Photoshop CS6 – Blend 4 UI Similarity

When you make a screenshot of Expression Blend 4 and paste it in Photoshop CS6 beta, it is hard to see where the Photoshop UI stops and Expression Blend UI starts.

Check this out:

 PSCS6 Blend4 Similarity



Nooks and Crannies of Expression Blend: Artboard Objects List

I can’t even find this one in the Keyboard Shortcut list provided in the User Guide of Expression Blend, so I made up a name for it: The Artboard Objects List:

ArtboardObject List

Known from several drawing programs, this list shows the objects under the mouse cursor when you hold Ctrl and Click the Right Mouse Button. It highlights the currently selected object and lists all other objects overlapping each other from the topmost at the top of the list to the one at the bottom on the bottom of the list. Notice that the order of this list is opposite to the default order in de Objects and Timeline Panel (when you have not changed the order of the panel using the Sort by Z-order option at the bottom left of that panel). Actually, this order is logical for what it shows: the stack of objects in the Artboard under your mouse cursor.

Notice also the option to Pin or UnPin the Active Container. This makes is easier to insert newly created objects in a container like the RegularPolygon Shape in the Grid here inside the RadioButton…


A Style for the Silverlight CoverFlow Control Slider

I’ve been working with the Silverlight CoverFlow Control lately and think the default Silverlight Slider at the bottom of the screen sticks out like a sore thumb:
So, I’ve create a new Style for the Slider, resembling the original Cover Flow slider.
This is a Style for a Silverlight slider control, meant to be used on a black or dark background. It has rounded sides for the Track as well as the Thumb. The Track looks like it is lower because of the inner shadow at the top. The Thumb also has a shadow, but its surface is flat. This is only the Horizontal Template, so nothing will show when it is used vertically.
The Project File is on my SkyDrive, but the Style is simple enough to reproduce it here…
De XAML is a regular Slider with a Style:
<Slider Style="{StaticResource CoverFlowSliderControl}" Maximum="100" LargeChange="10" SmallChange="1" Value="50"/>
The Track has its own style, used in the ControlTemplate later on:
<Style x:Key="CoverFlowSliderTrackStyle" TargetType="Rectangle">
 <Setter Property="RadiusY" Value="12" />
 <Setter Property="RadiusX" Value="12" />
 <Setter Property="StrokeThickness" Value="2"/>
 <Setter Property="Stroke">
 <LinearGradientBrush EndPoint="0.5,1" StartPoint="0.5,0">
 <GradientStop Color="#FF202020" Offset="0"/>
 <GradientStop Color="#FF404040" Offset="1"/>
 <Setter Property="Fill">
 <LinearGradientBrush EndPoint="0.5,1" StartPoint="0.5,0">
 <GradientStop Color="Black" Offset="0"/>
 <GradientStop Color="#FF202020" Offset="0.4"/>
The Thumb is no more than two rectangles, but both have their own Style:
<Style x:Key="CoverFlowSliderThumb" TargetType="Rectangle">
 <Setter Property="RadiusY" Value="10" />
 <Setter Property="RadiusX" Value="10" />
 <Setter Property="StrokeThickness" Value="2" />
 <Setter Property="Stroke" Value="#FF4B4B4B"/>
 <Setter Property="Fill">
 <LinearGradientBrush EndPoint="0.5,1" MappingMode="RelativeToBoundingBox" StartPoint="0.43,-0.02">
 <GradientStop Color="#FF252525" Offset="1"/>
 <GradientStop Color="#FF787878" Offset="0"/>
 <GradientStop Color="#FF424242" Offset="0.622"/>
 <Style x:Key="CoverFlowSliderThumbCover" TargetType="Rectangle">
 <Setter Property="RadiusY" Value="8" />
 <Setter Property="RadiusX" Value="8" />
 <Setter Property="StrokeThickness" Value="0" />
 <Setter Property="Fill" Value="#FF404040" />
 <Setter Property="Margin" Value="3" />
 <Style x:Key="ThumbStyle" TargetType="Thumb">
 <Setter Property="Margin" Value="0,2" />
 <Setter Property="Width" Value="50" />
 <Setter Property="Template">
 <ControlTemplate TargetType="Thumb">
 <Grid Margin="2,0">
 <Rectangle x:Name="Thumb" Style="{StaticResource CoverFlowSliderThumb}"/>
 <Rectangle x:Name="ThumbCover" Style="{StaticResource CoverFlowSliderThumbCover}"/>
 <Setter Property="Effect">
 <DropShadowEffect Direction="360" Opacity="0.5" ShadowDepth="3"/>
There are two Repeatbuttons to the left and to the right of the Thumb. They are invisible and use the same Style:
<Style x:Key="RepeatButtonStyle" TargetType="RepeatButton">
 <Setter Property="Template">
 <ControlTemplate TargetType="RepeatButton">
 <Rectangle RadiusY="6" RadiusX="6" StrokeThickness="2" Fill="Transparent"/>
Finally, here is the Style for the Slider Control with the ControlTemplate that uses all Styles above…
<Style x:Key="CoverFlowSliderControl" TargetType="Slider">
 <Setter Property="Height" Value="24" />
 <Setter Property="Template">
 <ControlTemplate TargetType="Slider">
 <Grid x:Name="HorizontalTemplate">
 <ColumnDefinition Width="Auto"/>
 <Rectangle x:Name="Track" Grid.ColumnSpan="3" Style="{StaticResource CoverFlowSliderTrackStyle}"/>
 <RepeatButton x:Name="HorizontalTrackLargeChangeDecreaseRepeatButton" Grid.Column="0" Style="{StaticResource RepeatButtonStyle}"/>
 <Thumb x:Name="HorizontalThumb" Grid.Column="1" Style="{StaticResource ThumbStyle}"/>
 <RepeatButton x:Name="HorizontalTrackLargeChangeIncreaseRepeatButton" Grid.Column="2" Style="{StaticResource RepeatButtonStyle}"/>
The result is a Cover Flow Slider that nicely fits in with the rest of the Cover Flow Control:
Check out the Comments below about why this picture is up here…
Slide the Slider
Download the source for this Slider

When dynamically creating objects in code, use Styles

When you need to create objects in code, you can actually build up the entire look and feel in code.

This results in large blocks of code that do nothing special, but set the visual properties of an object:

Grid grdNow = new Grid();


//create Circle

Ellipse cirNow = new Ellipse();

cirNow.Height = 25;

cirNow.Width = 25;

cirNow.VerticalAlignment = VerticalAlignment .Center;

cirNow.HorizontalAlignment = HorizontalAlignment.Center;

cirNow.Fill = new SolidColorBrush (Colors.Red);

cirNow.Margin =new Thickness(5,5,5,5);


//create TextBlock

TextBlock txtNow = new TextBlock();

txtNow.VerticalAlignment = VerticalAlignment.Center;

txtNow.HorizontalAlignment = HorizontalAlignment.Center;

txtNow.Foreground = new SolidColorBrush(Colors.White);

txtNow.FontWeight = FontWeights.Bold;

txtNow.FontSize = 14;

txtNow.Margin =new Thickness(0,0,0,2);

txtNow.TextWrapping = TextWrapping.NoWrap;



//add objects to grid




The drawback of this is that it is a lot of code and hard to maintain. The looks are integrated in the code and that is not what you want.

In Silverlight and WPF there is a standard model to separate the code from the look and feel of the application you’re building. It’s called XAML.

XAML is a markup language that’s easily generated by code and easily maintained by non-programmers with tools of even by hand.

When you are creating objects on the fly you should use Styles. These determine the way the object looks. Only keep the properties necessary for dynamically placing your object on the screen in your code:

Grid grdNow = new Grid();
Ellipse cirNow = new Ellipse();
TextBlock txtNow = new TextBlock();

cirNow.Style = App.Current.Resources["NowStyle"] as Style;
txtNow.Style = App.Current.Resources["NowTextStyle"] as Style;


This is a lot less code. Below is the markup that you shouldn’t have to worry about when you use Styles in your C# code.

You can even just create an empty Style block in App.xaml: <Style x:Key=”NowStyle” TargetType=”Ellipse” /> and thus use it with default values.

The look of these dynamically created objects can be changed later on or even be themed using a separate ResourceDictionary. A designer can come in at any time and change these properties using a Tool like Expression Blend.

<Style x:Key="NowStyle" TargetType="Ellipse">
    <Setter Property="Height" Value="25"/>
    <Setter Property="Width" Value="25"/>
    <Setter Property="VerticalAlignment" Value="Center"/>
    <Setter Property="HorizontalAlignment" Value="Center"/>
    <Setter Property="Fill" Value="Red"/>
    <Setter Property="Margin" Value="5"/>
<Style x:Key="NowTextStyle" TargetType="TextBlock">
    <Setter Property="VerticalAlignment" Value="Center"/>
    <Setter Property="HorizontalAlignment" Value="Center"/>
    <Setter Property="Foreground" Value="White"/>
    <Setter Property="FontWeight" Value="Bold"/>
    <Setter Property="FontSize" Value="14"/>
    <Setter Property="Margin" Value="0,0,0,2"/>
    <Setter Property="TextWrapping" Value="NoWrap"/>
    <Setter Property="Text" Value="nu"/>

So, when you find yourself creating a lot of C# code to set the visual properties of a dynamically created objects: Stop!

Create a Style in XAML and refer to that Style instead.


DEMO: 5 gotchas combining SketchFlow, Visual Design and Silverlight Banners

Recently we created a demo. It was in SketchFlow, but it was not really a sketchy demo. Some screens are in the typical SketchFlow look, but for three important scenarios we’ve created a Visual Design. For the Homepage and a Product page in the demo we even created a Silverlight Banner, including the navigation inside the banner.

We’ve actually presented it inside the SketchFlow Player with panels collapsed. We gained the ease with which to connect the screens, in combination with the Behaviors the make parts of the demo interactive. And we combined real Silverlight applications inside the SketchFlow demo and they worked just fine. This is a demo that is meant to impress a customer.

I’ve collected some some gothas we run into when creating this demo:

  1. Large images are not include as a Resource, but as Content. In the Blend Options screen you’ll find a slider setting the limit for large images. You’ll get a warning when you import an image larger than that limit. You can choose to include the image as Content, not as Resource. This will result in the image not showing in your SketchFlow Player. So be sure to include all images in a subfolder in the MyProject_Screens folder and make sure the path in the Image Source is correct. When images show up in the root of a deployed SketchFlow project, you’re in trouble…
  2. When you use a Silverlight application inside a SketchFlow Page, you can use the NavigateToScreenAction inside your UserControl, but screens will not show up in the list in the Properties Panel. It has no use to create a reference to the SketchFlow project. You can add the correct path manually. You can find the names of the Screens in the Projects Tab.
    <i:EventTrigger EventName="MouseLeftButtonDown">
        <pi:NavigateToScreenAction TargetScreen="MyProject_DemoScreens.Screen_1"/>
  3. You can use Components as Masterpages. Remove all elements in the Visual Design that change between pages and put the rest in a Component screen. This allows you use this UserControl as the first element of a page. You can create separate boxes with content on the page to link to different pages in the prototype.
  4. Alternatively, use HyperlinkButtons with NavigateToScreenActions Behaviors to create “HotSpots” on a background image if you want to navigate to different screens. You’ll have to edit the HyperlinkButton ControlTemplate to remove the FocusVisual that appears when you click the control. Then they are invisible, but still catch the Click Event for the NavigateToScreenAction. It will navigate to the screen you enter as a Target.
  5. Use SketchFlowAnimation or GoToStateAction Behaviors for interactive elements on the page. This way you can use highlights and let pop-ups appear and disappear. SketchFlow Behaviors rock!


Create a Button Control from an Expression Design drawing

I’ve placed a PushButton Design file in the Expression Gallery. A thousand people have actually downloaded the .design file. Only one question rose, asking how to implement that drawing as a Button Control. Here are the steps to do that:


In Design:
– Click the square on the Layer named PushButton to select all elements
– Select File/Export and in the dialog choose XAML Silverlight 4 Canvas, Leave Text Editable, set Live Effects to Convert to XAML,  call it PushButtonNormal.xaml, remember where it is located after export. Click Export All.
– Click the square on the second Layer named PushButton Pressed to select all elements
-Select File/Export and use the same settings and location. Name it PushButtonPressed.xaml. Click Export All.

In Blend:

– Start a new Blend Silverlight Application, Call it PushButtonControl
– Open MainPage.xaml in the Code Editor using View/Active Document View/XAML View.
– Create a closing the tag for the Grid Named LayoutRoot.
– Open the PushButtonNormal.xaml file in Notepad. Cut the inner Canvas named PushButton, Paste in inside the LayoutRoot Canvas and remove Width, Height and Canvas.Left and Canvas.Top.
– Open the PushButtonPressed.xaml file in Notepad. Cut the inner Canvas named PushButton_Pressed, Paste it under the PushButton Canvas and remove Width, Height and Canvas.Left and Canvas.Top.
– Resolve naming conflicts for Ellipses, you can only have objects with unique names.
– Switch to Design Vieww using View/Active Document View/Design View.
– Right Click the PushButton Layer in the Objects and Timeline Panel. Select Group into…/Grid from the context menu.
– Right Click the PushButton layer in the Objects and Timeline Panel. Select Make into Control… from the context menu.
– In the dialog select the Button control and name it PushButtonControl. Click OK.
– This will create a Button Control and open ControlTemplate Editing Mode. A ContentPresenter is added to the Button. Because the PushButton container is a Canvas you have to reposition this using the Left and Top properties.
– Click the [Button] button in de Breadcrumbs at the top left of the Artboard to go out of Template Editing Mode.
– Right Click the PushButton_Pressed layer in the Objects and Timeline Panel. Select Cut from the context menu.
– Left Click the [Grid] layer in the Objects and Timeline Panel. Select the [Grid] button in de Breadcrumbs at the top left of the Artboard to go into Template Editing Mode again.
– Right Click the [Grid] layer and select Paste from the context menu. This will place the Pressed state of the button over the Normal state. Remove the top most Ellipse. This is the transparent shadow and should not show twice. Drag the PushButton_Pressed layer up so it is above the [ContentPresenter] layer. The word Button should appear.
– Set the Opacity Property of PushButton_Pressed to Zero (0%).
– Now you should have a [Grid] with 3 layer in it: PushButton, PushButton_Pressed and [ContentPresenter]. The Normal state should be visible. The word Button should be visible in it.
– Open the States Panel (Window/States should have a check before it) and select the Pressed State. The Pressed state recording should go on, showing a red frame around the Artboard.
– Set the Opacity of PushButton_Pressed back to 100%.
– Click the Base layer at the top of the States Panel and switch between the Pressed and Base state. Make sure the Buttons overlap exactly.
– Click the [Button] button in de Breadcrumbs at the top left of the Artboard to go out of Template Editing Mode.
– Select File/Save all
– Press F5 to build the project, so you can test it.

Optimization would include replacing the Canvases with Grid containers while keeping all Ellipses in their places. This would allow for better control of button size and placement of the ContentPresenter.