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October 13, 2019, 05:44:07 pm

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Its time to modernize the WM experience with a complete UI overhaul

Started by mattnava, September 15, 2019, 02:51:43 pm

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mattnava

World Machine is a brilliant program. I think that it's core structure and approach is the most forward thinking of all the terrain apps out there. But the UI is outdated, and is holding it back.

I think it's time to modernize the program with a complete overhaul of World Machine's UI.

It's clear that the interface was started a time long ago and was continuously modified. The result is a UI with elements from different eras of development all slammed together. Just from looking at it, you can see that as new features came online their UIs were done in slightly different ways. For example, there are many kinds fonts that don't visually go together-- they are different sizes, some are anti-aliased, some are bold, etc, without a seeming hierarchy. Most importantly, the way that you interact with the same kind of UI in different parts of the program is inconsistent. There are some sliders that allow you type in a number and some that don't; some that allow higher levels of granularity when sliding than others. Some things require a double-click on to open their property windows; some things require that you select them and then hit a button on the sidebar to open their property windows. There's a whole lot of similar issues across the board.

The UI lacks a clear, consistent direction for its visual hierarchy and user interactions.

The UI is functional but it is unfocused. It's may have started with a clear design but after accumulating so many elements it's direction has become unclear. This makes it both non-intuitive for new users and frustrating for pros. The lack of an intentionally designed visual hierarchy, the breadth of organizational ideas, and the non-unified UI interactions make it hard to predict where to go to find what you want and how to interact with it. A large part of mastering the program is simply building a mental model of all the different ways to use similar elements of the interface itself.

It probably has never been possible to prioritize the interface over adding new terrain features. Understandably, UI is not as "cool" of a feature, and on a small team it can be hard to allocate resources to focus on it. But it is important. Improving it has exponential gains for users. Using the program requires hundreds of interactions with the UI an hour -- if you can make the basic acts of working with the UI faster, smoother, and more predictable, the simple time-saving benefits are enormous.

To really do this right is a big project. You need a really good graphic designer to prototype new visuals for the interface, icons, etc (I suggest looking into Figma, a nice UI prototyping tool). You have to re-architect all the UI to inherit from a robust, future-proof UI API to ensure consistent interactions across the board and low resistance to adding new UI elements that match the scheme. And you need to focus test the UI experience with new users and seasoned pros in order to identify what should take priority in the design. That sort of testing is critical to forming the right overarching direction for the UI so that it can be re-organized in the best possible way.

The goal should be to make the interface so intuitive that it practically melts away. Interacting with it should be so simple and consistent that the user doesn't even think about it-- they can instead focus completely on the creative task at hand.

Thanks for considering taking on this large and important task. The powerful methodologies that underly World Machine deserve a modern user experience, and that starts with a rich, clear, and robust UI.

Demostenes

Well, personally I have no issue with UI at all. On my list of priorities it would be last thing to improve. On my list first would be GPU support (ability to fast iterate is everything), second more comfortable texturing (definitelly worthy to inspire by geoglyph), filters for dunes....

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