This is an accumulation of countless discussions from the Blender Animation Studio, trying to solve the biggest problem of the current interface of the Toolbar, Topbar & Sidebar.
Since the text is so long I divided it into parts.
(Sorry for any inconsistencies in the mockup designs)
Issue 1: Tool Settings are literally all over the place
When looking at the different areas of the interface it isn’t really clear which correlates to what.
So the Toolbar is showing the Avtive Tools that can be switched between. The options of these Tools can be found in the Topbar, Sidebar (under Tool) and Tools Settings tab in the Properties Editor.
The later 2 seem to be exact copies of each other, only that the Sidebar of each Editor contains the Tool Settings of the Editor it is a part of. Meanwhile the Tool Settings in the Properties Editor are always part of the 3D Viewport.
The Topbar has all the same properties as the other 2 but is missing the Workspaces dropdown, so it also isn’t an exact copy.
All of these are similar yet slightly different.
Issue 2: These areas of the interface are too restrictive and don’t offer all the Tools that are needed
In certain modes the Toolbar has become very restricted in its use with only a tiny amount of Active Tools to select from.
For Vertex Paint Mode, Pose Mode and others, the Toolbar takes a massive hit in usefulness since there’s almost no useful information or settings in it.
And if someone decides to not use the Active Tools and to just stick with the classic operators, the Toolbar could just as well not exist. The usefulness dies completely.
On the other hand, the Sidebar is a bubble that could eventually burst. With too many options & tabs it will become an act of constantly switching between tabs and/or scrolling to reach the desired options.
In some tasks it’s already filled up with the Transform, view, 3D cursor and any properties of the selected object. The space is already taken.
This becomes worse with the increase of addons used, since they often add their own tab to the Sidebar. Meanwhile most space in the Tool Settings & Toolbar is often left unused.
There is a way of pinning tabs in the Sidebar, but it’s very hidden feature and it has the potential of overcrowding the sidebar, since the contents of pinned tabs will always be visible in the current tab.
An example of the issues:
The Animators at the Studio have been struggling with this since the Code Quest.
The Toolbar used to include all of their most used tools & addons. But now they are scattered across the properties editor in the Object Data tap, Bone tab & Tool Settings.
Some of these are addons, yes, but they will have to become default features at some point soon since they are so essential. Also in any case, the best option in the current interface design is to add them to the sidebar, but that space is already taken by other frequently used animation tools like the Transform & View properties.
Some users require different parts of the interface to be visible at all times and the Developers will likely not be able to predict these cases. The Sidebar already includes different tabs of the Properties Editor … only that the user gets no say in what is being shown. The current design is just too restrictive and clicking through the interface to reach your settings is already a big issue.
You can draw your own ideas & proposals from these issues. Here are ours:
Proposal #1: Full Customizability
Step 1. Make the Properties Editor the original Harbour of all the Tools & Properties
This means, migrating all viewport exclusive settings that can be found in the Toolbar & Sidebar into the Properties Editor.
The Active Tools will be made available in their own tab in the Tool Settings:
Apart from the already existing “Tool Settings” there will have to be a new tab called “Editor Settings” which contains the options like those in the View tab in the Sidebar.
Any Editor related settings could be found there.
These 2 tabs “Tool Settings” & “Editor Settings” would be tied to the last clicked on Editor. So when using the 3D Viewport the properties in these 2 tabs would change to reflect those. Same for any other Editor besides the Properties Editor itself.
The Item tab in the Sidebar already copies a part of the Object tab in the Properties Editor.
Now the Properties Editor is the source of any options, tools & properties that are visible in the Toolbar, Sidebar & Topbar.
The missing piece of this design is this:
Step 2. Add/remove any part of the Properties Editor to the Toolbar/Sidebar
This would make the Toolbar & Sidebar a canvas to add/remove items to/from. In addition to the current way of rearranging the items, the user can also add or remove any item from the Properties Editor to show the settings they need.
These changes would then be tied to the current Workspace to optimise different workflows & tasks even further.
The general use and way the interface works should not change. By default the Toolbar is still the same Toolbar, just as the Sidebar.
The notable exceptions to make this work is removing the Toolbar resizing snapping and Toolbar tabs making a return to make it possible to add elements that are not just Active Tools.
This would also require a toggle between row & grid arrangements of the Active Tools.
So how would this work?
To add them, the user would drag & drop dropdowns from the Properties Editor to the Toolbar/Sidebar of the correlating Editor, into the tab they should be in. This would essentially duplicate them, not move them.
They could then also be drag & dropped to the other side, from the Sidebar to the Toolbar to flexibly change the layout.
Any dropdown could then be removed from the Toolbar/Sidebar by RMB clicking on it and choosing to remove it.
Tabs on the Sidebar/Toolbar would then be adjustable like the Workspaces, with the options to rename, duplicate, delete, rearrange, etc.
All options that are currently available in the Toolbar & Sidebar would be dropdowns from the Properties Editor that are added by default.
This drag & drop functionality might be a bit obscure so an alternative/additional way would be to RMB click on any dropdown in the Properties Editor and getting the options where to add it to:
- Add to Toolbar
- Add to Sidebar
You will then choose an existing tab or create a new one to organise the added items better.
- Show in “View”
- Show in “Item”
- Show in “Tool”
- Create new +
Proposal #2: Semi-Customizability
This proposal is basically the same as Proposal #1 with some notable difference:
Since the tools in the Toolbar and most properties in the Sidebar directly relate to the Editor that they are in, that might be the optimal design.
If we would make all tools and properties come from the Properties Editor, the options would shift & change based on the Editor you last clicked on.
That’s already a design that Blender was moving away from in the Beta of Blender 2.80.
So instead, the Tools, Tool Settings and Editor specific Properties will belong and come from the Toolbar & Sidebar of any specific Editor.
This means the Tool Settings tab in the Properties Editor can be completely removed or rather replaced by a Workspace Tab, since workspaces still need their option and could eventually increase.
Addons are also completely free to place their interface anywhere where it fits best.
Apart from that there would still be the option to drag & drop (or RMB click assign) any dropdown from the Properties Editor to the Toolbar/Sidebar of any Editor.
But since these dropdowns are linked from the Properties Editor they should be marked to reflect that.
The Transform options and Workspace options would then already be linked to the Sidebar by default. This could for example be indicated by a link icon, in addition to pinning dropdowns.
Proposal #3: Minor Customizability
Any added customizability will be very difficult to implement and has the potential side-effect of causing more problems. So with this third proposal the user would have no way of adding elements from the Properties Editor to the currently used Editor, but the developers need to be aware of what the most used properties are and add them to the Sidebar by default.
For example the Animators this would include the Motions Paths, Pose Library, Selection Sets.
Other options like Object Visibility & Material Visibility settings for the Viewport would also be helpful additions since they directly relate to the Viewport shading.
All of this would involve a lot of communication between the developers and artists to not leave out anything important.
It’s vital to note that the options that should be included are meant be often accessed and would be missed if the user decides to go full screen on this editor. There would need to be a middle ground between adding too many options to the Editors and having too few.
The issue with this is that the Sidebar would harbour even more information than right now and it wouldn’t be that useful to scroll & click through it constantly. That’s why the Toolbar would need to be used for these settings as well.
The changes to the Toolbar from the previous proposals would then still apply.
Although these suggestions might not be perfect and it likely isn’t this straightforward to implement, this would add the much needed customizability.
The Toolbar & Sidebar would essentially become a canvas for users to add the tools they need. Other software is also using the same system of having a common origin for all/most settings and a canvas for the user to add these to.
Artists at the Blender Animation Studio have been struggling with the current interface since it isn’t making the Tools available that are needed for specific tasks.
If some basic level of customizability won’t be implemented then the current alternative is to script our own interface and develop addons to make the Tools available at all times.
I honestly don’t think that the solution for the user should be to break the current interface to make it more useful.
There could be a far more simpler solution to these issues. This is just our take on it. Hearing more opinions/feedback on this would be great in order to find common ground to build on.
- A reset interface option in RMB menu to reset specific parts of the interface to the default look?
- Currently in most cases Addons are added to the Sidebar as new Tabs. Would these then all land in the Properties Editor by default, and how?