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An open letter to AutoDesSys regarding the interface


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Yes, Des...we are lucky to have FormZ!  But his point is well taken. Its a modal window concept that keeps everything where you expect regardless of the windows resolution, number of monitors, etc.  This thread really is asking for ADS to take an honest look at what creates confusion in the interface, listen and then code and release as if it were a feature, not just UI housekeeping.


When you open formZ and want to get to work, the last thing you want to do is re-arrange everything or have to find some sort of default that has changed.


Another approach that I see other platforms using is the opening Window that formZ now has as well (unless you turn it off) . Sketchup uses this to set a drawing template.  Autocad does the same. FormZ could do the same instead of tutorials have workspaces. One for laptops. One for 2 Screens. One for imperial feet and inches. One for Metric.  etc.


One more misc thing. Could we get the Maxwell plugin to not open the preview window when for Z opens?  Pretty please?

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After I read my post, I started laughing thinking back to the good old days of a big drafting table, parallel bar, templates, triangle, pens and mechanical pencils etc.


We've come a long way, since the days of the hand-drawn world and I remember the freedom that software brought to us!  What made me laugh was imagine if someone came into your studio at night, and split your drafting table in half, turned your ruler 90 degrees, changed all the lead in your pencils and super glued your trianlge to one fixed angle and you couldnt figure out how to put everything back.  


Its kinda like that.  : )

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hi to all,

for me, palettes are fine because i can arrange them the way i like - at least they would be fine if working correctly.
- to have an impression please visit (once again) vectorworks - the main difference to formZ is that their palettes have the ability to stay in exactly the same place i put them! - i don´t know if things have improved with 8, because i am still on 7, but maybe not...

i have 5 suggestions:

1. try to make palettes really costumisable regarding their size (allow very detailed settings - avoid big steps like they happen with materials palette or the lights palette which jump line by line!!!)

2. try to make palettes and windows and everything to stay in the place where you put them - maybe we would need kind of a screenshot function that saves all positions (its just numbers i guess?) for a desired screen setup?

3. try to have a simple and efficient file dialogue for the workspace settings - like the one for the keyshortcuts (i suggested this about 2 years ago...) - to avoid problems with corrupted setting-files (if you have access to the file which stores all the correct(!) workspace settings, you could duplicate it easily to avoid further corruption and you could call it from within the program to restore the prefered settings)

4. try to avoid the jumping around of palettes - especially in the formZ window - when rearranging them - i would leave it up to the user to put them in place and to make everything visible! if necessary, give up this special formZ window at all.

5. try to show the names of palettes always (maybe if the palette is too narrow add some dots... or use initials instead of loosing  the whole name - this happens with the costum reference-planes-palette for example)



and maybe let the user decide if he/she would like to have free floating palettes or a fixed layout - like in autocad (i dont know how this kind of layout is called?!?!?) - i personally prefer palettes, but without their (actual) annoying behavior please!


i think this layout- and workspace issues should be really solved, because it gives no good impressions to new users and its really so much work to costumize the program the way you want it - just to find out, its not working... frustrating!!!!


btw, does anyone know what happens if updating for example from 7 to 8 - do you have to rebuild everything or can you take the workspace to the next version?


one question to ads: will there be an update for 7 as well, if you decide to improve the interface???


sorry for the long post,

thanks for reading and nice greetings!


formZ 7.3.4

macos X 10.6.8

macbook pro 13" mid 2010

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Guest seasdes

For me FZ interface is too clunky. You have to search to find command which slows dow the drawing process.

Just look at the Sketchup interface. Very simple and intuitive and like many other programs (CAD or otherwise).

If you are trying to attract users then make the interface familiar. Otherwise you will be just supporting the existing user base.

My 2c worth.


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@ Des: it doesn't matter if you like AutoCAD - i could have make screenshots of any other program - they are still working similar when changing Resolution - and that's what it would like to show


For me FormZ is the best modelling Software - if not i would have changed for years.


After the last years FormZ did a lot of improvements in tools and drawing itself and did a really great job but they neglected everything else.



I think it's time that the next main task is the interface and all arround.


A program can be brilliant itself - but if you can't handle it an easy way it's useless.



Just my 2 cents.



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I agree that the interface needs some fixing and some tweaking, but they (ADS) are moving ahead quite well considering how much juggling they have to do to keep everyone happy. I remember reporting "pallete creep" in v7, it took a while but they fixed it eventually.

My Acad statement earlier was a bit blunt but imo not unfounded, I use Acad two to three days a week and can't wait to get back to Fz.


The SketchUp interface is only ok, a bit simplistic for me. I wonder how well SU interface would work if it had the amount of tools FormZ has to deal with?


But yes, an option to have a "fixed" or "floating" and functional kind of interface would indeed be welcome.

BUT, not too far removed from what they have done so far!

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well at least were in agreement!  Thank goodness for Wikipedia.  : )  


Hopefully, FormZ will continue to improve as we continue our support and it grows with new users.  I sat with an associate of mine today that introduced me to the program back in the mid-ninties.  I remember how exciting it was to model with it back then and get quick beautiful results that I could take to clients.


with v8, I feel a bit of that excitement again. I hope it continues to grow with users so ADS can put more resources towards the UI.

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As the original poster of this thread I thought I would post a follow up. First: thanks to all - whether you agreed with my points or not, it's been a useful thread.

I do think it's only reasonable to acknowledge the progress that ADS has made in recent years - the improvements to on-the-fly modelling guides and reference planes, Open GL rendering etc. However I do maintain that the overall UI design and layout, panels / palette system, iconography and aesthetics all need significant improvement.

Asone asked what sort of interface look I was hoping to find. Well there are a number of softwares already mentioned in this thread - C4D, modo and others - that show attractive, flexible and functional UI design. Having said that, I'm not asking for a clone of any of them. Each of us are going to have personal preferences on the aesthetics of the interface, so my plea is slightly wider than a specific look.

My primary request is that AutoDesSys wakes up to the fact that the design and functionality of the UI is a very important part of their product - and makes a step change in priorities / staff / resources or whatever to address this at a fundamental level.

My priorities would be:

1. Fix the workspace and palette size and positioning system - as a matter of urgency.
This is currently broken as far as I'm concerned and is my No.1 frustration. Fixing it will at least give each of us some ability to adapt the current interface to our needs. I find it hard to believe that a company with the undoubted technical and intellectual capital of AutoDesSys can't get this fixed.

2. Put the resources in place to developing a modern, unified and coherent UI. This work requires a skilled UI designer - not just people who can code. I would also suggest enabling some form of input from the FormZ community - right at the start of such as project. This very thread shows that there is a considerable interest and valuable input available to ADS.

Here are some of the main features I'd like to see:

1. Flexible and functional workspace / palette management system.

2. Unified 'single frame' UI design with flexible boundaries for on-the-fly palette resizing that makes full and efficient use of the rectangular application frame, while maintaining the option to undock panels onto other screen(s) as required.

3. Clarified iconography and improved panel design and layout.

4. Clarified and refined preferences system.

Mike A.

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I'll add my 2 cents...
Note that I am a Luddite primarily using 6.7 I haven't loaded v8 so my comments are mainly regarding V7, but it sounds like v8 hasn't changed much. I still use black and white icons with a single-column layout for the tool icons. IMHO the switch to a two-column layout (that goes waaay back) was less than ideal from the beginning, and it is worse in v7/8. When you are "hunting" for tools, having the flyout pop out to the right and cover the adjacent column is always annoying, regardless of how quickly it fades or or is dismissed.
Specifically I feel it should pop straight out to the right, not offset down. A single click on the original tool (exactly where you just clicked, not moving over to click the new version of it that popped out) should dismiss the palette. There is always some degree of unnecessary mouse jiggling or clicking that has to happen. What about adding the click-hold method from V6 back in as an option? This is the most efficient way of handling it.
The two column layout especially doesn't work with the vertical text labels. Only the left-hand groups get labeled, and the right-hand tools (while just as important in the hierarchy) get no labels, and are not necessarily related to those on the left. And there is no need for small letters - all CAPS is more legible at that tiny point size. There a few that are too long (ex. "modify NURBS surfaces") which makes a mess if they get moved to the left column - (could be abbreviated to "mod N-SURF"?)
So then, in trying to recreate a single column layout, the tool manager is problematic. I like the flexibility it seems to allow, but it is cryptic to use. It gives the appearance of a non-modal dialog, when in fact you can't do anything else until it is dismissed. Perhaps the rest of the interface should dim letting you know that you are in "tool edit" mode. And it is a bit too easy to have tools disappear while you are editing if you drop them in the wrong place.
It does appear that with a lot of patience I can combine tools to get back down to a single-column layout - in which case the only additional request might be the ability to edit group names (which would also rectify the N-SURF example mentioned previously.)
But without the ability to export tool layouts, all that work is lost if I should need to reset preferences or something gets messed up. Between work/home I tend to work on a number of different machines/platforms. Preferences, workspace layout, custom tool layouts all need to be exportable (and reliable.)
Beyond that, the points below are all good - however, I have a strong distaste for "single frame" UI design. (perhaps Luddish again, I suppose due to decades of working on a Mac.) Impossible to please everyone; flexibility is good.

1. Flexible and functional workspace / palette management system.
2. Unified 'single frame' UI design.. while maintaining the option to undock panels.
3. Clarified iconography and improved panel design and layout.
4. Clarified and refined preferences system.

Apologies for the wall of text for what seems like some nitpicky little items. But they are things that slow me down and instantly turn me off in transitioning to v7/8.
Despite the complaints, I have to acknowledge the responsiveness (or at least willingness to listen) of AutoDesSys support staff - if it were any other company I would have no hope of any of this ever being heard or addressed.
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Hey Rich f,


If you don't like the instant popup behavior of the tools you can turn it off: Edit>Preferences>Interface>Palettes and click the "Don't pop-up Tool Palettes on hover" check box. You can also turn off the group labels if you don't like them or they don't make sense in your situation. I like your idea of being able to edit the group labels. Of course you could also rearrange your tool bars so that the group labels do make sense. And saving a workspace is like exporting tool layouts, since you can also load them from disk, when you have multiple computers. You can also use a single-column tool layout in version 8, once ADS stabilizes the workspaces, if that's what you want.


The reason for advocating the single frame UI that a lot of us are making, is because there are no benefits of the current system. We now have a lot of wasted screen real estate that could be better used for design, along with the current instabilities. This is especially true on single monitor systems. I've used dual monitors in the past but I much prefer my current setup of one large monitor.



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I DEEPLY miss the old pop up dialogs of v6.  Having all these extraneous palettes open all the time is a cluster #$@%, and closing or minimizing them while modeling just to have to reopen them again is nowhere near as easy or seamless as it was in v6.  The workflow of using the interface has been compromised by the unfounded need to constantly add new tools instead of just fixing the existing ones, or improving their usability.  When all this was brought up at the advent of v7 and again at v8, we would hear from support, "OK we'll see what we can do and get it corrected for you."  But alas, I think much of this has fallen on deaf ears, as with each 'new' release, the focus is always on the new tools, and very little on our issues with the interface, or fixing the problems with the last releases.  


After all this time, I'd still love to hear why the 'new' way is better.  For example, when you used to double click on a material, the material options dialog would pop up, you would adjust and could just hit RETURN with the keyboard, or click a big OK button.  Then,  the material options dialog would GO AWAY, saving valuable real estate for the modeling window.  Now, if you don't leave the material options palette open all of the time, it is a real PITA to constantly hide it, as the tiny minimize or close buttons are incredibly cumbersome to navigate.  I like to use the Materials as an example, because while working on a project, it gets used hundreds or even thousands of times, but this applies to the other tools as well.  The workflow is also missing when using the Scale,  ::cough::  sorry, Transform tool.  Why in the hell doesn't the typing cursor automatically go to the Transform tool options dialog box for editing the X, Y, Z scaling?  I really have to click again up there to edit?  REALLY?  And we're still missing our beloved detailed mapping window, which was promised to be brought back since v7!  How about being able to rotate a strangely angled object back to Ortho without having to draw a guide?  I can go on and on... 


But it all comes down to who is going to actually listen, or better yet, change things?  Maybe AutoDesSys doesn't realize how everyone is actually using the program?  Perhaps it would be helpful if everyone posted screenshots of their setup so we can find some common ground.  I personally try to minimize the interface so I can have a nice sized modeling window in my 1920x1200 24" monitor (I have 3, but only use 1 for FormZ, the others are used for inspiration and communication.)  This was never a problem until 7 & 8, where using the bloated interface, especially on my small 15" Macbook Pro while traveling, is a frustrating experience.


I'm all for progress (where's the new render engine that can show modern LED tape lighting effects, and is graphic card accelerated??), but some of these changes were made with little reason, and it should be simple for them to fix.  Instead, they use their resources to create cool new tools that most of us have little to no use for.  It's a kind of 'ME TOO' in the 3D program world.  Hey, it's a new year, that means we need to release a new version!? Gotta keep up with the Jones's!  How about fixing your existing versions before abandoning those that support you, with your hand out for more money for a new version that is slower, less efficient, and more unstable?


Obviously we're on here because we all care, and in some way, want to keep using FormZ if they could just make it better.  AutoDesSys, help us, help you.  Give us an OPEN support ticket system where we can see where our change requests stand and even vote on them?  The only way for FormZ to grow and thrive is with a community of supporters, working to share their needs and help refine it into the next level.  Right now, you've got a sort of community of loathing, each one a little differently annoyed by the lack of helpful progression and stability.  


What will it take to bring it all together?

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Justin, i totally agree with you! +10


I love FMZ to work with, but I discover I feel tired to constantly posting requests about fixing or about things already mentioned in these posts. And that's a pity.


Anyway, hopefully ADS changes their focus to fixing!!

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- If you don't like the instant popup behavior of the tools you can turn it off...

- And saving a workspace is like exporting tool layouts, since you can also load them from disk...

- We now have a lot of wasted screen real estate...

- I know you can turn off the hover option, but I feel like the click-hold from V6 was more efficient.


- How does one transfer a workspace from one computer to another? I don't see a way to export a workspace file. I brought it up either on the forum or with tech previously and no one mentioned a solution.


- Its funny, I sometimes find the single frame layouts to waste more space... I guess I just feel too constrained about where I can put things. With floating palettes I can drag the modeling window as big as I want and minimize the palettes to get them out of the way. And I'm always on a multiple monitor setup.


...as the tiny minimize or close buttons are incredibly cumbersome to navigate.

This. There has been this push to make every palette non-model, and some of them just don't work well that way or don't need to be. It is frustrating that Material Parameters, Display Options, Component Manager, etc can't be resized or docked. Generally it seems like if you can't change the size or dock it, it should be dismissible with an OK or Return.

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Hi rich,


To export a workspace select from the menu  Workspace>Workspace Manager...>Export Workspaces... button and use the same dialog and the Import Workspaces... button to import.


If you use a palette a lot, assign it a hot key. For instance you could set F3 for the Material Parameters Palette. Press it once and the palette appears, press it again and it disappears:  Edit>Key Shortcuts...>Palettes>Material Parameters. I like modal palettes so much better than non-modal dialogs, the material parameters for example can be left open, work on a bunch of different materials and then close it. Not only that but it remembers what you were doing previously and opens to the same material group. It's also simple to rollup, ready for instant reuse. With the non-modal dialogs it's one shot at a time no matter how many times you need it in succession, that's what I call tedious.


Only if a palette is poorly designed does it need to be resized. For instance I hate it when there is a dialog box that pops up and you need to make a selection from a list of 30 items, in a 1" box that shows you 4 items at a time, requiring scrolling. That screams out for resizing but often can't. The Materials Parameters palette looks great to me, easy to use and well organized.


- Its funny, I sometimes find the single frame layouts to waste more space... I guess I just feel too constrained about where I can put things. With floating palettes I can drag the modeling window as big as I want and minimize the palettes to get them out of the way. And I'm always on a multiple monitor setup.


I think we are talking about the same thing here. Currently there is a title bar, controls and a frame around the design window. With a single application frame none of that would be there, leaving more room. There is also the Hide Palettes command, I assigned to the F11 key which just leaves the application title bar and the menu (and currently design work window which we want to have ADS remove).

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For completeness of this message thread, that I hope ADS will give serious attention to;


Here is an example (that I used in another post) of an existing application, that operates as formZ currently does, and how a maximized design window version would work:






If ADS wants to keep the UI as close to the current version, for whatever reason, this design gives that option, plus giving the user a maximized, boarder-less, title-less, control-less design work area with additional space and stability:




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I like you thinking here Robert and your 2nd image seems very doable for ADS to implement. Yes, I believe ADS is paying attention to all this valuable feedback and think the points that you are making are indeed worthwhile.

In short, I hope they consider the points you making regarding your 2nd image.


Dan S.

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Hi Dan,

Thanks for your reply! Yes I think this would be a great solution.


BTW if I wasn't clear the 2nd screen result occurs when you press the middle "maximize" button on the floating document window (upper right corner) of the first screen.

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- To export a workspace select from the menu  Workspace>Workspace Manager...>Export Workspaces...

- If you use a palette a lot, assign it a hot key.

- For instance I hate it when there is a dialog box that pops up and you need to make a selection from a list of 30 items, in a 1" box that shows you 4 items at a time, requiring scrolling. That screams out for resizing but often can't.


- Maybe this was added in v8? There sure isn't an Export Workspace in v7. We have v8 in the office but I haven't loaded it yet. Assuming that is the case, that certainly resolves one of my big issues.


- Thanks for the tip. What would be great is if the frontmost palette could simply be dismissed with a close window shortcut. (either a standard command or ctrl-W, or something user assignable.) This would require a better visual indication of which palette is active. (Maybe the title bar turns blue.) I see you can assign a close window shortcut, but it doesn't work on palettes.


- Yes, this is a highly irksome issue that many apps are guilty of (often with no indication that the box is even scroll-able.) I agree in generally they should default to be fully expanded, but I should be able to resize it down (which would introduce the scroll bars) if I want to keep it open, but get it out of the way. With Material Params, Display Options, and Component Manager all different sizes it just makes for a bit of a ridiculous mess right now.

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Robert H


At least one part of that will not work on a Mac.   the application Title bar at that location will not work.   Menubar is always at the top.

So, for Parity, this part will probably not happen.  Too, at least in the app you note, that wastes a LOT of vertical space.


Personal preference, I do not like the workspace locked to the rest of the application pallets.  it wastes space when using a multi monitor setup.


Modo has a good hybrid solution where you can pull off most of the docked pallets to float and can be combined into independent palettes with internal docking.   Except for the Right most Pallet which insists on being there!   DAMN!  I hate that!

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I like the idea Robert was showing above - specially the 2nd window. :)  


Maybe ADS TECH can do a statement about all this interesting post and ideas made here in this thread about workspace......



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I would love to see a "stability and UI" release that instead of focusing on new tools or features does the following:


Fixes bugs

Bring back lost tools and functionality from v6 that is now more difficult or not possible in v7 & v8

Fixes the workspace issues

Updates the UI (clearly some different opinions on how to accomplish this task)

Rewrites older scripts (see Lab posting) that users find useful, but don't work in v7 & v8 yet


Some of these bugs and functionality issues go back years and it would be nice to have to stop posting about them.  

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Let me explain why i am pleased with the gradual interface evolution, as-is.

What if personal computers and operating systems simply did not have the capacity to do all the things that an advanced user reasonably wants?

In short, we are compelled to find the best the work-arounds, as life itself is not really supposed to be "matrix perfect".  Regarding design... A one-ap which does it all, is going to have to work around the limitations of PCs... PCs in  turn have to work around with verbal code languages to replicate visual and dimensional geometry. Compromise is inevitable, in my humble opinion.  Some of us seem to use multiple aps, to get some specialty better suited to a specific task. This causes the difficulty with interfaces which naturally must vary in order to suit specific specialties of work flow. One interface for all of life is not going to happen!

So the choice seems to be multiple aps which handle specific, repetitive tasks most readily; but, which demands a lot of human habit forming for each separate ap... This interferes with probing deeper into any single ap.   The other choice is one ap which does it all in one ap, but with some brevity in specializations, (such as interface issues).

 I wonder if my own worst crashing,  is due to pushing self  too hard. I used to foolishly expect that digital amelioration will be done quickly for me.  Save face and fortune for me, in a difficult and pressing world. I also see this expected of  different kinds of physical machinery. We humans like things done for us. To earn our keep for us and we have to compete with other humans in the same bind.

I feel that patient observation has revealed to me, that my mindset and emotion affects my computer functionality. Coincidently, the computer electronic emissions affect me also, in two way cascades. I've stopped trying to push so hard with 12+ hour deadline sessions, (except and unless a special design is energizing the process synergistically).   Trying to gain a better marketing space in the 'matrix' has not worked for me.  Instead, through the decades, an effort  to rebalance human naturalism has worked so much better.  Full time employees cannot see doing this, but self employed people might find some do-it-yourself, physical jobs which also rebalance the body. By doing some kind of productive, physical tasks instead of sweating in gyms or jogging through traffic fumes. Balancing mental with physical work is key, especially if nature can be integrated.


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When I was accessing FormZ for a number of studio clients here in the UK one of the key benefits I highlighted was the low system resource requirements (works well with integrated Intel GPU's common on most modern laptops) and the flexibility of the palette based design which allows the user to configure an optimal layout for restricted screen resolutions (examples below were captured on a Lenovo Thinkpad 1366x768).


It's very easy to rearrange the interface if you remove the 'Tool Dock' and the 'Palette Dock' to maximise screen space (leaving common use palettes on the interface in collapsed form for for quick / hot key access). And the customisable 'Tool Manager' (accessed via the space-bar) provides easy access to your favourite tools / navigation aids at point of need in a similar fashion to the pie menu system of other applications (essential when using a laptop without a mouse).


Whilst I agree the interface needs an overhaul (Windows is more offensive than OS X), and that the overall graphic design language is lacking; FormZ has a very flexible design from a functional perspective.


Most of my clients render and animate their designs via Autodesk, Maxon or The Foundry products but FormZ provides a very unique modelling toolset that fit's in well with their pipelines (when used with Integrityware's 'Power Translators' to overcome the glitchy nature of FormZ's native IO plugins).


Compared to the likes of SolidWorks, SolidThinking and Rhino, FormZ's functional interface design provides far greater flexibility.


But as a boy who love's me some polygons, I'm happiest of all when all those Nurbs surfaces and ACIS solids have been converted and I'm back home in Modo! ;)






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