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

24 September 2015

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.

51 comment(s)
Chris Carter - EMI

Looking forward to a high contract skin for sure.

As for the survey, it ended rather abruptly with no confirmation that it was completed successfully after question #6.  I trust that everything went according to plan but with no page indicating completion I'm not so sure.

24 September, 2015
Julian Bucknall (DevExpress)

Chris: Nice catch! You are correct, we forgot a thank you page. Now added.

BTW, we already have a high contrast skin in WinForms. Did you know? Or does it not suffice in some way? Let me know: julianb@devexpress.com.

Cheers, Julian

24 September, 2015
Thomas Kastner

Do you continue to support default DevExpress skin?

24 September, 2015
Jim Foye

>> a modern flat style is de rigueur these days

Actually, I disagree. I predict in another year or two people may even start seeing this look as dated.

I think MS took a wrong turn with Metro (Flat, whatever you want to call it). Buttons in Windows 8 look like text with rectangles around them - 1989?

24 September, 2015
Nate Laff

I used to offer all skins in my XAF app until the UI Super Hero Road Show ;)

Mark touched on a segment about cognitive load and how a bunch of visual junk can make your UI seem more complex than it actually is. Funny enough the Halloween skin was by far the most popular skin in my application (tattoo industry loves it). Having heard many complaints about "it's too complicated" and seeing so many goofy skins out there, I removed them. Guess what? Those complaints when down significantly.

Now I only offer the Office 2013 skins and the Visual Studio 2013 skins (Visual Studio 2013 Dark is what the Halloween lovers changed to).

I got quite a lot of grief about it from end-users, besides them all looking horridly outdated, it has certainly made a difference in comprehension and support and think this is a great move.

24 September, 2015
Christopher Jay

Very much looking forward to some new skins.  We don't modify any of the skins.  But we do have a set of color schemes that go along with some of the DX themes and users can choose a color scheme and a skin.  Some skins are very dated indeed, but we certainly do have our users that like ones like XMas, Halloween, etc.  But some fresh, modern, flat-ISH ones will be really nice.  Thanks for your efforts!

24 September, 2015
Christopher Todd

I agree w/ Nate. I like the flat skins because it makes applications less cluttered and busy. Simply taking the Office 2013 skin and providing different color palettes will be awesome!

24 September, 2015
ANTÔNIO RICARDO MACHADO

An Office 2013/Windows 10 skin style it would be enough. Elegant, clean...

BUT with dynamic color configuration (back color and front color, real dynamic or a wizard in skin editor to build the dlls) and consistent in all platforms (Win, Web, XAF). It will be awesome!

24 September, 2015
Neal

More WPF themes/skins please.

24 September, 2015
Julian Bucknall (DevExpress)

Some interesting comments to be sure (and don't forget to do the survey to make sure we get your input).

@James: we'll have to agree to disagree on this. And note that it's not "just" Miicrosoft, it's Apple, Google, Facebook, what have you.

@Nate: excellent viewpoint that even the Halloween skin had its fans, but even they turned around...

Cheers, Julian

24 September, 2015
Tom Reiertsen

Will this also be done on the VCL side of things?

I previously took one of your skins and ran all the .PNG's through Photoshop using an automated adjust of hue/darkness and the manually went through the SkinEditor changing all the colors to match my new darker UI skin for my Media Application.

I would think that creating a collection of basic skins and then a software solution to be able to adjust hue/color/darkness/brightness to all the .PNG's in those skins in addition to a skin wide color replacement option would be a nice way to do things. Then the customers could tune the skins to their liking.

Also, the ability to tune hue/color on individual "buttons" or controls would be a nice addition. (For example you could have a red button, a green button and the rest grey on a single form).

24 September, 2015
Sorin Sandu

What about bonus skins ?

I am using MetropolisDark an almost all my apps.

Will be available ?

24 September, 2015
Stefan Koell

I welcome the change. There may still be some users who might miss a certain skin but a more sorted and reduced repository is very welcome. Please make sure you also take WPF skins into account. Those skins are not as pixel-perfect as the WinForms skins. Since I'm more and more working with WPF, I really miss the high quality look and feel (Office/Visual Studio) of WinForms.

cheers,

Stefan

24 September, 2015
Henning Scharsach

We had the same problems as Nate, customers complained that the application looks to complicated, too busy - even with Office and Metropolis skins. I also disagree with James, this is not some fashion trend that will be gone in 2 years, but companies have realized how amazingly important accessibility and reduction in complexity is. And the rules what is easier on the human eye won't change anytime soon. Which is why - as Julian already said - you basically see everybody heading in the same direction: Reduction of clutter and lines, simplification of shapes, better use of colors, more animations etc. etc. ... I'd love to see DevExpress get rid of the old skins (you cannot possibly ship an application in 2015 with Caramel or Pumpkin skin!) and make skins that are always updated to resemble the latest Microsoft Office / Android / iOS look!! I think this is WAY more important than any new component could ever be, thanks so much DevExpress for rethinking your strategy here :-)

25 September, 2015
Francesco Martire 1

I like the idea of having Office White following Microsoft's skin evolution; I'm currently using Office 2013 skin. but you should guarantee one can keep on using the 'Office White -1' version for a while, because there are situations where some of our products need new DevX capabilities but it's not the time to change the skin due to existing other applications of our suite. another point is the ability to change icons basing on current skin, so that if Office White changes, icons change too.

25 September, 2015
Brian Maxim

We let our end users choose any skin they want. It wouldn’t be my choice but strangely the seasonal skins are quite popular.

We would not like to see some of the “medium/old” skins removed like Office 2010. Many customers are not cutting edge and haven’t even seen Windows 8 or Office 2013. To them Office 2010 is modern and fresh.

It concerns me how some are talking here – eg. You cannot ship such and such in 2015. People should consider surveying what their customers are actually using before replying because what they prefer may not be the case. there’s a difference between DX customers and actual end users.

25 September, 2015
Joachim Thiele

i have a lot of customers and during my Help Sessions (Teamviewer) i can see that they use many skins.

I can understand it, because if you must work with the application (business use) it is very difficult with the office 2013 skins.

With a skin for example money twins all is better readable (sorry for my english). The clarity of Ribbons/Menüs/Grids with for example "Money Twins" all is better.

25 September, 2015
Brendon Muck [DevExpress MVP]

I think I'm fine with retiring a large number of the existing skins. The color palettes in the older skins like Money Twins, Stardust, Glass Oceans etc... are just horrid. They seem to be slight variations on a theme, which could be accomplished now with one base skin and some tinkering with the Color Mixer feature.

Visual Studio skins mean nothing to my customers who have zero idea what Visual Studio even is. Emulating an iOS interface on a Windows computer just causes my users to ask if the program will work on a Mac.

I'm also a fan of the reorganization to reduce the size of the skin assembly. At 15MB now (v15.1.7) it's by far the largest file in my entire application. I'd rather have 5 (or even 10!) skin assemblies of a smaller size so that I can pick and choose what to deploy. Maybe the Skin Editor program could have a feature added making it easy to pack a group of skins into a single assembly?

(BTW, I have one user that insists on using the Xmas-theme year round. You may need to keep that one just to placate her, because she's a good employee).

25 September, 2015
Warren Wander

I'd actually like to see a proper native style option, like "LookAndFeelStyle.Office2003" but "LookAndFeelStyle.Native" where the standard Windows drawing routines and colours are used so I don't have to any skinning at all - I want my application to look native to the platform and user preferences.

25 September, 2015
Heiko Mueller

For now I use in my applications a mix from two skins. At first one of the Office 2013 skins for the 'main' content and second the Visual Studio dark skin for MessageBoxes and some Popup-Dialogs.

All I need is a light and a dark skin with the option to modify few colors (Background, Foreground, Hightlight etc.).

25 September, 2015
Uwe Porsch

I don't like the idea. I and also my customer want nice looking ui, which I find actually some a devex but not to much. Removing them out of the products worries me. It would be okay when there are possibilties to include 3rd party skins, but this isn't possible. So for me (maybe I'm alone) DevExpress will loose a lot of it's magic and I don't know what this will meaning for me. I don't want my application looks like windows 2000 (which is mainly the typical office style)

25 September, 2015
Brendon Muck [DevExpress MVP]

Warren:

You can place a DefaultLookAndFeel component onto your application's main form and set the UseLookAndFeel.UseWindowsXPTheme property to True. This will skip the skinning mechanism and instead use the native Windows theme.

See: documentation.devexpress.com

25 September, 2015
renejdm

One of the things that distinguish DevExpress from its competitors is all the great themes. Our clients use many of the themes. It is a great selling point.

Why do you think people are not using these skins? Sounds like wishful thinking...

Plus you already have a Color Mixer (only available to Ultimate users).

Please keep all the skins and continue to create more skins. We need more seasonal / holiday skins.

25 September, 2015
Jim Foye

@Julian Yes, those other companies caught the same disease, lol.

@Henning

>> And the rules what is easier on the human eye won't change anytime soon.

Indeed! Isn't it funny that after all these years MS suddenly discovered "flat and garish"?. Many of the colors I see in both desktop apps and websites now seem to be chosen 16-color palette. Subtle 3D effects and gradients are evil. How did people even get work done before?

I'm in a minority, I know. But I think it's a fad.

25 September, 2015
Brendon Muck [DevExpress MVP]

renejdm:

The Color Mixer is available to anyone with a WinForms subscription, not just Universal subscribers. If you are referring to this blog post (community.devexpress.com/.../winforms-theme-color-mixer-coming-soon-in-v14-1.aspx), you'll notice that is mentioning that a BETA of the color mixer was available to Universal & DXperience subscribers. All BETA releases are only available to Universal & DXperience subscribers, but the products they contain aren't not limited to only those subscription levels.

25 September, 2015
renejdm

@brendan

Hey. Thanks for the info. I really had no idea that I could use the color mixer as part of my winforms subscription.

Thanks.

25 September, 2015
Christopher Todd

I'm not against seasonal skins so long as they are modernized; using the office 2013 theme as the base. I think the rounded appearance of the current skins doesn't go well with the flat icons I use. Maybe the seasonal skins could be just seasonal color palettes rather than shapes/textures.

25 September, 2015
Uwe Porsch

After one night I want to add something more, as for me skins are a very important part and will influence my decision go further with DevbExpress or not.

First: I really do not understood Julians Reasons, expect the effort one which means "Devpress" want to save money. Something what many company want and many fails.

Second: I see that Microsoft, Google and so one more and more flatten their GUIs. But I also see that Microsoft failes with Windows 8 (also based on the flatten GUI - Main Reason for me not to use Windows 8 or Windows 10. MS want to turn by giving Windows 10 for free to many customers. I don't believe that DevExpress want to this :-)

Third: One of the real good Point of the Skins of DevExpress is, there is something for everyone. If someone likes his applications bare, fine it's possible, if someone want that the application looks different - fine we can do it. Don't stop this just because of saving money.

I like DevExpress, did very good things with. But I feel not to this anymore, that it's time to move. I really don't want it but if I'm not able to make fine GUI's as I want, anymore I need to move.

26 September, 2015
Mike F

What are the plans for the VCL side of things?  Same thing hopefully.

26 September, 2015
vasanthkumar rajasekhar

metropolis black is our skin for the application

pls dont remove this.

26 September, 2015
vasanthkumar rajasekhar

we use seasonal themes in the application, addition of fall theme is really awesome.

pls plan for  a winter  theme also  as part of season .

26 September, 2015
Bassam Abdelaal

I agree that some skins should be removed , they are in my opinion:

"DevExpress Dark style", "Coffee", "Blueprint", "Darkroom", "Sharp Plus", "High Contrast", "Dark Side", "Pumpkin", "Stardust" , "Glass Oceans", "London Liquid Sky", "Liquid Sky"

I offer all others to my users , also no need to turn ALL into flat design , please keep some of the best 3d skins as options to us , examples are Blue , VS2010 , McSkin , Sharp , those are really nice as they are now do not deny us the right to choose few 3d skins (vs flat) we always loved.

28 September, 2015
Warren Wander

Thanks Brendon:

When I do this *some* ui elements draw native, others draw in a winxp style (e.g. popup menus, especially in text editors) and others (e.g. ribbonform) draw in some kind of skin mode.

It all ends up looking ugly, hence using my own skin...

28 September, 2015
Michael Thuma

Pumpkin is vital but for VCL in my case. I don't know if VCL controls are also subject to this tiding out. I'd guess this decision will impact other control sets too.

Honestly I am not interested in what other users do think or want. I can live with anything funny and if possible little scary provided within the next 5 years. Maybe MS will successfully provide the 'little scary' out of the box.

I am sure within a short period in time another round of more realistic GUIs maybe not 3-D will be the next old but new thing.

28 September, 2015
Grzegorz Zawada

Good decision. Focus on making flat skins better and DPI scaling.

No one will regret this 90' skins like "Money Twins"

29 September, 2015
Grzegorz Zawada

One thing - please dont remove VisualStudio skins.

They are flat, modern and we use it often!

29 September, 2015
Sigurd Decroos

Our customers can freely choose their skin from the whole set. I agree some are outdated, but most still look great. Our statistics point out that almost all skins are used during a period of a whole year. The fact that the user can 'personlize' his skin is a major benefit of our application.

A big problem with the flat skins is that they are well, too flat. E.g. the selected tabpage within the layoutcontrol is not good visible with a Office 2013 skin. With e.g. the Metropolis skin or VS2010, this is a lot better and should be taken into account.

Many of our customers are going back to Office 2010 Blue just because of this reason. Good margins and clearly visible what's selected or focused.

So, keep the flat skins flat and follow the trend, but make sure the selected/focused item is clearly visible, no matter the color or skin or DPI. This would make the skins even better and more user-friendly.

29 September, 2015
renejdm

"but it seems we provide over 50 skins"

I count only 47 skins. Am I missing another assembly?

29 September, 2015
Jeff Weir

When you do the VCL could you keep dummy libraries so that code will still compile while the references to the obsolete skins are removed.

30 September, 2015
Miroslav M.

More up to date colour schemes would be great, but I would request the Visual Studio 2013 schemes are kept. Specifically the blue theme.

We've found that the other schemes are a little bit lacking when using a docking UI (in the style of Visual Studio) and without any highlighting our customers sometimes struggle to understand that there is a panel that can be dragged around the screen, or identify which bit of the panel should be dragged (the title).

6 October, 2015
Robert Schlesinger

First of all, Devexpress maintains skins as we pay for that effort by subscription. I mean maintaining skins is definitelly budgeted in subscription fee. This is not voluntary activity.

Second, why not making survey which skins we are willing to get rid of, one by one? Then you may remove 3-5 very seldom used skins, but please do not remove all "old" skins as users love them. The first what any user does in my apps is playing with skins. Crazy, funny, but true. But that helps to "push" apps to them, their resistence is reduced and apps are adopted more quickly.

7 October, 2015
Daniel Rottschäfer

Good decision.

We use only the latest Office skins because our customers there have the best recognition value, since they all work with Microsoft Office.

Are the Office 2016 Skins "colorful", "white" and "dark gray" already integrated in upcoming DevExpress v.15.2?

8 October, 2015
Michael Schmidlkofer

A comment to the claim that the current fad of having flat layers of color is here to stay - El Capitan actually reintroduces some subtle button gradients and borders. So clearly, opinions will continue to evolve, as always.

13 October, 2015
Anthony H

I agree with the principle of reducing the number of skins. However, the comment about having one Office skin and updating it as/when MS change is a concern. Most corporates do not update office very often, and would want internal apps to look like the same version of Office their colleagues use. I would suggest that multiple Office skins remain and are supported for as long as Microsoft have that version of office on their official support list. So once MS make Office 2010 EOL then you could deprecate the Office 2010 skin in the next DevX release. And do that on a rolling basis. You could perhaps have an "Office - Latest" skin as an alias for the latest version for those who really do want it to update automatically when a new look comes out.

14 October, 2015
Dean J.

No doubt a few of the skins are very late 90s looking, but it's more than just that...I think you should re-evaluate the whole skinning process and underlying mechanism you're using.

There are numerous places where it would be so nice if you would let us actually use the properties you have in your "Appearance" object.  It's frustrating to see that Appearance object staring at me in the properties-window, when I know that half of the time you don't honor those settings (like background-color, border, etc.)

Yes, some new fresh themes would be very welcome, but above all else, please don't this terrible trend of low-contrast.  Just because Google does it, then Microsoft does it, then every blogger does it, does not mean you have to.  Hard to read low contrast text (text color that's barely darker than the background) is 1 of the top complaints I hear.

19 November, 2015
brandon

Please keep The Asphalt World. Its good on the eyes.

30 November, 2015
Peder Wikström

Agree with Dean J. It would be great if it was easier to modify at least some "base colors" for a selected skin without to much hazzle.

6 December, 2015
LUIS CEGARRA

What finally happened?

Should we forget what raised here?

16 December, 2015
LUIS CEGARRA

Skins should be commensurate with Windows 10 and each other and skins not modify the size of things. Especially window frames should be the standard windows.

16 December, 2015
LUIS CEGARRA

Skins should be commensurate with Windows 10 and each other and skins not modify the size of things. Especially window frames should be the standard windows.

16 December, 2015
Dean J.

I guess this topic is dead.  I haven't heard DevExpress say anymore about it.

11 June, 2016

Please login or register to post comments.