2.5 Interface Organization suggestions

Hello folks,

I’ve been looking through the newer builds of 2.5 quite a lot recently, and it’s amazing the amount of stuff that has been refined and added to our humble Blender. It really is a big leap forward.

However, one thing that I’ve noticed (and I’ve heard other people mention it, so I know I’m not the only one) is how the interface still looks cluttered. The buttons are strewn pretty much everywhere in all different sizes and shapes, and sometimes we’ve got one column, sometimes two, sometimes three. All this (and more) adds up to quite a confusing UI and makes the app look less “professional”. I know that the devs are hard at work doing wonderful things behind the scenes, so rather than just complain and state my opinion, I decided to get off my backside and try and help out.

This is the first of a few mockups I’ll be doing, to try and establish a better and more usable layout for 2.5. I’m not saying I’m taking over or anything like that, just merely trying to help out, and maybe some of these ideas will help the devs out. You never know.

Anyway, here’s my first proposal for the buttons window:


You’ll probably notice quite a few differences straight away:

  • I have redesigned the buttons window header. Now it just has the icons for the different window modes. To switch to a fifferent window type (3D view, NLA editor etc) you simply right click on the header and select a window type
  • Each panel now has a subtle header to break things up a little. I also removed the grab handles on the right edges of the panels, as I didn’t feel that they were needed
  • The context panel now has a different design to better represent the hierarchy of the selected object / material. It also lists the blend file the object is in, and so works well with linked objects
  • The transform panel has been redesigned, now each axis is in its own column to help users easily find it. I felt that this was an easier way to present things and also it removed some of the clutter from the panel
  • For the display properties checkboxes, I redesigned them into a checkable list box. This saves space and also groups the options together very nicely
  • Each panel has only one coulmn, which helps to organize the information and makes it easier to find options and buttons

Once again, I’m not trying to say that I know better than the devs or anything. I’m just posting a design suggestion to give ideas and see what people think. I fully respect the devs for all their hard work and commitment!

So what do you think of this layout guys? Do you feel it would work better? Any comments or crits would be awesome.

Thanks and happy blendering!

  • Alex

1-6 refer to respective bullet points:

  1. This doesn’t seem like such a great idea. Window choice is a consistent menu across all window types and removing it from the buttons window makes it seem like its in a different class. I do however advocate the removal of the other buttons in the header, i.e. the panel menu (I think it is removed already?), and the frame chooser (the timeline is in the default layout now).
  2. Yes! This is one of the main reasons I attribute to the perceived clutter. Adding the header makes it much more visually clear.
  3. That is pretty cool. I like the idea of seeing the blend.
  4. Meh, its seems just as good as the current implementation. Maybe a bit less cluttered though.
  5. Might be good as an option but I don’t like it.
  6. I think this is good in theory but it is probably difficult to fit all the stuff needing to be fit in such confined space.

Hi, thanks for the design suggestions.

I’m quite surprised you decided to take on the object buttons, because I feel this is the best designed button layout. Other layouts still need more work, especially materials, textures and particles.

I strongly disagree that buttons being in different number of columns is a consistency issue at all. The fact that each panel looks somewhat different exactly makes it easier to recognize. Besides that, multiple columns save quite a bit of space too, so less scrolling, whereas your design requires about 1/3 extra width in addition to that.

The View menu and frame number in the current header indeed is not necessary. Not having window type switching would be inconsistent though in my opinion. Regrading making it bigger, I’m not sure about that still, it looks better, but is also inconsistent with other editors.

Showing the .blend file name name in the context is interesting, but it’s not actually correct that way. The scene is not in that other .blend file. Same issue if you’re using a linked material on an object.

I think your design looks less cluttered mainly because the colors have less contrast. Personally I actually quite like them with less contrast, but this is just a theme setting.

If you really want to get peoples attention, perhaps you should be looking at redesigning the area that suffers worst from clutter… the material buttons.

I’m playing with a build that’s a couple of days old, and If I’m honest, the way that 2.5 is currently set up to handle materials is god awful. Much worse than the 2.4x series. As an example, since the mapping options have been moved to the texture buttons, I can no longer interactively see what changing a map input value is doing to the material. I have to change the value, switch back to the material window to see the result, then if I don’t like it, switch back to the texture buttons to change the values again. It’s a case of repeating these actions till you get what you want.

I am aware that the material buttons will be enhanced at some point, but If you can design a proposal that makes the material buttons more sane, you’re onto a winner.

This will be improved, the texture buttons will get a split material/texture preview, and the preview panel will be pinned at the top. But further, these layouts just generally need more work indeed.

You now when it comes to the interface I have accepted a few basic truths and made my peace with it.

  1. I am not a fan of the 2.4x interface and I am not a fan of the 2.50 interface either but 2.50 is the lesser of two evils.

  2. All interfaces threads are utter wastes of time, whether well thought out or not from the shear point of view that the devs don’t look at them and are unlikely to make changes based on any thing said in these threads good or bad.

  3. In 2.4x Blender the interface is the most critisied aspect of Blender post 2.50 I will bet good money the most critisied aspect of Blender will still be the interface.

  4. Regardless of the interface, Blender will still be fun and though it might drive up me the wall at times I will hopefully be Blending until am over 80

he he I see brecht posted before me, so am wrong about devs not looking into these threads

i like alex’s proposition…

Please, Brecht… bring back the “ESC” button to stop playback animation and stop “bake”.

This will be improved, the texture buttons will get a split material/texture preview, and the preview panel will be pinned at the top. But further, these layouts just generally need more work indeed.
Yeah, I figured the devs wouldn’t let it stand as it is, which is why I’ve been keeping my opinions on the 2.5 interface to myself till now. The only reason I mentioned it at all is because I see it as the part of the interface most in need of organization.

btw, since devs are reading this, I’d like to thank you so much for the sterling work done so far. There is very little I dislike about 2.5.

I like the suggestions so far. They are clear and concise, well though out. I especially like the bread crumb like buttons on the top. I also would like to see the headers be reworked in blender to exclude unnecessary info. I think the one column rule is what is killing me the recent builds of 2.5. Things are startign to get really cluttered again, information is being basically sandwiched together which was one of the main issues with 2.4. Limiting panesl to the one column will make the user scrool more but the information will be more readable imo and look way less cluttered than 2.5 is startign look. Especially with eh defautl setup. currently i have to setup my own default file to make things bigger because certain panels are unreadable or looked too cluttered unless the panel is stretched out a bit. Now thats not to say that everything should be limited to one column per panel but in general it looks less cluttered imo than having too much information in one panel.

i find your design pretty good, and look forward to see your other proposals.
the best thing is definitely the use of panel headers to clean up and divide areas (i think that also panel of one color and background of another as in 2.4x would do the job).
I agree with Bretch that multiple columns are ok to save vertical space: i.e. look at your duplication panel which almost could fit in one row! and also, the checkable and scrollable list, which is a nice idea, easily fits two columns without the need to scroll
Checkboxes are clean and better than current svn IMO
last but not least, buttons window HAS to have the window type chooser, just as any other area in the app, just as in the wonderful interface paradigm Blender has always had. :cool:

So, not bad you mockup, but some innovations don’t fit in my opinion.
Go on, keep up your nice humble approach and, since devs look in here, maybe some of your ideas will get in trunk, who can say?

Perhaps a way to hide the type chooser? It could be an option. Personally there is very little reason for me to have the window type chooser in the buttons panel since I’m not going to change it. Perhaps a little python hackery will do the trick?

As for the current Blender 2.5 layout whos idea was it to make everythig so small and to put the Outliner on top of everything by default? It looks awful. I really hope that Blender 2.5 doesn’t look like that by default. Still far more usable than 2.4 imo.

I think it can be, in terms of scanability. Often single-column layouts look at-a-glance like multi-column layouts. So if they’re mixed, especially in the same panel, it can be visually confusing.

I also suspect that having a consistent and simple set of layout “rules” that the buttons follow helps the user find things more easily. The user unconsciously learns those rules, and searches according to them. The simpler they are (for example, everything is single-column except axis’, groups of closely related check boxes, and radio buttons) the more useful it is.
But if the rules are complex or inconsistent, then the user has to deal on a case-by-case basis and identify the layout before searching.

Besides that, multiple columns save quite a bit of space too, so less scrolling, whereas your design requires about 1/3 extra width in addition to that.

As a general rule I, personally, would consider readability to trump space-efficiency. But YMMV.

Wow, didn’t expect to see that much of a response in a few hours! Thanks guys for your comments, they’ve definitely provided a lot of food for thought.

Looking back, yes it probably was a bad idea to remove the window type selector. I’ll put that back in for the next mockup. Consistency is a very important part of the design, in hindsight it was a bit dim of me to change it.

Great to hear the opinions on the columns. I suppose I may have not explained myself properly, but Cessen has summed up my theory in his post: Readability should come before space efficiency. I do understand what brecht is saying, that my design does take up a lot more space than the old one. I’ll work on it and see what I can do. About designing the object buttons first, yes it is one of the nicer looking button layouts but to me it still looks pretty confusing. No offence meant brecht, I’ve a huge amount of respect for all the code you’ve put into Blender!

About the context, if it was a linked file could it not just remove the “scene” entry? In my opinion it’d be quite helpful to select a linked object and know at a glance what .blend it came from. If the object was made in the current file, then it would show the current file name as the .blend entry.

I know about the materials design flaws, but I don’t really think I’m that qualified to have a stab at redesigning that. At least not yet. There are so many different workflows used that I’ve never even heard of before, I’d probably redesign it to take advantage of the ones I knew but inadvertantly block the ones I don’t know of. Once again just to state that I’m not criticizing or moaning about 2.5, just simply trying to help make it a little better.

I know about the ckecklist being able to fit two columns, but this is where I think some of Blender’s interface problems have come from: not looking at expansions in the future. Someone may want to add an extra option with a longer label which would then muck everything up. Even though this way takes up more space, I think it is a bit more futureproof than trying to cram everything in.

Thankyou all for your opinions, comments and thoughts guys. I’m not trying to tell anyone they’re wrong, everyone has an opinion and everyone’s opinions should be respected.

I will say that when thinking about the redesign I had a look at Zbrush and Modo, which have probably two of the best 3D interfaces I’ve seen. Blender is unique in its own ways, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but there is no reason why we can’t learn from these programs.

Once again thanks guys!

  • Alex

Maybe I shouldn’t argue this point, because it’s more related to personal preferences, but I will anyway.

I definitely agree that similar functionality should look similar. But I would argue that there isn’t really that much you can find in practice, and that strong consistency between dissimilar settings is more harmful than helpful, because it makes them indiscernible at a glance.

Readability can be interpreted in many ways :). Not being able to see all the relevant settings at once, doesn’t that harm readability? Further, to take my point a bit into the extreme, editing settings is different from typical reading of a book, it’s more like finding a single word on a page, and in that case every line looking the same does not help.

Since we´re on readability I posted this last month on the 2.5 taskforce mailing list, as something that I think would improve readibilty:
I also believe that cramming everything together as tight as possible to save space at the cost of readability is a bad move.

hmm perhaps i was to quick in judgement,

@tb1alexc i know it would be a ton of work take a stab at the material and textures there already have been some suggestion from several people in this thread that am sure if you did some mock ups you could put some images to some of the ideas floating about.

I alluded to the fact that am not a big fun of the 2.5 interface its mainly due to the material and textures panels still been chaotic to work with and the shear fact that this is 2009 new underlaying structure and all to Blender and NOTHING has been done with the VERY LAME LAYERING SYSTEM. Why in this day and age are we still stuck with 20 boxes you can’t name or do much with.

Vainqueur: As stated on the taskforce, I agree the text should stay aligned inside the number widgets. Definitely improves readability.

Text outside is problematic with multiple columns.


Yeah, I should have mentioned what had been discussed on the mailing list already. I just wanted to show a small alteration that didn´t require a big reorganization. I don´t think everyone here reads the mailing list;)

Is the material editor in 2.5 going to allow for more than 8-16 slots for textures?

Additionally, the limited number of layers is bad as well, IMHO. We have 20. I’m still relatively new to Blender and I could use twice that many easily.

Limits in general are bad if you can avoid them. Lightwave has a similar layering system to Blender and they worked out a decently elegant solution to the layer limits issue.

I also strongly agree with Wiliam.