By Michael Burns | on September 21, 2009
Price When Reviewed: 448.21 . 284.68
Pros: SketchFlow prototyping tool; Behaviors; Silverlight 3 effects; wider PSD support; enhanced interface; improved States and Assets; sample data.
Cons: No Mac version; Expression Media component removed; fairly steep learning curve with Web; UK version overpriced in comparison to US.
Expression Studio 3 is a suite of tools that allows you to create high-end interactive applications in Microsoft’s Silverlight 3 and the WPF 3.5 formats (for the web and the desktop, respectively).
The Studio is comprised of the Expression Blend interactive design application, the Expression Design vector drawing software (detailed right), Expression Web for HTML and CSS design, and the Expression Encoder video processing tool (both detailed on page 2 of this feature).
Blend is at the heart of the suite, providing the means to visually create applications and user interfaces (UI) and add interactivity. A key element in the release is Silverlight 3 authoring, with a Silverlight runtime viewer and Silverlight 3 SDK added during installation.
Though it’s Windows-only, Blend is aimed at designers: it has a graphic workflow with drag-and-drop features, and an artboard and palette-based interface.
The main purpose for Blend is to aid collaborative projects between designers and developers, so the new ability (above) to add visual bubble annotations to the artboard is welcome.
Another design-friendly touch is SketchFlow (below), which introduces new prototyping features. It consists of an Artboard and a SketchFlow map panel. The SketchFlow panel shows the route of the application flow in a visual manner, following user interaction from the first screen to the final action, letting you add screens and components.
The Artboard displays individual screens of the prototype, allowing you to sketch the layout and components using Blend’s drawing tools. It’s also possible to import PowerPoint slides and Word documents complete with screenshots. Simple animation controls give some sense of interactivity in the prototypes.
Where coding does intrude on the design side – for example when you need to wire up the controls and add interactivity (known as data binding) – you can now drag items of data from the Data panel into the Objects and Timeline panel to create data bindings. It’s also possible to generate hierarchical collections of sample data that let you simulate a ‘live’ application.
Blend now has its own effects in the form of Blur and Drop Shadow, for use in both WPF and Silverlight 3 projects. You can apply these by dragging them onto components in the Blend project, and animate them by manipulating their properties. The FX button at the bottom of the artboard turns preview rendering of such effects on or off.