Presentation: Be Vain

Back to the “style vs. substance” vein…it is too bad when you present a prototype that is function complete yet is still waiting for the visual geegaws and the customer can’t get past that. Equally as bad is the presentation of a beautiful looking prototype that has nothing behind it, the modern equivalent of the first Tucker demonstration (crazy movie/automotive history reference). Typically the customer views the product as “done” since all the pretty stuff is done. I had the luxury of doing a project on a team where one guy (who fancied himself a UI designer, but I digress…) spent more than 3/4’s of the project time messing with a “beautiful” prototype and showed it to the customer repeatedly. Some good things came out of those sessions. But management assumed that since the UI was done, the application was done and moved up the development time. He was screwed until he remembered that the rest of us were working on the functional, less pretty vision of the app and he got the opportunity to do his pretty UI attached to our backend.

I’m a software developer and have studied enough design to make my projects look passable, but they’ll never be beautiful. I realize I need professional help, but have no idea how to find and evaluate designers.

So, where do the great user interface designers hang out? I find it easy to find ‘designers’ for brochures, advertisements and even to make a pretty website, but hit a dead end when it comes to desktop pc software. Where can I find design talent that has some technical chops too?

Unless you have a multimedia box I can’t see Frets on Fire being as much fun as the Guitar Hero series. By the time I’ve wandered upstairs I could have turned on one of my guitar amps.

Secondly I can see the RIAA coming after sites that host the Frets on Fire files like they have with the Tab sites.

while i agree with you on the main point (make it look hot, etc.),
don’t bag on fof. it’s written in python. python was never really
meant to render graphics. it sacrifices some performance to trade
in for really easy programming. python reads almost like english,
all the time.
but doing the simple trig needed for fof, for every frame, while
still running smoothly, is quite an achievement for python as it is.

If programming it in python is what makes it look crappy, then it shouldn’t have been made in python! Choice of language is not an excuse for poor graphics - nor for anything else. You might as well argue that all the horrible vb or java apps out there are really fantastic, it’s just that the language limits them …


Let me know when you get passed “Through the Fire and Flames” =)

TraumaPony. your statement is dumb, boring, hurtful and offensive. Refrain from repeating that phrase in the future, specially in serious blogs.

Based on the screenshots, Frets on Fire definitely. Much less cluttered and I can actually see what’s happening.

As another commenter remarks: bad example for a good point.

Great - do you have any idea how many writers of simple utility apps just read all that and became inspired to create zany skins for themselves using an inflated sense of artistic talent?


I’ve been spending a lot of time studying CSS, Photoshop, and web site design lately. It requires as much effort as learning ASP.NET. The problem I’ve run into is there isn’t one place or book that brings together all the information you need. For example, I found a good technique for creating rounded corners on a blog, stole a basic CSS template from Expression Web, found a JavaScript library for applying drop shadows to block elements, and a style switcher from a CSS book.

Now I’m keeping my eyes peeled for other design ideas like using film strips or photo slides to frame images, etc. A Photoshop Layer Mask makes it easy to swap out images from such a frame. But only someone working full time as a web site designer would have the time to work through all the Photoshop tutorials and learn all the little tricks.

Be sure to hire an UI designer, don’t let developers design the UI. (A generalisation, I know, but spare us the horrible interfaces)

Based on the screenshots (since I’ve never played either) I think the FoF shot looks better, the GH3 shot looks busy and harder to actually see the part that matters.

hmm…i like the FoF interface better than the GH3 interface. More is not always better. You have to “keep it real”.

  1. I like the cleaner look of FoF better. But then I’m more a fan of 80s video games than more recent ones.

  2. The point about making software look pretty is still valid for many cases, demonstrated by client meetings I’ve had that are much like what others mentioned above. This is the thing I hate most about professional software development.

Design changes the way the user FEELS while using your application. Most users, to include me, don’t like to feel like some hacker chuggin away at a DOS prompt, so you should give them a cool, streamlined interface, preferably one that implies depth.

If I were teaching a design class, the first thing I would tell my students is “Don’t make your users feel like Kevin Mitnick huddled in some LA apartment. Make them feel like the Tom Cruise in front of the Minority Report touch screen.”

Presentation is absolutely my favorite new feature of Office 2007. It seems that Microsoft has finally been pried away from their beloved Battleship Gray.

I think that it is a bit unreasonable to expect programmers to also have the necessary skill set to do modern looking 3D game graphics. That’s a whole different set of skills that are nearly as hard a programming to master.

And, unfortunately, unlike programmers, very few artists are prepared to volunteer their time for no compensation (which says something about programmers and artists, but I’m not sure what).

This is a continuing problem for the gaming side of the open source community. If you get five good programmers together you can make some great software like a web server or a word processor. But those five programmers, even if they have a great idea, can’t make a modern looking game.

If they open source community can’t engage artists in the same way as programmers (which I expect they can’t, at least not in the numbers required), then open source gaming will never be a significant force.

Also, when I pay for something I know that there’s a responsible party that I can address my concerns to. And that this software has a viable future and won’t just disappear someday

Wow… I like that fairy-tale. Just cause you pay for a piece of “commercial” software does not mean that there is a responsible party behind it. I have received horrible support from commercial developers, and wonderful support from open source developers, and the other way around as well. Software companies can close their doors and kill your support faster than the open-source community sometimes.

No users really care about development cycles, language used for development, how slick that one regular expression parsing method is on line 2700, or even that you use a bug tracker

Well, maybe no one gives a flying flip about language used, but I would like to know that the bugs/undocumented features that I am experiencing are in the process of being fixed, tracked, looked at…

All end-users want are great useful apps that work. And the apps that look nice probably work well and are easy to use.

I have never noticed a correlation between ease of use or bugless software and the “nice look” of the interface. For most applications I would think that, while visual design is important, usability and code correctness are far more important.

Seriously? GH3’s graphics may be decent in a still shot, but is completely needless and distracting when actually played. I’m only focused on the things I’m supposed to be playing, not the stuff around the screen. In fact, motion by the characters actually distracts me and messes me up. I much prefer the simple graphics of frets on fire.

Bill T is exactly right about the difference wrt open source for programmers and graphical artists.
I have this problem also with my own programs, they are also game like and finding people who want to help with the graphics is very difficult.
I have the feeling that artists don’t want to be ‘locked in’ on one single project. They want to work a bit here, then a bit there.
We had a few people helping a bit and then leaving and never hearing from again.

To the people dissing Python, please read up on Python, Pygame and SDL. The graphics library is running in C, so not that much slowdown there. Of course an open source engine is not as sophisticated as a commercial engine!

And to Jeff: if the game is good, the graphics don’t matter. When you’re pounding away on your keyboard in FoF, do you really look at the graphics next to the frets? Choosing a game based only on screenshots is stupid. I thought the Wii had proven that already.

Also I think your comments on FoF (“incredibly primitive”, “ASCII interface”) are very demotivational. Somebody is giving away its own hard work for free, a little bit more tact would be nice. Some respect would be nice…

I have to disagree with your oversimplication here, Jeff. The open-source version looks much better.

I haven’t looked at the FoF code in detail. However, if I was doing it, I’d write a custom graphics package in C (or C++ or C#), and everything else in Python. Python doesn’t have strong built-in graphics but interfaces easily with commercial graphics packages (see wxWindows) or modules written in other languages.

Performance-critical down-to-the-metal type coding is about the only thing I wouldn’t use python for these days. Think of it as an efficient, compact, easy-to-write Java.

steps off python soapbox