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About Expression Blend

Microsoft Expression Blend is a full-featured professional design tool for creating engaging and sophisticated user interfaces for Microsoft Windows-based and Microsoft Silverlight-based applications. By separating project files by role, Expression Blend lets designers focus on creativity and developers focus on programming. Each team member can work without blocking the other’s progress.

In Expression Blend, you design your application visually, drawing shapes, paths, and controls on the artboard, and then modifying their appearance and behavior. You can import images, video, and sound. In Windows-based applications, you can also import and change 3D objects.

You can create storyboards that animate the visual or audio elements of your design, and optionally trigger those storyboards when users interact with your application. When you work on Windows-based or Silverlight 2-based applications, you can redesign the templates that are applied to basic controls so that your application looks and behaves uniquely.

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Silverlight 2 is supported in Expression Blend 2 with Service Pack 1 installed.

When you work on your application, you can update your project at any time with code-behind files or custom control files that programmers are working on.

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You can import graphics and Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML) resources that are generated by Microsoft Expression Design 2 into your Expression Blend 2 project. You can also import Silverlight media projects that were created in Microsoft Expression Encoder 2, to add new features or visual elements to the project, or to modify the media player template that can be reused in Expression Encoder 2.

In Microsoft Expression Web 2, you can import Silverlight 1.0 websites and compiled Silverlight 2 application files into an existing or new project, and then publish your work.

Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 works seamlessly with Expression Blend 2 to automatically update code-behind files in your project when you specify events to listen for. From the Project panel in Expression Blend 2, you can open individual code-behind files or your whole project. You can also use the deployment tools of Visual Studio 2008 to deploy your applications.

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Expression Blend produces Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) applications, Silverlight 1.0 websites, and Silverlight 2 user controls (.xap and supporting files). Your visual design is represented by XAML. Just as HTML is the markup language for web applications, XAML is the markup language for WPF. For more information about XAML and WPF, see XAML editing and Learning and community resources.

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Expression Blend 2 includes the following:

  • Full suite of vector drawing tools, which includes text and three-dimensional (3D) tools

  • Easy-to-use, modern visual interface with dockable panels and on-object context menus

  • Real-time animation

  • 3D and media support for enhancing user experiences

  • Advanced, flexible, and reusable customization and skinning options for a variety of common controls

  • Powerful integration points for data sources and external resources

  • Real-time design and markup views

  • Artwork import capabilities from Expression Design 2

  • Site import capabilities from Expression Encoder 2

  • Interoperability with Visual Studio 2008 to help designers and developers work together more closely and efficiently as a team

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Expression Blend 2 is optimized to produce the following types of applications:

  • Productivity applications   Applications that improve productivity and efficiency for a broader customer base, in addition to line-of-business applications such as Microsoft Office.

  • Consumer applications   Applications such as media players, security tools, and desktop gadgets.

  • Games   Simple desktop or online games intended for entertainment.

  • Kiosks   Applications intended to run on kiosks that users can interact with to receive information, review product directories, check in at an airport, and so on.

  • IT pro utilities   Tools for small jobs such as bug tracking tools that may be unique to a specific company or customer need.

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Some design ideas are good just because they improve usability. Here are some common ways to improve usability with Expression Blend 2 and the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5:

  • Model the real world   You can use custom visuals and interactions to make specific controls look and behave like their real-world counterparts. This technique is best used when users are familiar with the real-world object, and the real-world approach is the best, most efficient way to perform the task. For example, simple utilities like calculators just work better when they model their real-world counterparts.

  • Show instead of explain   You can use animations and transitions to show relationships, causes, and effects. This technique is best used to provide information that would otherwise require text to explain what users might miss. For example, a book for young children could animate page turns to show how the controls work.

  • Improve affordance   Affordance is a property of an object that suggests how the object is used (instead of using a label to explain it). You can use custom control visuals and animations to suggest how nonstandard controls are used.

  • Use natural mapping   Natural mapping is a clear relationship between what the user wants to do and how to do it. You can use custom appearances and interactions to create natural mappings when standard common controls won’t do.

  • Reduce knowledge   You can use custom interactions to limit the number of ways to perform an operation and the amount of knowledge required to perform a task.

  • Improve feedback   You can use custom control visuals and animations to give feedback to show when the user is doing something correctly or incorrectly, or to show progress. For example, the Address bar in Internet Explorer in Windows Vista shows the progress for loading the page in the background.

  • Make objects easier to interact with   A model of human movement known as Fitts’ law states that the effort required to click a target is proportional to its distance and inversely proportional to its size. For example, you can use animations to make objects larger when the pointer is nearby and smaller when the pointer is far away. Doing so makes the objects easier to click. It also lets you use screen space more efficiently, by making objects typically smaller.

  • Focus   You can use rich layout and custom visuals to emphasize screen elements that are required for the task, and to de-emphasize secondary elements.

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If designing for Windows Vista, consider adhering to the Windows Vista User Experience Guidelines to establish a high-quality, consistent baseline for all Windows Vista-based applications, regardless of how they are implemented.

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