MetroTwit: Designing the UI

On August 26 2011 00:44 by GoldenTao

A number of people have asked how exactly do we go about design the UI for MetroTwit, what it takes for a feature/idea to make it from a tweet/email to us to a release.

Our process is fairly simple... we fight... like brothers (we're all in separate states so our fights are over WLM/Skype).  That may sound like a bad way to design but it means we are actively fleshing out the details from each of our perspectives and experiences and our shared understanding of the outcome we're trying to achieve.

Quite often there is no fight, we all agree on exactly how something should be implemeneted and it's recorded for when we get to actually programming that feature.  On the rare occasion it comes down to a majority vote as to how something should look/act.  Usually when we get to this stage we've already asked numerous people for their opinions or had user polls etc.

When it comes down to the exact design (the pixels that we know you all peek at when you change MetroTwit themes... you monsters) usually when coding a feature Winston (@winstonpang) and I will do the basic design/make it work and then let Long (@longzheng) make it look amazing.  A lot of the design of MetroTwit comes down the basics we decided upon when starting MetroTwit.  We wanted MetroTwit to look amazing no matter the DPI of your screen, something that WPF is made for.  Due to this all of our resources (icons etc) are all vector paths and every style has had hours and hours getting them to be pixel perfect and a good implementation of the Metro design guidelines.

If a great looking app is something you're trying to design, you can't go past The Noun Project for great vector icons to help improve the sharpness and quality of your app. This has been a hard post to write as our process isn't exactly follow 5 steps and you have something that looks good, but hopefully this has helped some app developers/designers.

MetroTwit: The 'Oh Crap' factor (Part 2)

On May 10 2011 00:25 by GoldenTao

As any astute reader might be able tell (for the 2 people that read this post) this post is a tad late... almost a year late.

So what happened?  I will admit I'm fairly lazy when it comes to blogging, but mostly we let this little twitter app that turned out pretty cool go out into the big wide world and found ourselves in what I like to call the 'Oh Crap' period of doing something new.

A lot has happened since Part 1 of this story, we went from a very small alpha of about 25 people to opening open MetroTwit to the public with over 800 users registering to be notified of the beta. 

Of course we were wise enough to release the beta in a nice quiet period in our lives so we could easily get bugs fixed and out to all the new users from a lot of different countries.  Except we didn't.  We released the MetroTwit beta during the Microsoft ReMix 2010 Conference in Melbourne while were attending sessions and 'networking' events at night.  Over the 2 days of Remix we released 6 new versions of MetroTwit to combat all kinds of issues with Non-latin Languages, resource hogging and geneal user experience. Overall it was great experience with our first release and we learnt a lot (like controlling Long's hit the release button)

MetroTwit has been an awesome rollercoaster of fun for everyone involved over the past year.  We're now at over 35,000 users that have tried MetroTwit and we thought it might be a good idea to give everyone an update on the plans for MetroTwit as we move forward.  Firstly, this week we announced our great new partnership with Windows Phone 7 Twitter Client, Rowi as part of The Nest and believe me there is lots more to that coming in the coming weeks and months.

One of the most requested features of MetroTwit is some kind of other social network integration, Facebook or Linked in mainly.  After a lot of discussions about MetroTwit in regards to changing MetroTwit from a twitter client to a social media client like the other big name clients out there, we have decided to stay as a Twitter Client from a 1st party perspective (even if Twitter doesn't like clients as much, we still <3 them).  This means you won't see us building in Facebook or LinkedIn directly into MetroTwit.

HOWEVER :) MetroTwit has a plugin architecture that overtime we will be looking to open up to developers which would allow some kind of 3rd party integration with other services (initially this would be for URL/Map and Geo services.)

We have a MASSIVE list of features and requests from all our users (sorry if we don't get to reply to everyone) and while some probably won't end up happening, a lot of the ideas are great and we will try to get to implementing them at some point.  A lot of people have asked for a list of upcoming features and while we do have a list of what is upcoming, due to our work schedules being quite fluid (we have full time jobs as well) it we don't like to make feature or timeline promises.

For the future from MetroTwit crew you can expect great new releases with some very cool new features (Streaming, Multi-account and other secrets) for Metrotwit. Thanks for all the support we've received recevied so far from users, developers and companies and we hope you'll continue on this (somewhat) wild ride with us.

Over the next few weeks and months, I'll be slowly posting a few bits and pieces on the more technical side of MetroTwit with even some code for the Metro/Zune style window, Media Previewing and a few other things, as well as a general how we find WPF to use as a dead language (#fixwpf).

The making of MetroTwit : The Big Bang (Part 1)

On May 30 2010 07:58 by GoldenTao

It was a sunny Saturday Morning on the 27 March 2010 when I got up to check my daily RSS Feeds.  I found a post from Long’s IStartedSomething site with a screenshot of his idea for a Metro-inspired Twitter Client with the hope of making it an awesome Silverlight Out of Browser app.  (See the original post here MetroTwit: a Metro-inspired Windows twitter client)

My first thoughts were cool, I reckon I could smack together that UI in Blend (I’ve done plenty of mashing xaml in Blend as I’ve always learnt better with the raw Xaml than the UI tools).  My background is not in .NET Apps, I’ve been to many MS conferences and played with a lot of .NET ‘Stuff’ but never created a production application.

I figured I’d leave it to other .NET Developers but I’d see what I could throw together.  By that afternoon I had the basic layouts and design of a Silverlight Application starting to happen with the main window when Long woke up and came online.

After sending Long a quick copy of where I was up to, we decided this project might actually be a goer.  When we got to the more detailed design, (such as a Drop Shadow on Window border when running Out of Browser) we hit our first wall.  Silverlight doesn’t support a transparent window chrome in Out of Browser Applications.  Unfortunately the entire idea of MetroTwit is to be an amazing to look at and an amazing to use Twitter Application.

We decided (with a sigh) to switch to WPF and cut out the ability to have our app run on Mac and PC.  Thankfully switching to WPF .NET4 opened up quite a few other awesome features for us that has really made MetroTwit look awesome (new Text Rendering Stack for example).

For about a week we worked almost completely on the UI, mashing together how we wanted everything to look, Long being a full on designer that  cracked open Blend and recreated templates for every control we used.  Not a single control within MetroTwit is a standard WPF Control which is testament to the UI Frameworks flexibility and something that makes me scream when I have to go back to normal controls on .NET Forms (or in my day job, Delphi VCL Controls).

During this week we didn’t really have a Version Control System, however we had decided to use Microsoft’s Live Mesh.  I can’t say I’d recommend Live Mesh as Source Control, however it did give us a really quick way iterate our initial designs and code and have a Cloud Backup.  It was somewhat amazing to see UI changes that Long was making being built into my new build when I was testing new background logic.  It did turn out however as we worked more and more on files close to each other Live Mesh started having a lot of conflicts so we had to abandon Live Mesh.

We are now using a SVN server hosted on my own server that happily does our Source Control for us.  Both Long and I quickly realised MetroTwit was more than a 2 man part-time job and Long brought Winston onto the team.  Armed with 2 part-time (night work) developers and a Long as our designer we started implementing new features into MetroTwit pretty quickly; trying to get somewhere near parity of the Twitter website.

By the end of our first month we had implemented enough features (and fixed some fun WPF-related perf issues) to begin our Closed Beta program with a number of friends/people we knew used Twitter a lot and who would be able to give us some great feedback on both the good and bad parts of our UI design and features to let us know if were on the right track.

Stay tuned for Part 2 : Return of the Perf which I’ll have ready as soon as we get to our next Beta phase (coming sooner than you think).

Cut the crap

On January 29 2010 16:16 by GoldenTao

Cut the Crap I’m not a big Apple fan.  That should be fairly apparent to anyone who’s read my What I Use page.  Today was the launch of the rather unfortunately named iPad from Apple.  It’s now just over 18 hours since it was announced and while ever Tech journalist, Apple Fan boy and random person has been taking sides in the debate whether this is an awesome of crappy product (Quote of the day today was… “It’s just a big ass iPod Touch”) most people usually forget one thing.

This is version 1.0.

As Mr Jeff Atwood once said (not that it was said that long ago) Version 1 Sucks, But Ship It Anyway.  It will also not be the coolest thing since sliced bread on the first go.  The first version is the idea, the feelers, the does this thing have any real future version.  If the first time you released a product you had every single feature and idea perfectly laid out thought out and working correctly, you either have an extremely tiny one feature product or WAY too much start-up cash.

Everything needs a few revisions and more feedback to help grow the product into what it can be.  Look at the iPhone, the PC, Cars, any software be it desktop, web, mobile, service, framework all need more than one revision to get them right.  While I can easily say I’ve got plenty of feature requests for the iPad, I’m sure for many people it will be an awesome product just ready to be used.

In the meantime, find something better to argue about, like Windows Mobile 7 perhaps :P

Dreams

On January 16 2010 16:03 by GoldenTao

i'll eat you I don’t subscribe to the whole dreams thing, but there was one dream the other night that I think needs to be retold.  Especially as I’m currently on a health kick where I’m not eating any Fast Food Chain Food and Fast Food in General.

This crazy dream, myself and another person I don’t know, were touring the world, taste testing Fast Food Chains burgers.  Not only were we touring and taste testing we were critiquing the taste of the burgers and in one particular fast food chain (I believe it was a Burger King) one of the staff got to come touring with us back to Australia to see what Fast Food should taste like, somewhere on this return trip to Australia we were playing soccer in some over grown basketball court.  Strange….

I think this is my brains way of breaking out of the addictive bond that is Fast Food… onto healthier options, hopefully…. day 15, 340 days remaining…

 

 

Revelations

On January 11 2010 06:28 by GoldenTao

Happy_New_Year_2010_by_theXIVdesigns

Welcome to 2010.  This post is a few days late.. ok maybe 10, but better late than never.

It seems this year many people are leaving resolutions at the door so they can’t be broken within the first few days of the new year.  Technically I’ve tried to do the same, but I have ended up with just one resolution that should impact most areas of my life.  While it sounds like some big massive resolution I’ll never be able to keep it’s actually really simple.

Be More Disciplined.

The idea behind my resolution of being more disciplined is well I suck at it, I’m inherently lazy.  I could think of nothing better than lazing on the couch watching some random TV show or movie or playing an Xbox game.  However this laziness over the past year has meant I’ve also not released any of my little projects I’m working, hardly posted on this blog and feel like I’m really going nowhere.

How am I implementing my little resolution… one tiny step at a time.  My goals are 1 blog post a week, but if I manage more great, I’m doing fairly well with twitter I think (even though I have less than a thousands tweets a year, I’m not telling everyone when I wake up or go to the toilet and never will).  Just by being slightly more disciplined in my online activities I’ve already started to notice I’m pushing myself to be more disciplined in other areas, daily vitamins, better food decisions, meal planning etc and even being more disciplined with work tasks, not starting too many things at once without getting them finished.

I’ve had plenty of people tell me I need to get a year calendar and cross off days as I do such things, but that just wouldn’t work for me, I’m too digital, trying to find a working pen at my place is a mission in itself.  I need a online product that watches my online lifestyle and keeps me up to date on my goals.

It’s the little things

On January 10 2010 09:40 by GoldenTao

Program Box Being a developer, I love to write big brand new spanking things to wow people.  Why do the little things if you can make one awesome big thing.  I’ve read many times and seen quite a few times over the past 4 years of working with businessfitness that it’s really the little things that count.  It’s still great to write big new modules to sell, but the little annoyances are the bits that really piss people off in day to day use of software and fixing those really have the biggest effect on people.

HowNow™ being the fairly large program that it is has quite a few little areas that may not work how people are quite used to seeing them work in other areas of Windows.  These can be caused by a number of different things from components that just won’t play nice to small bugs.  A couple of small examples are… the grid within HowNow has never properly responded to Page Up and Down correctly (it used to only move 1 row up or down) in the current version of HowNow we finally found a way to get the Grid to work correctly so Page Up and Down works like it does in Windows.  Already the few clients on the new version of HowNow are over the moon.  Another example was when searching for a contact the contact name was being highlighted and accidently typed over by some clients, simply no longer highlighting the name has improved the day to day use and efficiencies with our clients.

I’d always encourage any users to let us know if they have any day to day annoyances with our products so we can improve them for you. 

Anyone writing software should try to stop and take a look at a few of the little things every release and just see what might be annoying your users and see if you can’t improve their day.  Now back to writing my huge new feature…

 

Windows Mobile 6.5.1 … is coming.

On September 11 2009 09:40 by GoldenTao

I’ve been talking my way around Tech.Ed for the past few days, and decided to interrogate some of the guys about Windows Mobile 6.5.  Unfortunately they are all very tight lipped guys, but I did receive a few stares with raised eyebrows when I started asking questions from Windows Mobile 6.5.1.

What they will give out is the basic information that can be found on the web, Global Release date is October and all the OEMs supposedly already have WM 6.5.  The problem with WM 6.5 is that anyone following the builds that are almost being leaked daily look very different to the stock marketing images.

The enthusiast named “Windows Mobile 6.5.1” looks like Microsoft are going the way of both Apple and Google and giving users OS updates outside of a normal major release.  The new release moves the start and close/ok buttons to a redesigned bottom button bar, where the bottom of the screen has up to 5 buttons across the bottom (Start, Left Function, Keyboard, Right Function and Close/Ok).

While no one would confirm anything with words, there were plenty of looks as we played some kind of software release charades with facial expressions.

Hopefully OEMs can’t block these kind of updates from Microsoft to help make any new 6.5 phones even better as 6.5 evolves on the way to Windows Mobile 7.

Windows Mobile 6.5 more touching

On August 14 2009 12:20 by GoldenTao

There have been a few reports around the net about new features making their way into Windows Mobile 6.5.  Features such as cursor magnification, larger UI Controls and some new ‘good lookin’ button bars.  I decided I had better see what the fuss was about so I’ve now got the new build of Windows Mobile 6.5 running on a device to check out these new features.

When you first boot into Windows Mobile 6.5 you are greeted with the new button bar at the bottom.  From what I can tell the button bar is an unfinished version of the IE Button bar for all of Windows Mobile 6.5.

Welcome screen of Windows Mobile 6.5 with the new buttons.

Mobile IE button bar

Welcome Screen 
Mobile IE

New position of the close/ok button.

New tab control slider

ScreenShot3 ScreenShot4

It seems that almost all of the default controls have been modified, tab controls are now some kind of flying slide control.

There is also a new magnifier cursor box that seems to pop up at the moment, always when you don’t need it and jumps around your finger like a small energetic dog.  Unfortunately I could get it sit still when I was trying to take a screenshot of it.  I can see it being a good feature, once it settles down.

It’s good to see some more underlying UI controls getting a facelift in Windows Mobile 6.5 but when on earth is this product going to market?  Hopefully over the next few builds the UI receives the fit and finish it deserves and some of the new stability problems are fixed (although that could be the particular build I had).

Windows 7 Awesomeness or not

On August 14 2009 08:20 by GoldenTao

Firstly, I love Windows 7 (which isn’t exactly a secret).  I think it’s an amazing upgrade over Vista and every Windows user should be running it as soon as possible.  Unfortunately with all software Windows 7 has bugs, yes even the final version.

There have been numerous little issues over the previous builds of Windows 7 which is to be expected with final products but at least on my machine one of these little issues remains.  When using a Jumplist for the Remote Desktop Client (either a pinned connection or a recent connection) the remote desktop connection never starts. 

While not a big issue, it’s very very simple to work around but opening a new Remote Desktop Connection instance and choosing the recent connection from the drop down list; it is a little annoying this program hasn’t been tested properly so it ‘lights up’ on Windows 7.

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