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An open letter to AutoDesSys regarding the interface


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An open letter to AutoDesSys

FormZ is, in many aspects, an excellent piece of software with many powerful tools - and leads the field in many respects. However, I feel there are significant issues with the interface that let the software down and make it uncomfortable to use - and need to be addressed:


The 'individual floating palette' style of GUI is dated and inconvenient.
The workspace and palette management system can only be described as broken.
There are icons and other interface graphics that are so badly 'designed' they are unreadable.

Having used FormZ, admittedly on and off, over many years I get the impression that GUI / interface / workspace matters are not given the consideration they deserve. They are important. Fighting the interface of software you use on a daily basis becomes a very tiresome affair.

To me FormZ is like the car that has had attention to tune the engine, improve the brakes and refine the handling; but the drivers seat is terribly uncomfortable, the pedals are in the wrong place and the instruments are hard to read. No matter how the performance is improved, the car remains uncomfortable, difficult to drive - and will be less than popular.

Looking through the forums it is clear that interface / workspace and related issues have been raised on multiple occasions, by numerous users, over an extended period of time. Yet there seems to be no significant progress.

I was hoping that v8.5 might address some of these issues, but it has not. It seems odd to me that development time is being spent on new features, while no progress is made on the GUI / interface / workspace issues that are clearly of concern. It feels to me that the maths, computing science and technical challenges of developing new tools and 3D constructs are considered so much more important than the design, functionality and aesthetics of the interface that the latter constantly gets marginalised in terms of development time and effort.

Improving the GUI, and workspace management should be a priority. It is a weakness of the software that masks many of it's strengths. I know of people that take a look at FZ and reject it due to the interface. Addressing these issues should pay dividends for AutoDesSys as well as for current users.

Personally I've been considering buying an upgrade to my current FZ licence for some time - but I am very reluctant to do so when the interface remains so frustrating to use. Perhaps I'm not the only one.

Written in a spirit of constructive criticism.


Mike Abbott

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Very well put and I couldn't agree more.  For all the new features from 7 on I find myself spending twice as long going through the pallets trying to set up an operation than I did in 6.7. An example is having to use a pull down to change justification in V7 where it was a click box in 6.7 is ridiculous. (It should be something like hold down a hotkey and 3 arrows come up on the end of your line then you pick the justification graphically) There seems to be a lack of understanding of why a program like Sketchup with 1/4 the features of Z is so popular, it's the intuitive interface.  It really is that simple.  (Personally I hate SKP but I get why so many people use it) You can add new features all day but if the interface isn't intuitive people aren't going to use it.   Everytime I try to do something in V8 I will stop at some point, save it back to 6.7 and finish it there because I don't have time to waste.  It's just too slow and it's 90% the bad interface and 10% just slow.  In the 18yrs I've been using Z Autodessys has never asked my (the long time user) for my opinion... maybe that's also part of the problem. 

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a software that wants to inspire designer and architects should be a leader in UI interface design!


formZ looks like last century (late 80th) - it is the biggest brake shoe to commercial success.



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Is this a good topic?  YES


Is the interface horrible?  NO


Is 6 better than 7 or 8?  NO (way faster and better for modeling)


Could the interface be improved?  YES


In my opinion, Icons are fine.  Palettes are fine -- but a Unified interface that will stay put and allow customization is important.


And reducing tools and streamlining operations is important too.


So wassup ADS, can we see some improvements?

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Its time to get the developers to move to a modal window system and fix the basic underpinning of preferences, workspaces and bugs in the materials-openGL palettes. Import translators are buggy and still lag behind the originating programs, consistently.  FormZ is an ambitious design environment that never seems to stabilize.


ADS has a long history of excellent innovation in modeling and academic excellence. Its time to make this platform reliable. It can't grow otherwise.


We hear 'its coming' endlessly. It needs to arrive.


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Modeling is much better!

Tools are awesome! (in the positive sense!)


I work with FormZ all day, almost every day. And love it almost all the time!! 


Palettes are cluttering screen-space.

Numeric input is broken!!

Terrain tool is broken.. (grouping contours)

Working with true origo fare away, causes geometry to be horrible, and no error message appear.


Its hard to sell formZ to students and explaining: This will soon be fixed! And it does not. They go for more appealing, but worse modelers, like SketchUp and Rhino. Sad.



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I'm relatively new to FormZ, having been using SketchUp for years. The reason I moved is that SketchUp tend to "fake" geometry, i.e. everything looks fine, but try exporting to another program and its leaks, reversed faces or just plain fu$%ed up geometry. Also, the reliance on third party plugins makes for a consistency nightmare if you hop from machine to machine like I do. Once you start using SketchUp seriously, the "clean interface" looks like a road accident as there is no design consistency between these third party plugins. The amount of time I have spent staring at the screen trying to remember which plugin did what was crazy.


SketchUp v FormZ = no comparison.


FormZ is excellent. My biggest problem is information overload, I'm like a kid in a candy store, so many shiny things. BUT, on the other hand consider this: If we didn't see all those tools / icons would we know they exist?


Half the fun I'm having right now (albeit at the expense of my leisure time) is trying new tools, following tutorials etc. With regard to the interface, you should see ArchiCAD, then you would have something to complain about!!! But ArchiCAD is one, if not the most powerful BIM tools around. Familiarity of interface is an important thing, the developers are caught between a rock and a hard place. Change anything and us veterans go bezerk. Don't change it and they are accused of not innovating. It's a difficult one.


Personally, I think its fine, but I have a 27" screen. My only gripe is the awkward Components pallet - I can't dock it, If I could dock this so that when I hover over it, it would open out I would be delighted.


I think the spacebar gizmo is a great idea, once I get comfortable with a few tools I will configure and use it a lot more.


Another thing to bear in mind is the attentiveness of the devs, I have in God knows how many years submitted hundreds of crash reports, I believe this is important, there's no point moaning about a problem if they don't know whats causing it. ADS are the FIRST guys to ever send me a personal email after sending a crash report asking for more details / copy of the model (they even offered to do this under NDA, for a Greenhouse!!) / how did I crash the program etc. Now you cannot seriously NOT be impressed by that.



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I don't agree with most of the points above, except SIMU's practical and more optimistic post..


Look beyond the trees and see the forest, FZ runs rings around other software for usability imo..

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I scan through the various interface posts over the years, but doubt there is a clear agreement among all the request universally. Satisfying one request might defeat another request. Better interface concensus could develop if youtube videos demonstrated exactly what is requested, otherwise the request might not even be understood.


One  "UI look" to fit identically in all software does not appeal to me, but it almost sounds as though people want one look in all programs. That seems workable for limited programs but what then is the solution for multi-function, multi-purpose software?


As to floating palettes, why not simply toggle them on and off through personal shortcuts? This type of approach for cramped screen real-estate might be needed as more tools and controls will come for multi-powerful software.

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I do not see the overall arc of this thread as very constructive.  While I have not fully embraced 7+ due to some critical tools to my workflow not being pulled forward.

It should be realized that 7+ was and is an ambitious move from 6.x   there are many aspect of the latter that I have not come accustomed.  However, that does not mean that it is lesser of a product.

it has more to do with my lack of effort to transition.


most certainly, however, with such a major design change, there will be things that could be done better.  This is just a reality of any product.

While the complaints themselves may be valid, much is too vague.  Specific solutions need to be provided.  Even then, don't expect a specific solution you provided to be an exact match to what is developed.  There is a framework in witch the developer needs to work within.  There may be better solutions that they can provide which is seeded by your solution.  There may be a better fit to the majority of their users.



Which brings up the final point.  a developer will always need to balance their product that will give the best benefit to the majority of it's users.

As much as I would love for them to build everything to my needs, they simply cannot and will not.



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I think this is a good thread. I respectfully disagree with the last poster. There are a number of very specific requests and specific feedback around the User XP and the workflow and tool problems.  I made the full transition to v8 from 6.7 last year and found the transition to be exciting and terrifying. 


Working in an environment that requires high speed modeling and presentations with many iterations makes learning challenging under any circumstance.  The developer has always maintained a certain academic approach to formZ's iterations and has always shown less concern about being in step with other products in the market. I dont think the veteran users of this program will argue that's better or worse.


What we would like to see is the development centered around basic fixing of issues and User XP to be first rate.  The marketplace is showing CAD users and developers that fluid interfaces and stable tools are rewarded with robust user communities and organic growth of their platforms.


Those of us that are dedicating to using and supporting this platform want nothing less for all of us.  My experience on a MacBookPro without a monitor needs to be just as robust as sitting at a high-end PC workstation with two screens, and I need to also share things with clients and partners that have become completely mobile.  Its not my selfish need as a user, its whats happening in the marketplace.





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Andrew,  Fair enough, however::


When using "specific", the word has a very specific meaning.


Details clarified.   In my job I get this kind of thing all the time:  " it doesn't work"    As not only the Designer in our office, I am also the IT guy.  it is infuriating to have to try to fix something that "doesn't work" straight faced and assuming I know what the hell they are talking about.    Sorry, I just re-read the whole thread, and there is more of 'that' than there are specifics.


To highlight:   "and fix the basic underpinning of preferences, workspaces and bugs in the materials-openGL palettes."  

Ok, it is nice to have details of ::What is wrong::    what are your expectations that would fix it.       The specifics of the solution; this is what would help the developers alter their thought path.    We can tell someone all day that something is wrong,  but without ideas of solutions, it isn't all that effective.


The portion regarding the file translators, while again not as specific as it could be, the issues are less fuzzy, so to delve into that is of no value.


Confused by your desire to have a "modal window system"     There has been a strong push to get away from the modal system.

and ADS has done a good job of doing so.  You want it back?   

  1. The modal window is a child window that requires users to interact with it before it can return to operating the parent application, thus preventing the workflow on the application main windowModal windows are often called heavy windows or modaldialogs because the window is often used to display a dialog box.

IMHO, we should continue to move further AWAY from the modal window system. and am HUGELY appreciative of the work ADS has done in this regard.  It could be better even yet.    


To get specific,  there are tools that should work with SDS object that don't.  Not explicitly a Modal window issue, fZ does behave as if it is in a "Mode" and lock you out from working with it further with a full tool set.    I would like to see any tool that works on the polygon, segment, point level function on a SDS object.  e.g.  insert segment.  in order to do so, I have to extract the control object to make the edit. then back to the SDS object.


Or, I could just say, SDS modeling is broken.  To be honest, I probably have done exactly that.


Starting with FZ in 1996, I too have dedicated myself to the platform.  Beta testing for more than 10 years, unless there is an issue that is profoundly obvious, I try to give what I think would be a solution. (not in programatic terms).  Which I can only expect to be a possible guide to aid them in their development.  Sometimes I get what I want, sometimes I don't.  Often is is a derivative or a hybrid of what I asked for.  Probably because somebody else is asking for it to behave in a different way that I.


I too with utmost admission, desire fZ to be the best of the best and have no qualms discussing it for it to be so.  Do I think it is perfect?  No.  Then again, I modify hammers and pliers to specific tasks.  There isn't a tool perfect for my needs.  


My greatest desire is to have the SDK operational.


Thank you ADS for following along.

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It pleased me very much, to read that I am not alone with my frustration about the FormZ-Interface since 7 or later.

I use this software for 20 years - and I think, if there were not this program, it would be much more difficult for me to exercise my profession.
Now I use is still the version 6, even though I've been using a lot of persuasion and motivation to acquire the skills to use the newer versions.
I recognize a certain added value…
Again and again had capitulated.
For me, there are just too many inconsistencies.
This starts with the fact, that I need to reposition the pallets in my desired position every time when the program starts - and ends with the exact scale rendering of an image.
All things, that work very smooth and properly in version 6!
Many many points I have already reported to the support of ADS and kindly I always get a response.
But now I am also glad that hopefully raise many voices of fellow sufferers here in this thread...
Kindly regards.
Theo Gschwind, Switzerland
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Rendering Scale seems to be the same to me.


I render large scale images sometimes 20+ Feet. in one dimension.  When I do so,  I have to build a frame  Set the window to roughly match the frame size

Set the image options to roughly 10" larger than the frame size,  set the Resolution to roughly 10% higher than I want in the end.   Fit,  Render, then edit image in PhotoShop to get the scale and resolution I want.

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For me FZ 8.5 first impression is a huge disappointment.


I'm also a long FZ user (21 years) and the first 8.5 beta shows a profound lack of focus from Auto Des Sys. I simply don't understand FZ strategy with this new version.


They keep throwing new tools (most of them with very limited usability) when they should be focusing in seriously rethink UX and UI to once and for all bring FZ to the 21st century, and also fine tune the existing tools (Nurbs tools in particular). 


And I will no even mention the poor and outdated rendering engine or lack of construction history that after waiting for so many years to be implemented, seem a lost cause...



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OP: is there an interface you can reference that has the "look" you are hoping to find?


Personally I find the icons and general layout of the UI very pleasing and easy to use.  I personally like floating palettes as this makes for a great two monitor setup.  Maybe floating palettes is a Mac vs. PC thing?


It would be nice to iron out the Workspace issues that seem to happen with every release though.  I second that frustration.  In general I have not had too many complaints, but have found some bugs.


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i'm waiting for a fix of the reported issues for a long time now, so i can back up what was said before in this thread. agreed, the UI with it's standard settings is not fast, but you can adapt it to be faster (for example unchecking 'animate palette transitions', 'show tips' or setting delay to 0 seconds in the preferences.


the main problem for me is that layouts are not kept as expected from session to session and sometimes moving a palette to a wrong position still messes up the entire setup. FZ knows about these issues for a long time (i have reported here and in direct mails many times) and i don't get it why this hasn't been adressed yet.


in general, the interface would be much more workflow friendly if the user could put more order into it, especially if *all* palettes and dialog windows could be docked and resized. with all the current different fixed sizes dialogs and palettes, any FZ layout beyond standard (especially if you have a dual screen layout) will always look like an icons flea market.







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I am not having an issue with pallets staying put.   Actually, They are a little too persistent.  It would be preferred to have them return to a chosen default.   However, If I move something just to get it out of the way for what ever reason, they stay put between sessions.  Without saving the pref file.


Agreed,  I too would like all pallets to be dock-able.   A single dock, is not enough.    Or at least, if they are pulled out of the dock, they should snap to each other as 6.x.


I do also find that Choosing tools was faster in 6.x  than 7+.     the popup tool palettes get in my way if all I want it to select the already displayed tool of that set.

in 6.x if I want more, I just hold the mouse button down for a fraction of a second for the popup then drag straight to the tool I want.  All nice and neat in a single row.


7+  it always pops up  and I have to hunt on multiple rows to find what I want.   Does slow the process.    


Concession, these Items do need addressing

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I am interested to see what the file you linked to because I have had similar thoughts.  In the earlier post I call this setup you described a modal UI. The whole workspace sits in a boundary and is adjustable depending on the screen used.  So a 30" single screen acts consistently, a 2 monitor setup acts consistently, and if I switch to a just laptop screen, I can toggle/collapse palettes similar to the way photoshop or illustrator works on the right side of the screen.


In formZ 8.x , if I open the program on a macBookPro retina, not only do the right hand palettes not fit well, but you cant even drag the enclosing palette window to the fill screen height. it actual restrains you and wastes space in the lower right corner. The top palette bunches up, etc.  Its just a UI mess that doesn't seem to react to its display environment.


What does work well in other programs is Cinema4D. Modo. Blender. Photoshop. Rhino. Autocad.  Some of these have the palettes approach and some are modal like C4D or Modo where everything always fits to the current display setup and you can rubberband things to where you want them quickly and then save that as setup.  


FormZ has preference setups and such, but they never seem to stick and they have always been a bit convoluted as to whether its a preference or whether its a template or whether its a workspace and not having these three areas setup correctly yield unexpected results and is VERY frustrating, especially to long term users who have learned to get it consistent one way up until v6.7 and then the new interface comes along and its similar but doesn't actually work predictably that way anymore.


What I hear in this this thread is the need for ADS to really, seriously address this once and for all, as it has a significant effect on workflow and user XP with the program.  If other 'brands' are gaining users and community by having a consistent and predictable workspace, why WOULDNT the developers make this an absolutely top priority?  I think this is what many of us continue to try and articulate, in a respectful way.

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Go back to the main Topic:


I just can agree with the first post that there a no really improvements in the Interface.


For me it's horrible when opening a file on an second machine - if there the Interface Windows are not on the absolut same Position the main window is opening anywhere.



"For years" im posting here about the Interface - i'm a Little bit dissapointed that i get no audience.


Just look at an other programs - the are all over working fine - i don't know why FormZ goes such an strengh way with an own Interface.




In the attachement there are pics out of autocad in 2 different resolutions. the drawing window is allways fix in the middle, it just get smaller but still stays proper conected to the other palettes.


When opening a file on a machine where the palettes are not really similar the drawing window covers other windows and have to be resized.


Looking forward that FormZ comes out of the 80s and there will something done "in the near future".





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