There is a lot to be said about SketchUp Free but in this thread I’ll focus on the UI. First of all I’d like to start by saying I don’t think it’s all bad (even though it might sometimes sound like so). I appreciate the attempt to lower the number of inspectors. This can help simplify the whole UI. I know a lot of people won’t agree but I also personally like how there is a pre-defined static order to the inspectors. This will simplify for users helping each other as they’ll always know where to find a certain inspector. Lastly the UI obviously looks beautiful! Even I can’t deny that (even though I value usability higher than appearance).
There is though quite a potential for improvement.
Difficulty Visually Parsing the UI
With the flat design and lack of 3D borders and shadows it’s much harder to visually parse the UI to understand its hierarchy, and know what elements are clickable.
Where is the Material inspector? What inspector does the cross belong to? Is the cross a button? Is it supposed to represent a plus sign thus denoting object creation?
All these questions can of course be answered quite quickly, but not as quickly as in the desktop version. These, by their own tiny, cognitive workloads add up to create a UI that is more tiring to use and distracts from getting the actual modeling done. This is especially troubling for neurodiverse users who struggle to filter information and visually impaired users.
This is in my view inherently a problem with flat design but can be eased by clever use of white-space, color consistency, color contrast and adhering to well established conventions.
No Conventional Top Menu
With no conventional top menu where users can Save, Save As…, Open, Export etc users have to re-learn how to perform these basic tasks. Again, on it’s own, it may seem like a small cognitive load but it adds up to quite a large distraction. Especially for users who switch a lot between different applications it easily becomes plain annoying when one software insist on being a special snowflake and doing things in its completely own way. I just can’t see any reason to re-invent the wheel. The problem is increased by the flat design obfuscating what elements are clickable.
Model name is clickable, and apparently saves the model, but the text saved isn’t? Is the text saved of the same type as Untitled but merely disabled? If so, why is this text bold?
When opening what seems to be the main menu there is still no Save option and no Save As option. If you happen to know wht Trimble Connect is you still can’t save the model without opening what I think is supposed to represent a folder (even though it doesn’t look like one). Also, at least for me, there is the impossible choose between SketchUp and SketchUp. Huh?
30 years of evolution has been put into the conventional menu design. By re-using what already works, and what people are used to, a lot of unnecessary problems can be avoided.
Checkboxes looking disabled
To move move into details, but still stay in the area o flat design and old conventions, I find it very hard to distinguish un-ticked checboxes from disabled checkboxes. As I see it this is yet again an example of flat design not working very well in practice. Sticking to the OS checboxes is of course ugly but a lot safer. If every single element is designed from scratch great precaution must be taken to make sure it is done right, e.g. give enabled checkboxes a white background while disabled once are transparent. Again, the user should never have to stop for a fraction of a second to figure out what is clickable and what isn’t.
As I’ve already said I really like how the number of inspector is attempted to be kept to a minimum.
However I don’t agree Smooth/Soften edges should be under Display. Display changes globally how the model is viewed (RenderingOptions to use a technical term). Soft/Smooth are properties of the individual edges. I propose for these options be moved into Entity Info where it belongs. When more than one edge is selected it can replace the current checkboxes as it is really the same setting, just set by an angular threshold instead of a toggle. This would stay more true to the conceptual model of SketchUp, making it easier for new users to understand and making the option easier for old users to find.
I’d also like to object to Scenes being forced into the Views inspector. At first glance this inspector controls the camera but scenes are so much more than camera location! Scenes controls styles, axes location, fog, shadows, active section cuts and more. It is very common by advanced users to set up scenes that ONLY changes one of these other properties, e.g. change how a model is cut or swap axes, without touching the camera. Currently it’s hard for old users to find scenes and hard for new users to distinguish View from Display. I’d very much like to propose splitting Camera and Scenes into two inspectors and not have a View inspector.
Inspectors Jumping Up and Down
Finally an issue I noticed today is that whenever the selection changes while Entity Info is open all instructors jump ferociously up and down in a rather distracting manner.
Partly this is because there is no delay for Entity Info to update when the selection changes. In the desktop version there is a short subtle delay, perhaps 200 MS or so. This means that triple clicking for selecting all connected (a very common action!) only updates Entity Info once, not for the initial double click selecting bounded edges/bound faces, on desktop. Fixing this would tame the jumping quite a bit.
Still the issue is caused by Entity Info having different heights depending on its content, and being atop the other inspectors. I don’t know if it could be moved to the button (it really makes sense to have it at the top). Redesigning it to have a static height is probably out of the question (I personally much prefer interfaces where each element is individually places as I find it much easier to remember where things are but understand it is much less work and more contemporary to programmatically generate a uniform list). Maybe the inspectors could automatically scroll to compensate Entity Info changes height but the scrollbar would still jump up and down. I don’t know how this could be easily fixed.
Thanks for reading!