By Jonathan Goodyear
I decided to attend the MIX Conference in Las Vegas this year. It was the first time I ve attended the event, but it has gotten relatively good reviews in the past, so I was very optimistic about what I was going to experience. Besides, the Microsoft Regional Directors were getting a private meeting with the newly coronated Corporate Vice President of the .NET Developer Division, Scott Guthrie, and I definitely didn t want to miss out on that.
The Venetian hotel and casino certainly didn t disappoint; it is one of the most ostentatious venues at which I ve ever stayed. Among other things, I had seating for at least 10 people in my room, just in case I wanted to invite a few friends over. Whatever.
Besides the aforementioned meeting with ScottGu (he inherited the nickname based on his e-mail alias), I was interested to see what it meant to attend a conference that was intended to encourage a collaboration between designers and developers. While I saw many sessions on Silverlight, Windows Presentation Foundation, and Expression Blend, they carried the indelible mark of developer-centric content. Based on the show of hands surveys done by many of the speakers, the rooms were full of developers, with designers few and far between. What happened? I couldn t help but think that Microsoft is expecting me to learn all of this design stuff. Yuck!
It is true that Microsoft pays lip service to the concept of designers and developers working together in harmony, which evokes images of a field of sunflowers, holding hands, and endless refrains of cheerful folk songs. Getting back to reality, though, I think Microsoft is fumbling the ball with regards to its strategy to embrace designers. For example, it is clear that Microsoft considers Expression Blend to be the darling of its Expression Suite, yet the true gateway to the heart of designers must be its graphics and drawing application, Expression Design. There was extremely little coverage of Expression Design at MIX, though. Compare that to Expression Blend which was everywhere. The conference was very much about Silverlight and how Expression Blend helps in Silverlight application creation.
Now, it would be foolish to think that Expression Design (I won t call it ED, because that makes me chuckle too much) will displace Photoshop anytime soon. It really wasn t meant to do that. However, until designers are willing to pick up this new tool to do something familiar (e.g., create graphics and drawings), they are certainly not going to pick up Expression Blend to do something completely foreign to them. Yet that is seemingly what Microsoft is expecting. Hordes of designers are supposed to drop their shackles and begin building exciting UIs in Expression Blend ... using WPF ... which they ve never seen before ... out of the goodness of their hearts, to make life easier for their developer counterparts. Let s face it, it s a much bigger pain in the butt for the developer when a UI design change happens than for the designer. Right now, the designer can just spit out new Photoshop graphics and it s up to the designer to retro-fit everything.
Where s the upside for the designer to scale the steep learning curve of Expression Blend? Apparently designers are asking the same question, because it s easier to find a good Clipper developer than it is a designer who can effectively work their way around Expression Blend. So what s the answer?
Loaded-question semantics aside, Microsoft really needs to start at the beginning of the process and do everything in its power to foster adoption of Expression Design; show how graphics created in Expression Design can then be used in Expression Blend and/or Expression Web to create innovative UIs and User Experiences (UX) that developers can directly tap into. If the value proposition is sold correctly, more designers will jump on board and they ll eventually see that Expression Blend also can be used on its own, without Expression Design.
The MIX Conference was originally intended to be the event that bridged the gap between designer and developer on the Microsoft platform. Over the past three years, that message has gotten lost in the flurry of developer-centric content. There has certainly been a lot to talk about on the Web development front over that time, what with ASP.NET AJAX, Silverlight, the Model-View-Controller (MVC) Framework, etc. The MIX Conference needs to return to its roots and offer a new olive branch to designers to gently bring them back into the fold. Throwing them into the middle of the swimming pool and expecting them to swim simply isn t going to work.
Jonathan Goodyear is president of ASPSOFT (http:// www.aspsoft.com), an Internet consulting firm based in Orlando, FL. Jonathan is Microsoft Regional Director for Florida, an ASP.NET MVP, a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD), and co-author of ASP.NET 2.0 MVP Hacks (Wrox). Jonathan also is a contributing editor for asp.netPRO. E-mail him at mailto: [email protected] or through his angryCoder eZine at http:// www.angryCoder.com.