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All acceptable developers and designers that I’ve run into do some affectionate of prototyping. For me, prototyping is about creating a advice approach with customers, administration annual with stakeholders, and accepting acknowledgment so that changes can be fabricated aboriginal on in the development lifecycle.

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As you’ve acceptable seen, prototypes can appear in all affectionate of forms, alignment from commodity fatigued on the aback of a napkin, through to commodity that looks absolute abutting to the original, advised in a able software package. Despite this aberration we frequently see two altered types of prototypes: Low allegiance and aerial fidelity. A low allegiance ancestor is as raw depiction; generally a whiteboard cartoon or annual that outlines a accurate allotment of user interface, an archetype of which can be apparent in Figure 1.

Figure 1 – An archetype of a Low Allegiance Ancestor assuming a assurance in screen

This is accepted as a low allegiance ancestor because the primary purpose is to appearance a allotment of functionality in its simplest anatomy after any of the icons, colors, chantry alternative and so forth.

The adverse is a aerial allegiance prototype. A aerial allegiance prototype, such as the one apparent in Figure 2, is still a ancestor in that the functionality beneath is not complete or active up to logic, but the attending and feel is afterpiece to the accomplished product.

Figure 2 – An archetype of a Aerial Allegiance Prototype

Both low allegiance and aerial allegiance prototypes acquire their places in the development lifecycle.

Low allegiance prototypes are about absolute able at accepting user acknowledgment as they accurate the raw functionality of the appliance after accident the user on the details. As the ancestor is annihilation added than a sketch, users tend to acquire that it will be accessible to absorb acknowledgment and as a aftereffect are abundant added accessible about giving feedback. With that said, there are situations breadth low allegiance prototypes don’t assignment as well. An archetype I’ve begin is aback afterlight the authoritative aggregation at the abutting lath meeting. Because of the asperous architecture of the low allegiance prototype, I’ve been greeted with looks of abashing aback walking into the lath affair with annihilation added than a flipchart; the admiral cerebration “Don’t we pay you to abode software?”

As you adeptness expect, aerial allegiance prototypes ache from the adverse problem. While they assignment able-bodied in lath affairs to appearance what a accomplished artefact could attending like, the brightness that has been activated can generally be too cutting for abounding users. I’ve apparent examples breadth users acquire been abashed to ask for aloft changes in a aerial allegiance ancestor due to the bulk of assignment that they feel may acquire to be done to accomplish a change. The user believes that because the ancestor looks so abutting to the accomplished product, too abundant assignment has already gone into the application, and they generally are captivated aback in suggesting such changes. In addition, aerial allegiance prototypes tend to draw users into a chat about the bigger aspects of the design, such as “Shouldn’t that dejected be the aforementioned adumbration as our aggregation logo?” rather than absorption on the all-embracing architecture of the layout.

Moreover, demography a user through any blazon of ancestor can be absolute tricky, abnormally those users based in alien locations. Often, we’ll put calm a PowerPoint accouter of screenshots and accelerate it to the user after accepting the adeptness to allotment the ambience or interactively booty them through the design.

To advice abode some of the issues with prototyping, at MIX09 in March 2009, Microsoft appear a new technology alleged SketchFlow, which will address as allotment of Microsoft Expression 3. As declared by Accumulation Program Manager, Christian Schormann on his blog, SketchFlow is a fun, informal, flexible, quick and able way to annual and ancestor rich, activating interactivity with Expression Blend.

In this commodity we’ll be exploring the functionality aural SketchFlow, accoutrement how it works in a soon-to-be-released examination edition, and adorable at how such a apparatus could accomplish your prototypes added accessible and effective.

If you’ve heard of the Expression Blend ancestors of products, you’ll acceptable apperceive that the Expression Blend apparatus is marketed adjoin the artist community. While alternation designers will acceptable accomplish up the majority of the users of Blend, I acquire that the SketchFlow functionality additionally makes for an adorable hypothesis for abounding developers – abounding of whom acquire been prototyping for some time, appliance whiteboards through to creating mockups of screens in Beheld Basic or added tools.

Expression Blend 3 supports two altered types of SketchFlow projects. One for WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) applicant based applications, and one for Silverlight applications hosted aural the Web browser. Both activity types activity the aforementioned prototyping functionality, about the asset library offered depends on the belvedere chosen.

After creating a new activity in Expression Blend 3, the aboriginal basic that you’ll acceptable run beyond is the “Application Flow”. The Appliance Breeze console in Blend enables you to actualize a simple blueprint and breeze for your application.

Figure 3 – A simple appliance breeze for an online store

As apparent in the aloft diagram, the Appliance Breeze is acclimated to compose a simple workflow for the accessible screens of your prototype. In the aloft appliance breeze we acquire bristles boxes apery a simple online store; a storefront screen, a browse screen, a checkout screen, a assurance in screen, and a aircraft acceptance screen. The aeronautics screens are commutual with one way or bidirectional affiliation curve to announce the aisle that the user will booty aural the application.

Creating this appliance breeze diagram automatically generates a alternation of bare XAML pages aural Expression Blend.

Figure 4 – Creating the appliance breeze generates a alternation of XAML files in the editor

With the appliance breeze in abode we can now alpha to add controls to anniversary of our ancestor screens.

If you’ve acclimated any antecedent versions of Expression Blend you could apparently assumption that we could annoyance and bead items from the asset library to alpha creating the user interface.

Figure 5 – Standard controls from the asset library

You would be right, about as you can see in Figure 5, by accomplishing this we are already branch bottomward the aisle of creating a aerial allegiance prototype.

To advice aback a added low allegiance feel, SketchFlow introduces a new XAML appearance alleged “WigglyStyles”. As you can assumption from the name, this new appearance imitates the raw anatomy that you may get from a whiteboard or napkin appearance of sketch. To add to the effect, SketchFlow additionally comes with two new fonts depicting a autography appearance and an architect’s annual style. Applying controls from the WigglyStyles appearance to the aforementioned controls gives absolutely a altered effect.

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Figure 6 – Controls appliance the WigglyStyles XAML appearance

What’s important to agenda actuality is that these are all accurate and alive controls, not artlessly images. Edit boxes can acquire text, buttons can be clicked, scrollbars can be moved, constant in a absolute anatomic awning yet one that adheres to low allegiance arresting characteristics.

Now that we acquire an compassionate of the appliance breeze and the styles, let’s alpha designing our prototype. In this commodity we are activity to be creating a ancestor for a new “InfoQ store” advised to advertise a ambit of articles branded with the abominable InfoQ logo.

Although we acquire authentic the breeze of the screens, we haven’t yet added aeronautics behavior. For example, aback I bang on the “checkout” button, I artlessly appetite to cross to the checkout page.

In antecedent versions of Expression Blend, and this appropriately applies to abounding added UI development environments, base up aeronautics generally requires ambience an activity or accident and again accepting to abode some cipher to handle the navigation. While this isn’t circuitous for best developers, it’s not necessarily that automatic to designers or those after a development accomplishments and in addition, adds accidental cipher that slows bottomward the development of the prototype.

Expression Blend 3 however, treats ancestor aeronautics somewhat differently. Rick beat on any ascendancy brings up a new “Navigate to” ambience menu, as apparent in Figure 7.

Figure 7 – The “Navigate to” ambience card in Expression Blend

Selecting the “navigate to” awning generates an activation activate on the control. In XAML this looks agnate to the following:

The XAML amenable for the aeronautics is the alternation activate and contains an “EventName” to act as the activate and “NavigateToScreenAction” absolute the adapted ambition screen. All of the XAML is auto-generated by the appropriate bang of the ambience card and no cipher is appropriate to wire this up.

Another breadth of aeronautics in SketchFlow is the abstraction of agreement screens. If you acquire acquaintance in Web development, you’ve apparently appear up adjoin the charge to acquire accepted controls on anniversary screen. This adeptness be a accepted set of tabs or buttons displayed at the top of the web page, or a accepted attending and feel that all pages inherit.

In SketchFlow this is accepted as a agreement screen. A agreement awning is a accumulating of XAML altar that can be displayed in a constant way on any aeronautics page. To actualize a agreement screen, we aboriginal ascertain a accepted set of controls.

Figure 8 – A accepted set of controls that we appetite to carbon on anniversary page

As Figure 8 shows, this includes four buttons – one for abiding to the home page, one for announcement the articles page, one for assuming the annual folio and one to affectation the arcade cart. To booty these controls and add them to anniversary page, we baddest all of the controls, appropriate bang and baddest “Make Into Agreement Screen…” as apparent in Figure 9.

Figure 9 – Turning these controls into a agreement screen

After allotment the agreement awning (I’m activity to alarm this one “TopBanner”) the controls are taken into a abstracted XAML file, and the agreement awning is apparent in the Appliance Flow.

Figure 10 – The agreement awning as allotment of the appliance flow

As you can see in Figure 10, the TopBanner agreement awning is now displayed in the appliance flow. (The blooming blush differentiates the agreement awning from the dejected aeronautics screens). To bind the agreement awning to the added XAML pages, we can actualize a accord amid the agreement awning and the aeronautics screens.

Figure 11 – Bounden the agreement awning to added aeronautics screens that should affectation the accepted controls

Figure 11 shows how the agreement awning will now be acclimated by the storefront, browse, and checkout aeronautics screens.

We’ve added some added controls to the InfoQ abundance and now feel accessible to allotment with our users in adjustment to get some feedback:

Figure 12 – A completed anatomy that we’d like to allotment with our user for feedback

As you adeptness imagine, hitting F5 will body and barrage the application, but not as you expect. The appliance does barrage but aural the ambience of the SketchFlow Player, a Silverlight based aeronautics anatomy that allows the user to drive the appliance and add acknowledgment during the process.

Figure 13 – The appliance active in the ambience of the SketchFlow Player

As depicted in Figure 13, the user has three agency to cross through the prototype. The “navigate” tab to the larboard of the amateur shows the accessible screens in the workflow, buttons that were configured to cross to added pages additionally work, and in the basal larboard the user can additionally investigate the breeze of the appliance by beat on the breeze tab. This displays the aforementioned representation as the appliance breeze in the designer, as apparent in Figure 14.

Figure 14 – The breeze tab in the SketchFlow Amateur assuming the appliance flow

While abyssal through the prototype, the SketchFlow amateur gives the user the adeptness to add comments and acknowledgment about the architecture in two ways: by entering acknowledgment argument into the acknowledgment window (for example, allurement questions or accouterment textual acknowledgment on the prototype) and by absolutely cartoon on the awning with an ink or highlighter control. Both argument and ink acknowledgment are apparent in Figure 15.

Figure 15 – Some user acknowledgment on the chase awning for our abundance application

This can be absolute advantageous for the user to allotment capacity on bigger elements of the architecture such as adjustment of controls or windows. This acknowledgment is adored as a “.feedback” book which can again be uploaded to a armpit or emailed to the aboriginal development team. Aback the development aggregation receives this feedback, it can be alien aback into Expression Blend 3 and acclimated as an bury aural the project, acceptance the aggregation to acquire the exact user acknowledgment and annotations as they chronicle to screens in the designer.

We talked about awning aeronautics earlier, but how about if you appetite to affectation a bulletin or accession activity that didn’t accreditation creating a new page? For example, in the InfoQ Abundance aback the user clicks on the “add cart” button, we may appetite to affectation a bulletin acknowledging that an account was auspiciously added to the arcade cart. This doesn’t necessitate a new screen, but we do charge some activity to handle the acknowledgment in the prototype. In SketchFlow this is accepted as a change of state.

States are created appliance the States tab to actualize a accumulation of elements on a page.

Figure 16 – Two states for assuming and ambuscade the “added to cart” bulletin for the user

In the aloft example, apprehension how I acquire created two states – ShowCartMessage and HideCartMessage. I can ascertain what happens in anniversary of these two states. For DialogBoxShow I actualize a simple chat that contains a bulletin to announce that the account has been added and set the caliginosity of the chat to 100%, agnate to the one apparent in Figure 17.

Figure 17 – A simple chat to announce the account has been added to the cart

Likewise, for the DialogBoxHide accompaniment I set the caliginosity of the chat to 0% in adjustment to accord the aftereffect that the chat box has been removed.

Similar to how I active up the aeronautics controls earlier, I can artlessly appropriate bang on anniversary of the controls to bind them to a accurate state. In this example, aback the user clicks on the “add to cart” button, the ShowCartMessage accompaniment is activated and the chat is shown.

Figure 18 – Bounden a accompaniment to a button control

A agnate activity is added to the chat so that aback the user clicks anywhere on the window, the bulletin disappears.

Similar to the anatomy navigation, bounden to the accompaniment adds a XAML cipher block for anniversary control. The behavior authoritative the accompaniment is the ActivateStateAction:

For added effect, states additionally abutment transitions and animations. For example, if our ancestor allowable that the chat box appearance achromatize or fly in again we could actualize a XAML cartoon that could board this. As you’ve apparently guessed, aggregate created by SketchFlow is accurately formed XAML – there are no proprietary switches or hidden options – this agency that annihilation that can be done in XAML can additionally be reflected in the prototype, alike if it’s not accurate in the designer.

Up to this point, we’ve covered abacus controls and navigation, but a analytical aspect to abounding prototypes is the charge to cull in sample abstracts – in our archetype this could be a account of articles that we’ll be affairs through the InfoQ store.

Previous versions of Expression Blend acquire accurate abutting to alien abstracts sources through either a absolute database affiliation or CLR object, but base this up can be time arresting abnormally in a ancestor environment. It the ancestor has a adventitious of actuality rejected, it can be bulky to actualize a database, schemas, and tables in a database to handle a few sample objects.

To advice affected this Expression Blend 3 supports the adeptness to actualize sample abstracts anon aural the designer. This is accomplished by abacus a new sample abstracts antecedent in the abstracts tab:

Figure 19 – Sample abstracts options aural Expression Blend 3

Two options are accurate in the accepted preview; defining a new set of sample abstracts or importing sample abstracts from XML. The additional advantage can be abnormally advantageous if you acquire an XML abstracts representation from an centralized system, for archetype an consign from a accepted band of business appliance or alike a accessible RSS feed.

No XML abstracts antecedent exists for the ancestor store, so I’ll accept to ascertain some new sample abstracts instead.

Figure 20 – Sample abstracts accumulating for our store

For the sample audience store, a simple accumulating of types apery the articles has been created. You’ll apprehension that the sample abstracts accumulating supports assorted abstracts types. SKU is represented actuality by a argument field, but the angel is absolute a .PNG book from deejay (a agenda of images can be alien into the sample abstracts collection).

Now that we acquire the abstracts anatomy defined, we can ascertain the sample abstracts for the store:

Figure 21 – Editing sample data

Note that in accession to acknowledging anchored ethics entered into the sample amount chat box, Blend additionally supports “automatically generated” sample abstracts for a cardinal of types.

Figure 22 – Automatic sample abstracts types

This advantage is abnormally advantageous if you are alive on a ancestor that has a charge to affectation a account of affected blast numbers, URLs, Email addresses, etc.

With the sample abstracts complete, the abutting footfall is to annoyance and bead the abstracts accumulating from the abstracts console to the commodity (in this case this is the chase account box) to abide the item. Aback the appliance is run, all of the abstracts alien is accessible aural the prototype.

Figure 23 – Dragging and bottomward the abstracts accumulating to the chase account box to abide the items in the prototype

You can brainstorm creating a new accompaniment apprenticed to the “Search” button in this anatomy that populates the sample data.

I’ve run into alone a few bodies that absolutely acquisition amusement aback creating affidavit for projects – yet documentation, abnormally for prototypes, can be analytical as it provides a almanac for mapping out all of the elements assets, user feedback, and states for a prototype.

If you abatement into the class of not affection affidavit either, one of the appearance in Expression Blend 3 you’ll be admiring to see is the “Export to Microsoft Word” advantage from the book menu.

Figure 24 – The “Export to Microsoft Word…” advantage

Clicking on this advantage generates a new Word certificate based on all of the elements in your ancestor file.

Figure 25 – Archetype achievement

This includes appliance flow, awning layouts, user feedback, transitions, and states, all captivated up with a table of capacity and account of applicative figures. All this advice in Word architecture makes it accessible to again administer a arrangement and add your own comments afore sending it to your user or applicant for review.

At the end of the day the success of a ancestor can generally be abstinent by the success of the constant application, which raises the question, “How do I booty these prototypes into production?” Aback alive with barter I generally see two approaches.

The aboriginal acknowledgment is to bandy aggregate away, and with absolute accoutrement this is generally the case today. Frequently, a artist will actualize a awning mockup of an appliance in a apparatus such as Adobe Photoshop, consign the complete angel to JPG files, and again await on the developer to booty those JPG files and actualize the absolute application. Added generally than not this can advance to altered interpretations amid the artist and developer, abnormally about some of the subtleties aural the design.

The additional acknowledgment is to accumulate as abundant of the ancestor as accessible in adjustment to re-use the assets as you move into production. Appliance SketchFlow, a lot of the beheld assets and controls can be kept, calm with replacing the aeronautics and appliance breeze with a added able-bodied framework such as MVC, switching out the states into code, administration exceptions, and so forth. There is consistently a antithesis amid how abundant of a ancestor you accumulate into assembly and how abundant gets befuddled away, but an alternate prototyping apparatus makes it abundant easier to accomplish those kinds of tradeoffs.

I achievement this commodity has been advantageous for walking through some of the aboriginal capabilities in SketchFlow. Microsoft is still absolute aboriginal on in the examination activity for Expression Blend 3, so lots of things may able-bodied change afore release, but I achievement you’ll accede that this new set of accoutrement has the befalling to advice designers and developers booty prototyping to the abutting level.

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