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September 2015 - Posts

  • Skinning WinForms: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

    This may come as a shock to you – it certainly did to me – but it seems we provide over 50 skins to choose from for your WinForms projects. Well, I knew there were quite a few – you should see the number of pizzas we have to ship in to the graphic designer team when we do a new major release so they can update them all – but frankly this has got a little out of hand.

    Consider this: we’ve been shipping skins now for some ten years, and over that time the general way we as computer/tablet/phone users view UI has changed dramatically. Like it or not, a modern flat style is de rigueur these days. All you need to do is look at Windows 10 and Office 2016, both very recently released, for what I mean. The problem is that pretty much all of the unique look-and-feel styles we ship at the moment (like, say, Halloween or Valentine) are very old-fashioned just from that particular perspective: they are decidedly not flat. And that’s what we hear from our customers about our skins: end-users want the same flat style they see in their smartphones and their tablets in the desktop apps they use every day. Yes, it’s a giggle to change to Halloween, say, but using that day in, day out, is not conducive to an efficient working environment.

    WinForms Skins are a-changing

    For us, we have a two–pronged issue when we publish a major release: first, we have to update the skins for the new release; and second, if we release a new control, we have to “skin” it for all of the skins we provide. This, frankly, is hard work for not much benefit, since I would guess the majority of our customers don’t actually use these older skins. Indeed I’d be willing to bet that a lot of customers “brand” a standard skin with their corporate colors and the other skins just aren’t exposed or used in any way.

    Apart from “flatness”, there is another huge issue with UI that is starting to really make itself felt. I am currently writing this on my new Dell XPS 13 with the Infinity display running at 3200×1800. I love the sharpness of the resolution, but with my old eyes I cannot run it at a standard DPI. With Windows 10 making it a lot easier to set text sizes and DPI settings, I can configure a great visual experience across the board, except with older programs. They’re … well … not so good visually, shall we say. Our older skins fall into the same category. We’re doing a lot to improve our WinForms controls to work much better visually on these high-DPI screens, but we are being held back because of the skins.

    So, what’s the plan?

    First off, we want to find out how you, our customers, are using the WinForms skins we provide. To that end, we have drawn up a survey and encourage you to go fill it out. The more info and detail we get, the better all round.

    Second, based on our current thinking, we’re going to reorganize our skin collection for v15.2.

    1. System/Application Skins. This will include the skins based on Microsoft Office and Windows, together with Mac OS: Office White, Office Dark Gray, Office Light Gray, McSkin. If Microsoft changes the Office theme in the future, for example, the relevant skins will be changed appropriately.
    2. High-contrast skin. For accessibility purposes.
    3. Holiday and seasonal custom skins. Spring, Summer, Xmas will be redesigned.  We’re planning on adding a Fall skin.
    4. A set of differently-colored skins, based on the same look and feel styles as above. These are going to replace all of the older skins: Blue, Black, Silver, Pink, Green, Coffee/Caramel.

    The other skins will be removed and no longer supported. Note that depending on the answers we get from the survey, this reorganization may be more (or less) drastic than I’ve outlined here.

    Third, if we see a cool new app with a cool new UI and we feel there’s going to be a high demand for replicating it, we may introduce a new skin. But in general we will just update the reduced number of skins in our collection to match changes in the general market. Our goal is to maintain and keep up to date the above selected skins only.

    Of course, this is highly dependent on your feedback. So, I wholeheartedly encourage you to fill out the survey form – that’s going to be the best way for us to collate and analyze the responses and understand how you use our skins. You can also leave your opinions about this change as comments here, if you wish.

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