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Modelling tools palette usability suggestion


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I've meant to mention this before but it came up again over the weekend when I was walking somebody through a FormZ demo.


The user found it very disorientating that the icons in the Tools Palette weren't constant (always changes to the icon of the tool last used in that particular tool group). This is fine for long term users as muscle memory, keyboard shortcuts etc take over but for a program with well over 200 individual tools (FormZ Pro) it can be very confusing. I'm fully aware that the user can select what information is shown in the Tools Palette via right click to get to the settings window. However the settings only add to the confusion as the most useful setting "Show Group Name" is displayed vertically and abbreviated making it undecipherable in many cases.


I think the following options would make the Tools Palette far more usable:


- The Tools Palette defaults to displaying the Group name beneath each icon (displayed horizontally)

- The individual tool names are displayed horizontally only on the extended Tool Palette popovers (for each tool group)

- The user is able to select font size for the display text (for those with high pixel density displays)

- A single icon is used for each Tool Group (the default icons used when FormZ is first launched works well here)

- The horizontal separator for each row of the Tools Palette is visible by default

- A 'recent tools' picker is added to the main tool dock (beside current tool window) which follows the same functionality accessible via spacebar/favourite tools


The logic behind these suggestions is that for those learning FormZ, the most important thing to reinforce is what tools belong to each tool group. Having a single icon for each tool group will help reinforce the hierarchy of the tools and created a visual mnemonic for each tool group. It will also simplify the options in the Tools Palette settings window.


In broad terms the user then becomes familiar with the tool groups:


- Pick

- Guides

- Draw

- Shapes

- Generate

- Reshape

- Derive

- Edit

- Specialities

- Mesh

- Subdivision

- Nurbs

- Modify

- Transform

- Text

- Components

- Measure

- Manage

- Attributes

- Delete


I've purposely reordered a couple of these as this ordering makes more sense to me, specifically the Edit tools before Specialities (although Specialities probably fit best beside Generate) and Text & Components moved below Modify & Transform.


This approach to a single icon to each tool grouping also mirrors the manner in which this works in other packages such as Modo (highly praised for it's intuitive user experience).


If anybody else has any other thoughts on this, please add below. Especially if you are in either strong agreement or disagreement with any of the suggestions I'm making here.

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In view of the Workspaces issues that are also being reported ( "FZ801 Workspaces Issue With Dual Screen) and hints that the interface is likely to receive an overhaul at some point in the near future. Are there any other thoughts ref the suggestions I've made here. I'm sure any participation will be taken on board by the Autodessys tech team to the benefit of all. Also interested to hear from Tech that the points I've raised are under consideration and if optimising the UX is part of the interface overhaul that's likely to happen at some point.





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What I see is that we got 37 icons in the Derive options 1, 2 and 3. If all of these are stacked under 1 icon Derive, we have to seek in 37 icons. Even more then shown in the modeling palette. But, yes, I agree it makes sense to get less main groups. On the other hand, if the user interface is more consistent, tight, you could show more icons and less clicking deeply inside and then again to seek which option we need. The less we should click to get the action we need, the better in my opinion. Let's say: main group-click click again on the option to use. Not more. 

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Hi Hugo, I wasn't suggesting a single Derive group, I listed it that way as a simplification (the current manner that large tool groupings are broken down into smaller groups works well). And I wholeheartedly agree that "The less we should click to get the action we need, the better".


The core aspect of my suggestion is that each icon on the tool palette on the left represents a group (much as it does at the moment) but the icon remains constant (so that the group relationship is reinforced in the users mind) and the named individual tools appear only on hover or click (whichever is the users prefered behavior).


I think FormZ provides some fantastic command tools for those that are already familiar with it's depth of options or for those that use FormZ as their main program of choice. The spacebar instigated 'Favourite Tools' palette is the gem here, especially in the manner it allows you access to all FZ's tools simply by typing the tools name. However, customers increasingly use multiple programs from multiple vendors as part of their day to day activity and this tends to make users more reliant on well organised icon/tool palettes to help them 'discover' the tool they require. By logically reinforcing the organisation of tools by group first you help these users with their 'discovery'.


I think there are many great ideas in the current FZ UX but it's not always documented as well as it could be, it's inconsistent in the manner in which it behaves and whilst it promises deep customisation, those customised workspaces don't always behave as users expect.

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Ok, I got the idea.


In my more then 20 years working with many different programs I feel they became all together 1 program. I do not feel any difference when I switch from FormZ to Vectorworks or Photoshop or Indesign or Pages or Numbers... The concept of all programs are the same. click-click-click-click... etc... So, for me only, it's not that important to get FormZ UI works more or less the same as others.

The main thing I really like about FormZ is that they made the program since v7 simple to use but powerful. It's a way of thinking and that is the more important thing in how FormZ can become better and better. The more we 'delete' the better it will be within limits of course ;). If the UI is based on visual approach (clear icons) then users will understand very quick the way it works. Hopefully the program will never become a christmas tree with add on's and add on's like many other programs on the market. They became (example Vectorworks) inconsequent and actually developed (marketing) still based on 2D thinking. FormZ did a great thing to start from scratch with v7.

The main focus should be consistency of the UI, stable working, no surprises, (like discussed in the other tread)... and simplicity!

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hi jon, thank you for sharing your ideas about the tool-palette.

this is one of my long time problems i still have with the interface.

especially if you dont use formz every day, the changing group icons lead to confusion.


so i really support your idea of constant group icons!!!


thank you,



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