Hi, I've been trying out the demo version for a couple of days and wanted to applaud the team for a truly impressive effort in trying to bring the best of both (vector and raster) worlds. At the same time I couldn't help but feel greatly underwhelmed by user experience of Affinity Designer and would like to mention a few points and see both how users and the team feel about that.
In short, I think by trying to so closely copy the UI of Illustrator and Photoshop, Affinity Designer is missing a fantastic opportunity to start fresh and IMPROVE on these programs. Great success of programs like Sketch show that users may not necessarily want *cheap* Adobe products, they want *new* kind of products that better adopt to their particular workflows.
Hence I will use Sketch for example of what I'd call workflow-based UI and Illustrator and Photoshop as feature-based UI.
Photoshop and Illustrator have evolved over decades and over 20 iterations, and with this long history comes a huge baggage of legacy where early GUI decisions need to be carried over from early versions for the sake of consistency (people generally don't like change if they are used to one way of doing things). Also each new version meant bunch of new features that kept piling up and needed to be squeezed into existing UI paradigm of panels and toolbars, and hence the product that is based around features is created, with each iteration being more powerful but also feeling slightly ever more bloated. By "bloated" I mean that everyone, especially creative people, want as little friction from the tools they use. Obviously one way to remove friction is to repeatedly use the product, but for example, even after using Photoshop for almost 20 years I still often cringe by the way I constantly need to shuffle between different panels, and toolbars: even if I can customize their position and what not, I am still forced to break my workflow in order to rearrange some panel, or click a certain button to open a subpanel with more options.
In order to solve the problem of cramped UI Adobe has introduced, years ago, concept of Workspaces, which is kinda like GUI on top of the GUI, and while it does help ease the problem, Workspaces is a duct-tape patch and not a true solution, which is quite understandable given the size and legacy of a huge program like Photoshop (or Illustrator, or even worse example: Autodesk programs like AutoCAD and Max - compared to Autodesk's miserable efforts of managing feature bloat, Adobe is doing an excellent job!).
On the other hand, a new program has opportunity to approach UI from different angle, and programs like Sketch (or similarly named Sketch Up, to continue analogy to Autodesk competitors) tried to focus on concrete task that user wants to perform and build a flexible dynamically changing UI around these tasks, rather than to simply group buttons into panels based on features.
Now obviously it is ridiculous to compare Sketch to Photoshop, as it is a niche program that caters to specific target market and specific workflows (GUI design only), but there are a lot of lessons to be learned on how friction between the idea and the tool can be organically reduced if you start from clean slate and not by copying software behemots with over 20 years of GUI legacy:
1) Edit everything in-place to give more hands-on control over the effect. Example is the way Sketch gradients are edited directly on the object, vs. having to do it in a dedicated UI element separated from object.
2) UI adopts intuitively to users logical next action. You don't need to switch tools or modes if it's obvious what you will do next.
- one click at the object selects it and automatically turns into Transform mode. Double click will automatically turn into path editing (moving anchors around).
- when you have a line selected and click on an anchor or bezier handle, you will automatically get into edit mode in Sketch because obviously direct click on a handle of a selected object means you want to move it around. Iin Affinity, you will stay in your present tool which means you are likely to start creating another line instead (althout there is a misleading PEN- pointer that leads to think that the following action will be anchor deleting).
3) Don't float feature-based panels around, but use several fixed positions for GUI. If you follow point 2) this means that GUI will adopt to what you do and you always intuitively always need to move your attention to the same part of screen when wanting to perform complex tasks. Another Sketch example is Inspector (a paradigm widely used by Apple products) which is a sole UI element that always adopts to whatever you are doing at the moment. So I know that whatever I plan to do, I only need to look to the right side of the screen and I will always have a RELEVANT tool set.
4) Modular and consistent functionality. By modular I mean the way different types of fills can be stacked one on top of another in Sketch, and controlled via extremely simple but powerful interface. Another excellent example of modular pproach is the concept of Modifiers in 3D Max, where you can basically start from a simple 3D cube and end up with a human figure just by applying a range of non-destructive modifiers (and a bit of skillful positioning of the points) and at any moment you can always go back to any step and modify it in a non destructive manner. By consistent I mean things like Styles which are common place in software packages to ensure consistency.
Ok, hm... I'm sorry it's getting late here (2:30am) so I am starting to lose focus here.
Back to the core point: I understand Affinity is going after Adobe users, but that really doesn't mean that all we want is cheap Illustrator + Photoshop. You can do much better by trying to approach the functionality from a new fresh perspective and I can assure you will get a faithful user base much easier by doing NEW thing than trying to copy everything 1:1 - because you know, making another Photoshop AND Illustrator in one software piece from scratch is HUGE amount of work.
And people will ALWAYS keep comparing Affinity to Illustrator and Photoshop and be kinda pissed off because feature XYZ is misssing. By starting fresh, you can focus your efforts and be more effective in solving user problems with less actual work.
Plus, don't underestimate your potential users: if you do things with fresh perspective, it may take us a bit of learning curve to get used to your product, but if early on we figure out that we are seeing a new better way of doing things, most of us will gladly spend some time to learn and adopt.
Case in point: I liked Affinity demo very much, but it doesn't really solve anything that my Photoshop and Illustrator CS4 don't do (except dang retina screen support). Even if it's feature packed, and cheap, there is not very much incentive for me to buy, as it feels just too familiar to these two packages.
Maybe I am minority here, but really would like to hear what other users thing on this.
Good night :) N.