One of my consulting clients employs a designer who needs training on Microsoft Expression Blend. The designer's background is primarily with Photoshop and Flash, and he has little experience with actual software coding. He has already looked over a book or two as well as some online videos and would like to take the next step by attending a class.
I figured that it would be no problem finding him some classroom training on Blend. What I discovered, however, is that although there's an abundance of Blend training as it pertains to Silverlight, there is a dearth of options when it comes to Blend training for traditional client-based Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) applications. I realize that many of the concepts are the same, but something tailored specifically to desktop UI/UX in Blend would be ideal.
Worse still, almost all the Blend training options currently available are geared toward software developers who wanted to learn how to leverage Blend; they aren't appropriate classes for non-coding software designers. Essentially, what my client is looking for is the equivalent of what IDesign (idesign.net) does with their Master Classes in WCF, WF, WPF, and so on—but for Blend. How very frustrating that this option just doesn't appear to exist!
It seems odd that Blend has been out for as long as it has been and nobody has stepped into this void. It either means that there is a glaring opportunity for some enterprising company or that interest in Blend by designers is so dreadfully low that the value proposition of putting on such a training class just isn't there. It's becoming more and more apparent to me that Blend really isn't a tool for designers. It's a tool for developers who want to pretend that they are designers.
It's my opinion that Microsoft is too mature a company to have a product line that doesn't have associated classroom training. If no third-party companies take the lead, Microsoft should step up and provide it. Organic growth through books, screencasts, and conferences like MIX just isn't enough.
This is a very important issue because there are thousands of Flash designers and Photoshop designers with hundreds websites with content supporting them, along with dozens of classroom training options at their disposal. If Expression Design and Expression Blend are to compete, Microsoft must invest heavily in trying to duplicate a lot of the Flash content and training available for Blend. There's also a great need for how-tos and online training, both geared to the Blend newbie and the "I know this is easy to do in Flash, how do I do it in Blend" crowd. Classroom training options are another important step toward legitimizing the Expression Suite in the eyes of designers.
It can't be overstated how big of a jump it is to move from Photoshop and Flash to Expression Design and Expression Blend. Making the transition will take an enormous amount of effort, so Microsoft must do its best to make sure there are sufficient resources available to reduce the pain as much as possible. If the ROI isn't there, designers aren't going to jump in. I certainly wouldn't.
I also feel that Microsoft really needs to jump back on the WPF train. I realize that Silverlight is the technology du jour and that it's a subset of WPF. However, many large companies have made gigantic investments in WPF client applications, and Microsoft needs to reassure these customers (and their designers) that WPF on the client will be around for a while. Building Visual Studio 2010 with WPF was a good start. Now, Microsoft needs to follow up by providing the training for their customers to build equally amazing client applications with WPF. Blend has been around long enough that even with rapid release cycles, training content needs to be following along... and soon!
Jonathan Goodyear ([email protected]) is president of APSOFT, an Internet consulting firm in Orlando, Florida. He is Microsoft Regional Director for Florida, an ASP.NET MVP, a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer, and a contributing editor for DevConnections.