templates and Libraries containing reusable Components, Custom Elements and Design Patterns.
We’ve been waiting a long time to do this but with these new features in GUI Design Studio 4.0, it now makes more sense. The links are already in the software and the new site will go live soon. Stay tuned!
You can download a 30-day trial of v4.0 here (either edition) and install it along side any existing version that you might be using.
GUI Design Studio version 4.0 is fully compatible with projects and files created in earlier versions but, of course, if you modify your projects to use the new interactive features of 4.0 Professional (such as Conditional Content Panels) then these will be ignored when re-opened in earlier versions.
If you want to experiment with the 4.0 features before committing to upgrading then it’s best to work from a copy of your project or create a backup first.
If you purchased version 3 on or after 1 December 2009 then we will be sending you a new v4 license key for each license you bought at that time, free of charge.
Otherwise, you can buy new licenses or low cost upgrades here. And look out for our special March promotional discount!
As always, we welcome all your feedback and suggestions so that we can create the tools and features you want to use. We’re already working on prioritizing the current list for the next string of releases!
Please leave a comment to let us know how you get on and what you think of the latest release.