Session – Microsoft Blend: Tips & Tricks

PDC 2008, Day #1, Session #2, 45 min.

Doug Olson & Peter Blois

My next session was run by a couple of the key guys on the Expression Blend team.  (Which is located in Minneapolis, if I remember correctly).  They did a quick intro to Blend and then showed various techniques for using Blend to develop WPF applications.

This was my first real view of Blend in action and it was fairly impressive.

As everyone explains, the basic idea of Blend is that it is a tool to be used primarily by designers.  Developers are expected to work primarily in Visual Studio, and designers in Blend.  The beauty of the architecture is that both tools work directly with the XAML file(s) used by the application.  So there is no converting of designer-supplied UIs into Visual Studio.

The slightly shocking thing was Peter’s main demo—he opened a sample project in Blend.  And the sample project was Blend itself.  It got a little surreal to see bits and pieces of Blend loaded inside its own designer.  But Peter proved the point that it was straightforward to work with large WPF projects in Blend.

Also notable was Peter’s quick demo of a little tool called “WPF Snoop” that he wrote.  It inspects a running WPF application and breaks it apart into its constituent visual elements.  Then came the big applause-inducing moment of the day.  Peter flipped a 2D/3D switch, and WPF Snoop rotated the 2D view of the Blend GUI into three dimensions, showing an exploded view of all visual elements in the application.  Gorgeous.

Doug and Peter’s other main theme was how easy it is for a designer to take an existing project and just restyle the various elements.  As an example, Peter demo’d a little Twitter application that he wrote and then showed the version produced by a designer that he worked with.  The impressive thing is how different the designer could make the application look, and even behave, just by changing the GUI from Blend.  This really serves to prove the point of separation of GUI and behavior through the use of two different tools.

Takeaways

  • Blend is a powerful tool and can even handle very large projects
  • It’s true that designers can significantly modify look/feel of an app without the developer being involved
  • WPF Snoop is a must-have tool
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