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Friday, November 26, 2010

Making Project Vasari - inside The Factory #Revit

Vasari_splash 

Yesterday was the day. We officially launched Project Vasari on Autodesk Labs. I thought I would give everyone a behind the scenes look at how this all came about.

Genesis

As we said in the teaser, it started as a simple question: What if we reduced Revit to its essentials? Followed quickly by: What would it look like? What would we keep? Who would it be for? This evolved into the following goals:

  • Create a simplified "on-ramp" to introduce building information modeling concepts to students and young designers
  • Focus on the conceptual modeling and cloud-based analysis work flows
  • Create a "sandbox" where we can experiment on new features and concepts
  • Deliver this as a technology preview on the web

Design Tenets

The following design tenets were our guiding principles as we began conceiving of what to make

  • Let users get their hands dirty faster
  • Reduce modality
  • Focus on teachable moments
  • Progressively disclose complexity
  • Build a community

Personas and Storyboards

A persona is a one-page narrative that describes a fictional user based on user data we have gathered. After interviewing and surveying many students, we distilled that data into Gabriel .This helps us keep the team user-centered. As we face various decisions, we must ask "what would Gabriel   think of this?"  We also wrote a series of scenarios - stories with Gabriel as the main character. These act as the basis for some early sketching and storyboards (note, not all of these ideas made the final cut.) 

Being Agile

In addition to the previously mentioned goals - we also wanted to see what a small team could do in a short amount of time. By "small", I mean one product manager, five software developers, two designers and one quality assurance analyst/blogger/mad scientist. By "short time" I mean six months from inception to delivery. To do this we adopted a more agile team process called Scrum. I won't go into much detail, but to put it simply Scrum is like IPD for software development: A cross disciplinary team co-locates to increase collaboration, breaks down roles to foster innovation (QA helps with design, designers do some coding, etc.) focuses work on a central information repository (in our case, the source code and a wiki) and shares equally in the risk and reward.

So, isn't this just Revit with a bunch of stuff removed?

Yes and no. Yes, it is Revit at its core. But no, we did make some progress in some areas - primarily related to our design tenets. Ultimately, Vasari has become a platform to experiment and take some risks - something that has become difficult when trying to get the larger Revit out the door each year. So what's different?

  • A smaller, less imposing user interface.
  • Access to massing tools is more streamlined. Were you asked to switch visibility mode when creating a mass? Were you asked to name your mass when you created it? Did you actually have to create the mass at first?
  • You can double click to edit an in-place mass and double click to stop editing it. My personal favorite.
  • When you are editing an in-place mass the background changes color and non-edited masses become transparent.  Notice I said reduced modality, not removed. We follow Jef Raskin's definition of modality, that is, an interface is not modal as long as the user is fully aware of its current state.
  • Levels and reference planes are now visible in 3D in the project environment. This allowed us to keep the experience primarily in 3D, with little need for 2D views.
  • The product is delivered in a nice, compact, single executable. No licensing. No big installer wizard.
  • Realistic views have edges turned on by default.
  • And our dirty secret? Much of the look and feel was achieved using a plain ol' Revit template.

What's Next?

I can't say. I know, I know - tight lipped as usual. Actually, it is because I really don't know. I do know that we have generated a lot of ideas (stories in our backlog, to use Scrum terminology.) Now that we have some time to breathe we will listen to the feedback that comes back from our target demographic, sift through the backlog and decide on what to tackle next.  Until then, come join us on Facebook and Twitter where we will continue the conversation. 

_tom

A video introducing Project Vasari's features:

 



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