Interaction Design - the next step in RIA development

I've been having trouble putting Expression Blend, Microsoft's new tool, into a category people can relate to. So instead I just want to talk about Interaction Design and why it could have a big place in the designer-developer workflow. Giving designers more power is always a good thing and interaction design does just that.
Written by Ryan Stewart, Contributor

Since the Expression event last week I've been having a lot of conversations with people about Blend and what it means. Mostly they want to know how it compares to Adobe's stuff and whether it's worth checking out. I had sort of been wishy-washy on explaining it until I had a conversation with Simeon Bateman, an avowed Microsoft-hater. Blend is a new type of product, and one that is good for Rich Internet Application developers everywhere. And this is a problem that we've been struggling with at Threecast, the web startup I'm working for.

We're looking for a workflow that would allow our designer to build in some basic functionality into our components that she can then hand off to me to add more functionality behind the scenes and for some of the more advanced transitions. We want the application to have all of her design incorporated including how she wants transitions and effects implemented. Right now with Flex and Adobe's design tools that is hard to do. There is no one product by Adobe for "interaction design". You have some Flex tie-ins with Fireworks and Illustrator, but nothing quite like Blend, which is why it's been hard to describe.

Blend isn't there yet. It's still a bit hard to use (though I haven't seen the most recent beta) and there are still some things that designers probably won't like. But it's a step in the right direction. Blend is an appropriate name for a product that aims to bring developers and designers together. I focus a lot on the design-develop workflow, but in the future I think we'll see a design-interaction-develop workflow and right now Blend is the only product I see that fits into that interaction category.

So as of right now, it's hard to categorize Blend and compare it to something on Adobe's side. Adobe has made a lot of progress in helping designers and developers come together. I'm seeing that with our project right now. But it's still got a ways to go and as more people start working with Rich Internet Applications, designers are going to want more control over how the applications flow. It isn't going to just be about how the assets look, but how they transition to the screen and move through the application. Right now, that's the piece that is still firmly in the hands of developers. Once we give the designers the ability to let their vision run all the way through the application, it's going to mean better experiences and better applications for everyone.

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