5 capabilities that entrench embedded UI designers in the development process

The following is a post from Fancy Dan, one of our creative and talented in-house designers. Dan uses Storyboard Suite on a daily basis to create awesome user experiences for embedded applications. I asked him to share the top 5 features that make his job easier and his designs awesome.

Storyboard Suite top features

Dan’s top 5 list

  1. Integrate content from Adobe Photoshop » Storyboard brings a .psd file to life
  2. Add and refine motion easily » Easy to use, but do a lot
  3. Layout and position content precisely » Subtle features that go a long way
  4. Enhance user experience with actions » The combination of trigger events, actions, and parameters
  5. Make it real. Touch the design. » From simulator to target

Integrate content from Adobe Photoshop

As a designer, I find working in Storyboard to be a great experience, and a major contributing factor for this is the Photoshop integration. Photoshop has been around for decades, and it plays nicely with Adobe Illustrator, two tools that I use to design and plan a UI. Many of the design-based decisions I make in Photoshop, such as organization, naming, and planning, are brought forward to Storyboard when I import my .psd. When I start working in Storyboard, I’m working on a project that I already have a good handle on because the Application Model in Storyboard is based on the content from my layers view in Photoshop.

With Smart Objects, I’m able to go back into Photoshop and make edits to my Illustrator content or layer effects and bring them back into Storyboard. Because I can import multiple Photoshop files into Storyboard, when I complete one section of the UI design I can bring it into Storyboard and start adding functionality. At the same time, I can continue to work on the UI design for the next section and bring the UI together in Storyboard as each part is ready for import.

What’s extra great?

The Photoshop re-import process. If I change the look and layout of an existing design in Photoshop, I can re-import the artwork into my Storyboard project. The project compares itself to the new Photoshop file and allows me to replace existing content with the new designs and updates the look, size, and positioning from my redesign and retain existing functionality.

Add and refine motion easily

animation_timelineMotion makes a UI come to life, so it’s important to have a workflow that includes working with animations. In Storyboard, working with animations isn’t convoluted. If I want to create, edit, or preview an animation, it’s pretty straightforward. When recording an animation, changes made to the UI are recorded as animation steps and saved. The animation timeline view shows the saved steps. Here I can see the steps in relation to one another and make further edits to the timing, easing rates, and values. Using the animation preview, the animation can be played back, paused, and scrubbed through so that I can see how all of the movements work together.

What’s extra great?

I can quickly create a reversed version of an existing animation, finely tune the ease rate of motion, and apply a single animation to multiple model objects. These capabilities allow me to easily control how things move without having to touch any code.

Layout and position content precisely

When the design is complete, most of the UI layout has been established. Further refinement like adding logic, motion, and additional content is easy with the layout and positioning options in Storyboard.

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Reference point location – The reference point location might appear to be a small detail, but it does a lot for controlling the position and transformation of an object. The reference point location icon is available in the Properties view for dimensions. The top-left reference point shows the x,y location of an object, but selecting another reference point shows and applies transformations based on that relative point. If I want to increase the width of a control by 50 pixels, and have the center point remain the same, I shouldn’t have to move the control 25 pixels to the left and then add 50 pixels to the width. I simply want to add 50 pixels to the width that expands from the middle and let the software figure out the rest.

Property value calculator – An easy way to control the values of a property is to calculate that number in the property field. If I want to move a control 20 pixels left to a third of the way across a screen designed at 720p, I could go to the properties view X: positioning and enter 1280/3-20 (which is the screen width divided by 3, then subtract 20) or enter 1280*.333-20 (which is the screen width multiplied by one-third and then subtract 20) and the X value will automatically calculate 406. If I want a circular progress bar to fill up 43%, I can enter 360*.43 in the Rotation field and the angle will calculate to 154.8º.

Applying some quick math makes it easy to land content in a specific spot. I can apply it to an alpha value, apply it to an offset, or apply it to the timing in an animation. It saves me from going to a separate calculator app, writing it out, or doing it on my phone.

What’s extra great?

Q: Does it use BEDMAS? A: Yes, it does.
Q: What the heck is BEDMAS?

Enhance user experience with actions

It becomes increasingly engaging to work on a UI as it takes on more functionality. Adding actions to the UI improves functionality. There are a lot of combinations and triggers that make actions happen so I’m not limited by what I can do.

Storyboard provides an extensive list of trigger events that goes beyond the basic taps and gestures that are available in most prototyping tools. Many things can trigger an action, such as the completion of an animation, arriving at a particular screen, completed timers, scrolling starts or stops, etc. With a trigger in place, I can select an action. Actions can call an animation, stop an animation, go to a new screen, change some data, start a timer, or, for those who are are scripting savvy, call a Lua event. Depending upon the type, an action’s parameters can vary. An action parameter might cause something to loop, indicate a direction, set a duration, or select an external file. Events can happen any number of ways, to any of the model objects that trigger an event.

What’s extra great?

I can copy an action from one control to other controls. For example, I can copy a screen change action from one button and paste it to other buttons to give them the same functionality.

Make it real. Touch the design.

Working in design, sometimes your work is used only as a representation of the UI. This isn’t limited to UI design. Mock-ups, presenting artboards, and showing prototypes for apps or websites are great, but at the end of the day, seeing the design in the real world and its surrounding context is awesome.

Storyboard keeps the design in the designer’s hands, which enables me to deliver my design vision to the final product. In traditional workflows, this often isn’t the case, and instead, the UI on the embedded device isn’t a reflection of the designer’s work. It’s common for designers to create prototypes that demonstrate how the UI should look and behave, and then provide the development team with the UI assets to create the UI in code. It’s an inefficient workflow to have the development team recreate what the designer has already solved.

Storyboard provides tools that make it easy to quickly export applications directly to hardware for testing. Seeing how an animation runs or how a transition looks on an embedded device gives me insight and confidence that the UI performs as intended. Good design principles value function over form. Using Storyboard, I have everything I need to test how my design will function on an actual target device.

What’s extra great?

I can test my application on an embedded board, make changes to the UI, and then export the app back to the board in under a minute.
*Drops Microphone*

To try Storyboard Suite for yourself (and to feel like a design rockstar), start your free trial now and see how easy it is to create beautiful embedded UIs from concept to production.

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See scalable Storyboard demos on the Microchip SAMA5D2

Curious to see Storyboard Suite in action on your hardware? Our pre-built and packaged demos make it easy for you to test drive different types of applications designed for specific hardware platforms, letting you experience the powerful controls and smooth animations that create beautiful UIs and rich user experiences.

Scalable UIs across display sizes: SAMA5D2 demos for medical, white goods, and home automation

Storyboard applications are scalable across a variety of screen sizes and resolutions. Experience this on 480 x 272 and 800 x 480 displays with Storyboard demo images for the Microchip SAMA5D2 platform. These images include everything you need to get up and running in minutes, offering the following demos in both resolutions:

  • Smart washing machine – drill down into operational settings and track progress through cycles
  • Medical – browse through typical patient diagnostics, electronic health records (EHR), and security verification
  • Home automation – play with temperature controls, check out local weather, and customize lighting throughout the floorplan

Also included are instructions for flashing the image to an SD card and running it on your own board.

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To try Storyboard Suite for yourself, start your free trial now and see how easy it is to create beautiful embedded UIs from concept to production.

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Driving Excellence in Automotive HMI Design: Storyboard on the NXP i.MX 8 at CES

Whether it’s commuting to and from work, chauffeuring the kids to hockey*, or running errands, we spend countless hours driving on a daily basis. Fortunately for those of us who feel like we live part-time in our cars, technology is evolving at a rapid rate to enhance the driving experience and to allow us to connect with our vehicles more seamlessly and safely.

Storyboard Suite Automotive HMI NXP imx8 CES 2017

If you were at CES last week, you might have noticed a few automotive HMI demos at the show. Every year we see stunning innovation in automotive technology and new features that inspire consumers to hand over their money. (No flying car yet, however.) This year was no exception. CES 2017 showcased the coolest automotive HMI technology from the biggest automakers to small, low-cost suppliers, and everyone in between.

Keeping up with such a fast-growing and ever-changing technology and meeting consumer expectations isn’t an easy feat for automotive HMI design and development teams. Consumer expectations are high. Take a look at your smartphone. Impressive graphics, right? You have a powerful mobile computer that fits in your pocket. It’s a navigation system, audio/video player, and communication device that’s available to you when you need it. We’ve come to expect these same capabilities to be available to us on demand when needed, even in our cars. And we expect them to look great.

So how do teams deliver graphically stunning, connected, responsive, feature-rich automotive HMI experiences? Development teams need a high-performance and reliable processor that can support rich graphics, display to multiple screens, and handle a variety of inputs, such as the NXP i.MX 8. Making high-performance hardware look great and delivering an intuitive user experience is the job of the UI development framework. What consumers see on their car screens is the graphical representation of all of the information and data available to them, from their digital instrument cluster to their in-vehicle infotainment and entertainment displays.

Making Automotive HMIs that meet consumer expectations

It can be challenging for teams to deliver beautiful, user-friendly, and safety-conscious graphical content to a range of automotive displays. They need tools that support the following:

  • Design-centric – Design and user experience are critical to automotive HMIs. To achieve a high-quality design aesthetic and intuitive interaction, it’s critical to keep the designer in control throughout the development process.
  • Collaborative Workflow – Automotive HMIs are often built by teams, not by individuals. The software processes and workflow should support that.
  • Design ChangeIterative design is a reality. From minor tweaks to major updates in artwork, changes can, and should, happen. If it’s painful to iterate the design, it’s more likely that design compromise will occur.
  • Embedded Focus – Hardware for embedded displays has unique capabilities and constraints. The UI development software should have a focus on embedded.

We built Storyboard Suite with these requirements and others in mind. With our vast experience in the embedded marketplace and our focus on making Storyboard Suite feature-rich, yet user-friendly, many companies choose Storyboard for their exciting HMI projects.

Speaking of exciting HMI projects…

NXP showcased a distributed eCockpit and Infotainment at CES 2017 that was built using Storyboard Suite for the i.MX 8.This impressive multi-screen demo was a collaborative effort by NXP and Crank Software and included the following displays:
  • Digital Instrument Cluster
  • Head-up Display
  • In-Vehicle Infotainment
  • Backseat Entertainment

Thanks to the powerful i.MX 8, this demo was able to run four high-resolution screens at frame rates up to 60fps off one processor.

Integrating a mix of 2D and 3D content, the team was able to work collaboratively on the applications using Storyboard’s multi-file support, and seamlessly merge the project files and iterate the design throughout the lifecycle. The 3D models were created with high-fidelity detail to take advantage of the rich GPU capabilities of the i.MX 8.

 

To try Storyboard for your own automotive HMI projects, download a free 30-day trial.

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*So Canadian of me

See Storyboard User Interface Demos on your Hardware

Storyboard Suite User Interface Demo Images

When working with any embedded platform it’s helpful to be able to quickly validate its capabilities and performance before investing the time and resources to create and deploy applications. Pre-built and packaged demos make it easy to test drive hardware with applications designed to its specifications.

Over the past several months we’ve been building a demo image library of application user interfaces created in Storyboard for a variety of platforms and hardware. Each demo image is built for a specific target with its unique capabilities, constraints, performance, and screen form factor in mind. The Storyboard user interface demos are packaged with simple instructions for getting the applications up and running on your target quickly.

Browse our library of Storyboard demos for platforms from NXP, STMicroelectronics, Microchip, and more. We will be adding new demos in the coming months, so check back often.

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Here’s an example of one of the Storyboard demo images, a multi-market demo on the NXP i.MX 6QuadPlus:

Download a free 30-day trial to test drive Storyboard and create your own application UIs.

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Adding 3D content to embedded UIs: Importing FBX models into Storyboard

3D elements add movement, dimension, and life to embedded applications. Aesthetics aside, they also enhance user experience and improve findability of information with a visual perspective that 2D graphics lack. As processors and GPUs evolve, embedded applications are becoming richer and 3D content more prevalent.

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We developed features for Storyboard Suite and a workflow that supports 3D artists, with the following in mind:

  1. Most designers already have 3D design tools that they are comfortable with and use regularly
  2. Designers want to be able to update their models in their 3D design software and easily re-add them to their project
  3. Designers may want to do minor tweaks to their 3D content in Storyboard after they’ve incorporated it into their application

Import FBX 3D models in Storyboard

With FBX 3D model import functionality, Storyboard allows designers to work in popular 3D design software that they already have familiarity with and can work efficiently in. A widely adopted industry standard, FBX models are imported into Storyboard with animations, textures, lighting, and other properties that make up the 3D model. The model isn’t static after the import. Designers can tweak the animations and make adjustments to fit their application.

Iterate until perfect

Iteration is a major part of UI design, and 3D content is no exception. Using the built-in simulator in Storyboard, designers can test their application with the imported 3D content and determine what changes need to be made to the underlying model. Updated models can be iteratively imported back into the Storyboard project until the team is happy with the final 3D content.

Change lighting and camera angles

When the designer is happy with the 3D model, they might want to make some tweaks and adjustments to things like animations, camera angles, and lighting to adjust how it behaves in the Storyboard application. These properties can be refined directly in Storyboard Designer, making it easy to create a well-integrated 3D/2D user experience.

Meet Ahren, a Crank Software 3D Designer

Ahren is a 3D designer here at Crank, working on Storyboard Suite applications that span automotive, medical, home automation, and other cool markets. Ahren chooses to work in Autodesk 3DS Max because it’s a tool he’s invested a lot of hours in, which means he can work in it efficiently and confidently. Having FBX 3D model support in Storyboard optimizes Ahren’s workflow. “It’s quick and easy to import. I can test the 3D content in Storyboard and update the model as needed. Textures, materials, and animations are all baked into the model which means the behavior is the same in the Storyboard application. I can also tweak lighting and camera angles directly in Storyboard until I am happy with it.”

Learn more about working with FBX 3D models in Storyboard from Fancy Dan in this awesome demo video.

If you aren’t using Storyboard yet, download a free 30-day trial and test-drive the functionality you learned about in this post.

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