Building for professionals and consumers

In this post we want to share with you some of the thoughts we had when we faced tough interface design dilemmas during the making of Project Butterfly.

As we probably mentioned before, Butterfly is targeted at both CAD professionals and their business partners. The latter might not be so proficient in CAD software and they don’t have previous training in AutoCAD.

When we designed the interface for Butterfly, we wanted to maintain a balance between providing an editing experience similar to that of AutoCAD’s, while also making it easy to get started – so that consumers could dive right in to a drawing and provide their input.

We had the opportunity to start a CAD application from scratch, so we wanted to create a new standard for sophisticated Web-based applications.

The most noticeable thing in Project Butterfly from a professional’s point of view is the absence of the command line. The reason we omitted the command line is that it’s less intuitive to people who are not familiar with AutoCAD. We made keyboard commands available, so that advanced users could still work with both the keyboard and the mouse.

Omitting the command line also meant that several tools (such as Mirror) operate with default parameters – so the users don’t have to always specify them. The trade-off is that there is less control over the tools’ behavior.

In general, we designed Butterfly in a way that allows more tasks to be accomplished by using just the mouse – which we believe will become the dominating device for working on the Web.

We were one of the first Web applications to make use of the ribbon – where all the tools and modes are found. We decided to go with the ribbon and not a regular toolbar because it’s easy to use in tool-intensive applications.

There are several windows in Butterfly that correspond to certain palettes in AutoCAD – the Xrefs manager, fonts manager, layer manager and the plot style manager. We didn’t want to skip on those altogether because of the level of knowledge it requires in AutoCAD, so instead we created a simpler version of them, which gives basic control to the user.

For the CAD professional that might be a little limiting, but to the average user this is advanced control on the way they view and edit the drawing. It is our belief that if we had implemented full functionality in those windows, the average user would have difficulty accessing and learning how to use them.

What are your thoughts about the dilemma between being fully-featured and having a simple, approachable user interface? You can drop a comment or vote in our poll:



  1. Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:21 PM | Permalink

    This dilemma seems like one that can be solved by provide the user with some options.

    The default GUI can be exactly what you’ve built.. Approachable, ribbon based, and very accessible from a web browser by the CAD novice.

    However, why not provide features like the command line as “options” that can be enabled by the experienced CAD user.

    Just as google provides “labs” features within gmail for users to turn on and off “features and tweaks” to their GUI, Butterfly could let user enable features like command line and other things that you are conflicted about implementing for “all”.

    AutoDesk can set the defaults, but ALSO the let the user customize things a bit.

    Users at login could be asked a simple one time intro question:

    Who are you
    *An CAD Veteran
    *A Manager or Design Reviewer

    The answer to that question alone could set the users “default” GUI.

    • Butterfly
      Posted June 21, 2010 at 6:20 AM | Permalink

      Ethan, you pose interesting directions for Butterfly. I don’t believe we’ll be getting to enabling customizations any time in the near future, but this is something we’ll keep in mind.

  2. Posted June 18, 2010 at 7:17 AM | Permalink

    So far i Really like the stripped down GUI of Butterfly.

    I find AutoCAD’s interface to be fairly bloated.

    As an aside, i would love to have a more parametrically driven 2D CAD program sort of like the sketcher in pro/e or solidworks.

    In my undergrad studies i started out using 3D parametrically based CAD tools, so switching to using AutoCAD to make mask files for semiconductor FAB processes has been a bit rough.

  3. Posted July 8, 2010 at 7:33 PM | Permalink

    This is another poll that appears designed to make you feel good about your design decisions, rather than actually finding out what people want. You really need to be totally neutral with your language to stand any chance of obtaining a meaningful result, and this poll isn’t.

    On the command line issue, your own previous language-biased poll showed a 2 to 1 ratio in favour of the command line. That’s a pretty big win as it is, but the exact same language used in a poll on my own blog showed a 4.5 to 1 ratio, showing the power of the biased sample. A later language-neutral poll on my blog showed an 11 to 1 ratio (!), showing the power of language bias in poll options and questions.

    It appears clear that there is a very strong user preference for a command line, and it’s equally clear that you have decided that the majority of users are wrong and you’re going to do without one anyway. So why bother asking?

    Oh, and if you’re hoping to make significant ground among AutoCAD users without allowing for customisation, I suspect you’re going to be very disappointed.

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