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Workflow and interface design

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I'm a programmer, having worked in the game industry for several years. In past projects, I've spent a lot of time working with designers and artists to create tools for special effects, GUI editing, and level building that meet their workflow needs. I look at interfaces like Max 5-7, Maya, Lightwave, ZBrush, Illusion, Photoshop, Sketchup, and other game and level editors. Some of these, to me, seem to be laid out horribly while others shine in their intuitive nature but draw outside the lines of traditional interface design. That might alienate some people. ZBrush amazes me. It allows real-time deformation of arbitrary surfaces. Alone, that is nothing new or super sophisticated. Until now, it's just been too expensive a process to do real-time. It resembles older, uglier DOS packages like Autodesk Animator (which I loved). But what it lacks in appearance it more than makes up for in ingenuity. It puts the power to sculpt in artist’s hands, allowing anyone with artistic talent the ability to work naturally and create fantastic results without learning a million features, menus, and modifiers. Sketchup does pretty much the same thing for non-organic projects. It doesn't do nearly everything Max, Maya, Softimage, or Lightwave do with respect to materials. But, it does things intuitively and cleanly. Things happen more naturally by just clicking and dragging to split edges, add faces, extrude, and perform operations along paths. I use Max frequently because, like Windows and C++, it is, or was, the most common tool. I miss the iconic toolbars from Max 5. Regardless, the interface as a whole seems like it's inefficient. There's so much to do to navigate tabs, rollups, and menus. I know there's a lot to navigate because it does a lot and presents a lot of options. It gets the job done, just not as optimally as it could if you could go directly from your vision to art more fluidly. So, here are some questions. Is the interface designed to help artists work? Or does the artist force themselves to adjust to the interface? Is there a better way? Or have you settled for what's popular because that's all there was at the time? Would you be alienated by something different? How would you ideally work with a tool? Would you be comfortable navigating a non-standard GUI? There is always a better way. We just need a new wheel.

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