[Bf-education] Blender's great weakness.. and the solution!

Nigel Ward nigel.ward at eeb3.be
Sun Nov 4 18:41:21 CET 2012

Hello all,

Nigel Ward from Brussels here. I only just joined this mailing list and may have missed a couple of message that responded to my entirely unoriginal suggestion that there should be a ‘beginner’s mode’ in Blender that hides most of the more advanced, rarely used options. It’s clear though that this suggestion is getting a negative response. 

I would like to make the obvious comment that Blender, like most programs, ALREADY includes the option of hiding options that are not needed – we use those little triangles to hide lists of unwanted items all the time. And every time we expand a window with Ctrl+up arrow it is because not only do we want an expanded view but also because we want a cleaner, simpler interface. Even the idea of drop-down menus is to hide commands most of the time and show them only when needed. So in fact most options in Blender are hidden anyway, at any given time. Once you’ve accepted that fact you should be more willing to accept the idea of a beginner’s mode that hides most options. 

Nicholas J suggests that ‘Using a simplified interface just doubles the amount of time it takes to get comfortable’ and Carlos suggests that a button that hides 80% of Blender’s complexity would ‘add another layer of complexity’ and ‘increase confusion’. I find these comments strange -  the whole point of a beginner’s mode is to reduce complexity and confusion, of course. It shouldn’t take long for users to realise that if they can’t find some option their first reflex should be to click the prominent button that switches back to full mode. Identifying exactly what should be shown and what should be hidden in beginner’s mode would be an interesting and controversial exercise but at the same time it’s obvious that some operations and options in Blender are far more basic than others.

I agree with John N who says Blender ‘has the complexity of a dozen Photoshops!’ Blender is already the most complex free software I have ever worked with and it will of course become ever more complex with each new version. It therefore seem to me INEVITABLE that a beginner’s mode will have to be introduced sooner or later for Blender will simply become too intimidating otherwise. Already many of my students beg me after a few lessons of Blender ‘Can’t we go back to Sketchup, please – it’s so much simpler, easier and more fun!’ I worry that if Sketchup ever adds built-in rendering then many people will choose it rather than Blender. After all, it already has a physics engine (game mode) in the form of the SketchyPhysics plugin.

Regarding the suggestion that individuals would hack their version of Blender to create a customised, simplified interface, there are many problems with this:
·        Every time the hacker adopts a new version of Blender he would need to repeat his work

·        Hundreds of hackers all over the planet might be doing this hack – how inefficient that would be!

·        Above all, this would not give us a STANDARD beginner’s configuration. Therefore no educator would ever make tutorials using their custom interface. There must be a STANDARD beginner’s interface option to encourage people to make tutorials for it. By all means also give people the option of further customising their interface but I think the most important thing is to have a STANDARD simplified interface option.

Note also that I am not suggesting that there should be a special ‘educational’ version of Blender with some functions not available – there should be only one Blender but it should have the built-in option of presenting a standard, simplified interface with most controls hidden.

Best regards,

Nigel from Brussels

From: Nicholas Jainschigg 

Sent: Sunday, November 04, 2012 5:35 PM
To: Blender Educators and Trainers 
Subject: Re: [Bf-education] Blender's great weakness.. and the solution!

I teach Blender at the college level and wanted to contribute that while the old interface was slightly intimidating, the new one has enough perfectly recognizable functions and tools directly visible that students begin messing around with it before I've gotten two minutes into my explanatory demonstration.

I should also add that while I teach Blender, I'm not totally fluent with all of its features. The same goes for Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, ZBrush and several other packages I teach. In my experience both as a user an teacher of software, it's far less important to know every aspect of a package than it is to know its general capabilities and how to find out what you need to know at the time you're using it. Software today isn't like a language, where you can learn it and let it go at that. It's more like moving into a new apartment, where you have to get comfortable with it and its quirks, but you know you'll be moving in a few years and have to do it again.

People learn software to get things done, not to learn how to push all the buttons on it correctly. The quicker you get them to a stage where they can do cool things and learn on their own how to do more, the better they'll like it and the more they'll learn.

Using a simplified interface just doubles the amount of time it takes to get comfortable, without really aiding in acquiring the basic skills.
Nick J.

On Sun, Nov 4, 2012 at 10:53 AM, Carlos Santana <csantanad at gmail.com> wrote:

  Also it would split tutorial base and add a layer of complexity to handling documentation / wiki / instructional material, and increase the confusion of people not aware of the feature and its meaning("is blender lite another install?" and "please help cant find (UI hidden in lite) button ! " noise). 

  Also you are saying hide physics and such? what if thats the reason i want to start using blender in the first place cause i saw a gorgeous steam train engine animation?

  What if people only see the lite version of the ui and say, "Well this is too basic for my company to use"?

  How will "your new steaming hot feature is going to be hidden to most users" affect developers gumption?

  Who decides which features goes to which side of the watershed?

  Should we hide node materials too? then what happens to cycles?

  Why not simply swap Lite for Mobile?

  Have a Mobile only sub set that is a simplified version of the ui that kicks in when in a corresponding platform is detected.

  The best way to tackle complexity is through documentation: effort in a lite version should be redirected to the wiki,  imho. 

  And who knows, maybe an add-on that would let devs link any interface element to a wiki entry.

  The point am trying to make is that centralized information outlets are better than adapting to a user s level of knowledge when it comes to the learning curve, The wiki has seen some terrific amount of work and that is what should be supported when talking about helping new comers.

  Carlos Santana 

  On Sun, Nov 4, 2012 at 11:08 AM, John R. Nyquist <john at nyquist.net> wrote: 
    I would respectfully disagree with the idea of implementing -- and teaching to -- a simplified version of Blender's UI. I've tried that with other software that's had simple/advanced versions and if you start on simple, the switch to advanced is jarring.  

    I prefer the approach of showing what you need to look for (initially). I find people, and especially kids, very good at zeroing on those things once they're shown (just as Nigel has done). The other elements that they are not currently using -- while they may be visual noise/texture at the beginning -- are there in their usual spot for when the learner starts expanding their knowledge.

    I've been approached more than once by new users who say something like "I'm pretty good at Photoshop how long would it take to learn Blender?". Blender might be one software program, but it has the complexity of a dozen Photoshops! Modeling, texturing, rigging, animating, lighting, compositing, rendering, video editing, game programming, and more. Each one of those is very deep on its own. 3d in general is a very broad topic, each topic a discipline of its own. Who knows what will peak the student's interests? I look at young masters like Jonathan Williamson and Andrew Price, both are great Blender artists (and instructors) but each excels in different areas (Jonathan in modeling and Andrew in compositing). I'd be hesitant at hiding functionality and encourage guiding. 

    The youngest person I ever taught blender to was my 8-year-old using the Blender 2.4x series (supposedly a more difficult UI than today). In a short time, he was able to model a pretty good Garfield (the cat) using mostly primitives, with some simple materials and textures. I was surprised at how productive one can be with just the basics.

    On a funny personal note, just Friday I was handed a very large manual for a real-world system. But the owner showed me the 10% that was relavant 90% of the time. That little bit of guidance made all the world in the difference. I may need the rest of the manual someday, but to do what I need to do I know where to look. I feel like that is our job as instructors. 


    PS: My opinion does not let UI designers off the hook. Continued refinement is important (and time-consuming to design!). I think Blender has an amazing UI in its ability to be reconfigured (even without getting into Python). 

    John R. Nyquist
    Nyquist Art + Logic

    On Sun, Nov 4, 2012 at 2:56 AM, Ton Roosendaal <ton at blender.org> wrote:

      Hi Nigel,

      Thanks for the suggestion. You actually confirm what we know already for long, and it's a feature on our roadmap. At the last Blender Conference I mentioned it in my keynote as one of the targets for the coming year.

      Now there are two ways forward:

      1) Join the educators list:
      I will CC this message to get feedback or help from other Blender educators. (You have to subscribe to mail to the list).

      Since all buttons in Blender are defined via Python scripts - an average scripter can reduce 80% of the UI quite easily. The trick is to define what should go... but it's a quick solution worth investigating.

      2) The developer/final solution

      The main problem with the previous approach is that changes in the code are hard to keep in sync. You basically just take an existing version, and hack it for a training purpose. Obviously - for beginner classes you don't need the latest of the latest always. Last year's Blender was also awesome!

      A better solution would be if we can find a way to manage "Blender Configurations" more easily or automatic even. A bit like how custom keymaps now work - these get synced with new releases quite well. Such configurations could not only be needed for an "Educational Blender" but will also be useful in studios for special optimized UIs for game level makers, or character animators, name it.

      Related to that: on our old 2.5 todo is to enable horizontal toolbars, also to be used as custom 'shelves' where you can drag tools into. We should also allow bigger icons (32 pix or more) for tools, ways to use own pictures for it, and good drag & drop support for such tools. (Like: picture of monkey, drag in 3d window, adds a monkey).

      With all that, a trainer (or author of training material) can make a config for UI tailored for special workshops or classes.


      Ton Roosendaal  Blender Foundation   ton at blender.org    www.blender.org
      Blender Institute   Entrepotdok 57A  1018AD Amsterdam   The Netherlands

      On 3 Nov, 2012, at 22:50, Nigel Ward wrote:

      > Hello
      > You’re a busy man, I imagine, so I’ll keep this short..
      > I’m a teacher of ICT at European School 3, Brussels. I teach Blender to pupils aged 13-16 and tell them this is simply the very best, most sophisticated and most fun free software on the planet. The most fun? Well, with sophistication comes the challenge of achieving a level of competence beyond which the rewards overcome the frustration of being lost in the thousands of options that Blender offers. In my opinion this complexity is by far Blender’s greatest weakness (you would call it Blender’s greatest strength, of course). I know that in reality my pupils will only be able to work with Blender for a few hours in my school – enough for them to glimpse the potential of the program and for one or two to want to take it up as a hobby, while the rest experience more frustration than anything else.
      > I’M WRITING TO PROPOSE THE SOLUTION! If there was ever a program that should offer the option of switching into a ‘beginner’s mode’ in which most of the options would be simply hidden then Blender is that program. I propose that Blender should have a ‘beginner’s mode’ button or menu item which, when clicked, would hide say 75% of the controls in Blender. For example, no scene, particles or physics panels, no weight paint mode or vertex paint mode etc etc. I’ve been using Blender for more than a hundred hours and 80% of Blender’s controls have so far just been ‘noise’ for me – I would far prefer the option of having a simplified interface where the basic controls are ‘in my face’ and where I’m less likely to make accidental changes by changing some setting that I don’t yet understand. Since all I am proposing is the hiding of certain options the programming effort to make the change would be limited. Choosing which options should be hidden would not be too difficult – I’d be happy to make detailed suggestions.
      > Thanks for taking the time to read this message and for leading such an amazing project as Blender.
      > Nigel Ward

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