Expression Blend not for Designers, but for Integrators
Last Friday I was at the SDN Event in Houten, where I followed several UX tracks, and spoke with the speakers afterwards. I was trying to find out how they worked with Designers and Developers and the technique’s Silverlight and WPF.
And almost everybody agreed (except Kevin McNeish for some reason) on how to let these two groups cooperate. You will need someone called an Integrator. Somebody who can merge the work of the designer with the work of the developer.
Expression Blend is not a tool for Designers. Maybe Microsoft would really like the idea that Designers would work with it, but you cannot really design in it.
You probably can educate your Designers to let them work in Blend, but personally I think that’s rather strange. Because with Microsoft’s Philosophy about “People Ready” and “User-centered design” where the application is adjusted to the person’s specific needs. This one doesn’t seem to fit in. It looks like they’ve created a new role within the development process.
So how do you need to work with a “Integrator”.
Well, it really depends on how much your designers are willing to “bend” towards the tasks of an Integrator. If they only make the design as pictures, then the Integrator must build the entire interface in XAML.
I also may be possible that a Designer (or someone else) can do the work of a Front-end developer, and build the interface architecture in Blend. The Integrator will then connect it to the work of the Developer.
With the interface architecture ready (build by either a Front-end developer or the Integrator), and you have “learned” Designers how to Style the different elements in the interface, then they can do this styling themselves right inside Blend. But you do need to teach them how to work with the different styling types, bindings, resources, etc.
Luckily most difficulties are with integrating the Design. Development on the other hand is a bit more straightforward and can be applied through patterns as MVVM. This article by Josh Smith in the February 2009 issue of the MSDN magazine explains how you can work with this.
Conclusion: When working with Silverlight or WPF, and have both Designers and Developers, make sure to get yourself an Integrator (or someone who can fill in that role). Having a naming-convention like I explained in this post will just not work in this scenario, because you cannot expect Designers to be able to build the entire interface in Blend themselves.