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: