How can people praise Alias?

I just tried Alias Automotive for the first time, and I’m amazed by how laughably bad the UI design is. Even the 2010 version, looks like it hasn’t updated its UI since 1990.

I guess this is the fault of them being in a monopoly-like position in the automotive area, sort of like Adobe is in the graphics design area? (Don’t get me started on Adobe…)

How do the people who work with this cope? I mean, you are designers for crying out loud, yet forced to work with such ugly and counter-intuitive software. It’s like being back in the dark ages again, Michelangelo laying on his back on rickety scaffolding, painting the Sixtine Chapel by candle light, having paint drip into his eyes and going periodically blind from it.

As quoted in another thread, “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us” (Marshall McLuhan), so I expect a lot of Stockholm Syndrome answers to this thread. But I ask you: Just look at Solidworks, Cinema4D or Modo. Wouldn’t you rather that the UI is Alias looked like that? (And I would add, “was logically structured like they are”, but again, if you are terribly used to Alias you probably don’t see how infuriatingly bad it is.)

Even worse is that when I downloaded the newly released Mac OS X version of Alias, NOTHING WORKED! I couldn’t dock toolbars or sidebars. Clicking menu options did nothing. Not even the undo worked. And they sell this?

I can’t comment on the usability of the Mac version.

The reason the UI has changed very little is because any time they change something users are VERY vocal about “why did you move that when it was fine where it was”.

For example they just changed where Anti-Aliasing was located in the menu tree and now everytime I want to adjust my hardware shade anti aliasing I start shouting WHERE IS IT!

I’m sure they could add lots of aqua-style gradient floaty toolbars that would make it “prettier” but I’ve learned to live without it. (Admittedly I first started using Power Animator back around 99 so I don’t mind that everything is basically the same).

What all of those other programs DON’T have is something you haven’t commented on - a powerful, flexible, and customizable UI. I would say 95% of my day to day work is handled without EVER clicking something that isn’t on my marking menus. The gestural nature of marking menus is unbelievably powerful and it’s something that no one else has. I don’t care how the icons are arranged on my toolbars because I rarely use them. Occasionally I have to move over to my shelf to grab another function I use, but thats about it. The diagnostic shade modes are probably the one element I use off my marking menus the most.

I agree there are a lot of useless archaic elements (F the layer bar, when I have 120 layers I don’t want them arrange horizontally!) that I could live with out, but after using programs like Pro E where I have to click something on the top, then bottom, then right, then middle, then bottom, then right, then middle - 1 freaking task takes me 45 minutes of mouse movement. In Alias if I want to trim it’s 1 click and one gesture (middle mouse + up/left) and I trim. Untrim? Up right. It’s a natural extension of my brain at this point and is completely evident in the fact that even having years of experience with other apps, I’m nowhere near as fast in any of them as I am in Alias.

To a newcomer I can see why it’s daunting. I tried picking up Alias on my own and got bored and went back to Maya as a student because it was easier. It took a few months of struggling + a lot of professional help to truly understand the value that it brings. And now, the features and fluidity outweighs my need for shinier icons and prettier tabs.


Well, I do believe that at least Modo is customizeable in the way you describe. The reason I didn’t mention it was that I firmly believe that when an application is fully customizeable, it usually means that the UI designer hasn’t done his/hers job.

What you are saying reaffirms my position: Out of the box Alias Automotive isn’t intuitive, it isn’t easy to use, and nobody in their right mind would start to use it if they didn’t have to (again, I compare Alias market position to that of Adobe).

Also, neither Cinema4D, Modo or, well, any 3D package that I’ve seen (save maybe for Solidworks) have gradient toolbars. I linked the screenshots in my previous post so you can easily compare.

You know what, I had the exact same initial response!

But after using Alias for a little while, the user interface has really grown on me, I’m not saying it’s terrific - but I’m not complaining about it anymore. It’s alright, and it works, and that can be enough sometimes.

What a great post.
this will really stir some emotions. LOL.

The UI really is not that big of a deal. After a short amount of time the learning or the initial shock curve will go away and like many of us, you too will enjoy FLOW. (any number of books by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi )

Modo probably has the only innovative UI that was mentioned. Cinema4D has a nice color scheme and docked menus but still looks like a visual mess. Solidworks… inspired by… powerpoint? ( is that a knock-off of the Alias Marking menus in the image?)

seriously though… Alias gives me the ultimate flexibility, control and creativity, and easy to pass to my engineering counterparts… not so easy to say that with Modo, C4D, or others.

Yes, this is always a red-flag to usability professionals. I remember when Alias first did this (version 7?) and it created a huge problem in our office, because when one designer needed help from another, they couldn’t, because the UI was all customized! Imagine sharing a workshop with a bunch of other designers. Do you re-organize all the tools to suit your preferences? No! You all agree to put the tools where they belong.

Alias’ UI problems have nothing to do with the way it looks, but rather the way things are organized. Things aren’t where you’d think they’d be, and it takes forever to find them. They also focus on power-user features, like marking menu’s. Terrible for newbies, great for everyday users.

The ideal CAD interface in my opinion is one in which contextual controls appear on the object you’ve selected, and it’s not about “selecting” the control, but rather the control appears and you start interacting with it. A good example is the nice rotating handles that appear when you select an object in Maya. Google Sketchbook works this way too. The benefit is that it’s both intuitive and efficient–and it’s tough to get both!

If you’ve never seen how the incredibly-intuitive Google Sketchup UI works, check this out: - YouTube

interesting point and I’d have to agree with you, sort of. It always seemed like a good idea to me (when I worked at design consultancies) for design groups (be them engineers or id folk), to have a set of company standard tool layouts/keyboard shortcuts etc., especially for training purposes. That is really a question of company discipline and culture. This not only eases the pain of multiple setups, but also lets beginner and novice users concentrate on using the tool effectively before they become the power users with their own setups.

I would contend that having a setup like this should fall under the domain of the CAD manager or senior user to set such standards and with Alias you could simply have a shelf set that everybody could and should use, then as a user starts to adapt to the tool they can have the flexibility to set up the way they work with the tools they most commonly use. I can see your point on the frustration though.

you should see some of the tech previews of Autodesk Inventor Fusion - YouTube
and yes for the record, I work at Autodesk, but I think the ui in this technology preview is realy stunning, IMO

best, j.-

The technology looks very much like what Siemens presented over a year ago, only with an UI that looks like Solidworks 2009. Finally, I say! How about some of this in Alias Automotive? :wink:

Even worse is that when I downloaded the newly released Mac OS X version of Alias, NOTHING WORKED! I couldn’t dock toolbars or sidebars. Clicking menu options did nothing. Not even the undo worked. And they sell this?

I’d like to give an update on this matter. Apparently it works, and sadly it works like it does by design. I can’t dock the main tool palette because it is already considered to be docked… even though it is still in its own separate window. I had to click on some sort of strange symbol at the end of the menu option I wanted to get it to open… clicking on the actual menu text did nothing. And then undo does work… sometimes… at other times, it just types out “zzzzzz” in some sort of text output (input?) box. Though despite everyone saying that it is 100% customizeable, I can’t rearrange anything (then again, drag and drop probably wasn’t invented back when this UI was cobbled together). The “layers” are displayed sideways… why not just call them “groups”? (Perhaps there even are groups as well… but I sure hope not, since there doesn’t seem to be a hierarchical display of layers.)

They also focus on power-user features, like marking menu’s. Terrible for newbies, great for everyday users.

I think this probably sums up the issue best. For power users, Alias offers productivity that no other software can match.

For students and newbies, there is a lack of good training, a good introduction to why things are the way they are (IE what is that little box next to everything? Why is this windows software still designed like it was on a Silicon Graphics Machine). Realistically they could probably redo everything, keep a “Power user tab” checked if you wanted the old UI and gradually transition users to a new UI. But this also creates a bloated set of code and from a programming perspective the more code you have the more stability you give up.

This is why the adoption rate for Alias has been so poor in recent years when software like Rhino and Solidworks (my 2 recommendations for anyone learning CAD) is much more affordable and easy to pick up.

The flip side is look at how many years you’ll be an amatuer (1?) and how many years you’ll be a professional (for some people zero, for some people 20+)

I certainly won’t try to argue that it’s perfect, but until Apple creates a Class A surfacing program it’s probably the best we’ve got for freeform surfacing.

thought i would post some “you suck at Alias” tips

custom preferences a few releases ago, they added the ability to swap out preferences while the software is still open. perfect for multiple users using the same machine. so YES, feel free to rearrange the tools if you are sharing a garage. PREFERENCES > USER PREFERENCES > LOAD and SAVE. store the user prefs on a shared drive in the office and you will have it your way on any machine. (a few things get lost between win and mac, seems to be a CTRL vs CMD)

for a vertical layers and object hierarchical layout(in the surface world) use the WINDOWS > OBJECT LISTER set the show to either object or Layer.

the strange square next to the menus is the … [drum roll]… the option box. hence it looks like a weird box. to avoid this… just hold shift down when selecting a window. it automatically opens the optioin box.

UNDO i always tell new users that it works only for modifications, NOT when something is created, selected or updated in a option box.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED TO USE EITHER THE PALETTE OR THE SHELF, NOT BOTH. i always say that loud as Alias use to open up with both open. what a waste of space. i have seen many users have a condensed tool set in the shelf. lets say the top 20 tools that they need. for those special occasion tools, they hotkey the palette to open it and then close it immediately.

Palette is not customizable and has all the tools in it.
Basically curve and surface is for creating. curve edit and Surface edit are the editing features. the Object editor works on both curves and surfaces. totally dumb IMO but what ever.
Pick means select in Alias world. transform is all the move, scale, rotate related tools.

Shelf is for custom tools, arrangements and tabs. i have seen them arranged by workflow or by tool types(like the palette) right click in an empty space and choose “new shelf set” to create a new Tab. middle mouse button is how you dragN’Drop a menu or tool into a shelf. CTRL+double clicking on icon will allow you to rename it. Hold CTRL+middle mouse button to duplicate a icon in the shelf… perfect for having several copies of a tool with different options.

there are groups as well as layers… and categories which are sets of layers(ps). Grouping are shared by top level node that controls transforms and selection. Layers contain surfs, curves, canvases, lights, etc for visibility and symmetry. categories can have several layers assigned to them so you can turn on/off hundreds of related layers at once.

Alias still doesn’t have UNDO?!

Talk about designer-friendly feature #1!!!
When I talk to people ask me about digital sketching, Undo is always the first benefit I mention!
I’m stunned.

actually all of the paint features have undo. good point.

thats right. if you were to only use the paint tools, you basically could have unlimited undos… or atleast until you ran out of system memory. thats not bad.

I’ve been practicing Alias (with the Learning Design with Alias StudioTools book) for my digital fabrication class, and just today, I found out about the marking/pie menus and snapping hotkeys (ctrl, alt, ctrl+alt) and am ridiculously in love with Alias now.

I still can’t model for shit.

Thank you for the tips, but…

Amazing. I visited a very large corporation as a consultant a while ago, and was equally stunned to learn that their custom design tool lacked a proper undo. Even more amazing was that on their internal bug-tracker, undo was feature requested basically on day two, but now several years had passed and to implement it would require a rewrite. Meanwhile, their users are wasting seconds several times a day which a friend calculated totalled to several months of potentially lost time. However, since these were “soft” numbers, management didn’t care. They also apparently didn’t care about user frustration or the application user experience.

It’s gobsmacking that Alias seems to be handled in a similar manner.

I’ve been sitting here for 30 minutes now, trying to do a simple extrude. Apparently, it’s called draft/flange in Alias, and of course, it isn’t simple. Selecting the curve is easy enough, but when it asks me to choose a pull direction, I have no idea how to continue. Enter doesn’t do anything. Double-clicking doesn’t do anything. If I click on the curve, I apparently create a depth profile. Now, I have no idea if this is the correct procedure, but to get what looks like a simple extrude, I drag the profile point of origin to an endpoint of the curve. Still, I have no idea how to control its depth, and undo doesn’t work anywhere between the steps. Only option is delete, and start over. Delete and start over. Seconds lost, over and over again.

Frankly, I find it insulting to see Alias telling me “zzzz” in the output (input?) box… (notice my little comeback insult there… could that bloody box please make up its mind? There is no visible hint as to exactly when it is in input mode or output mode!)

I may suck at Alias, but boy, Alias sucks too.

Last night I finally managed to create my extrude, but I do not remember how I did it!

So, today I woke up and thought I should go about recreating it. And what happens when I use the draft tool? BAM, extrude along z-axis in place, all I have to do it pull on the little square in the profile control points and I’m done.

Apparently, Alias remembers how you used the tool the last time, and tries to recreate your last setting the next time you use it?

No bloody wonder you guys all love Alias, because the flipping thing remember everything you do, and it’s been so long you had to wrestle with setting everything up initially that you’ve forgotten about it!

Personally, I still hate it, because I’ve learned nothing. Sure, the tool is set up now, but if someone asks me how to do a simple extrude in Alias, I still can’t tell them.

I’m 100% convinced now that Alias is doing this on purpose in order to lock in their customers. Oh, the joy of monopolies.

I’m a Rhino reseller and even I find this thread silly.

Virtually every program that has “tools” with “options” saves them for the next time you use it. Now I might argue it would be better UI design if they didn’t, but every user disagrees so that’s what everyone does. And your use of the word “monopoly” is preposterous. Your phone company decades ago when it might have actually been illegal to buy a phone at Radio Shack and plug it in yourself, that’s a monopoly. No one has a monopoly in CAD.

That is true. If I select a brush in Photoshop and resize it, the next time I select the brush tool, the size will be remembered.

However, there is one important difference: The draft tool in Alias has multiple steps, which I categorize as being a “wizard”. My gripes with this is that even during the first time I ran this “wizard”, I found no easy way to go back to the first step. And now that the tool is “set up”, I find no easy way to reset it.

Please understand that I’m not bashing Alias for the sake of bashing, but as long as I run into these very basic UI flaws, I do intend to continue posting about them. Also, I’m not looking to offend anyone or stir up emotions, apart from my own, that is. :wink:

I don’t ever use the draft tool to make extrusions, I use the extrude tool… (surface > swept surfaces > extrude) You need a profile to extrude AND a path to extrude along (which is your direction) this can be curved or straight. Has this changed in recent versions?

Once upon a time (1994-2002) Bill Buxton was the chief scientist at Alias. He gave us all the innovations we love, like marking-menus. Unfortunately a lot of his advanced concept stuff never made it into production. Check out these amazing prototypes: