Animation is not a toy

One of the frustrations of creating "How Do I" videos is that to keep them simple enough to be useful educationally, they must often be useless from a real-world perspective. Nothing makes me crazier than when I go to a sample application and it is more of an example of "look what a clever programmer I am" than it is of "look how easy it is to use this."  That said, if you can't make the leap from the example to the problem you're trying to solve, the example is equally worthless.

Animation in Silverlight presents a particular challenge: how do you show how to animate a figure simply enough not to confound the user and yet trigger the user's imagination into "ah! I could use this to…"  In my latest video I tackle that challenge: using animated bar graphs to show how the relative percentage of sales changes for a set of books over the 12 months of a year.

To keep the example simple, I "fake" the part that is not relevant: downloading the data from the web service. Since I know I can get the data as a JSON structure, I simply create a 2 dimensional array representing 12 months of data for 6 books. In a real-world scenario, I'd get N months of data for M books.

Similarly, to keep the example simple, I hard code the 6 storyboards,  with their 6 animations and then call them individually. But that duplication of code gives me the willies, and so I will follow this up with a new HDI video on how to generate these storyboards and animations programmatically, based on the data retrieved from the web service, thus creating a much more dynamic and robust program (there's always more to do )

A second place that I can see animation making a real difference to an application is combining it with "hyper-video" as shown in this first attempt and an improved version to be posted soon.  In both of these versions we supply links to web pages with "more information" but one can well imagine opening an animation that illustrates the point being made. Imagine, for example, that you are looking at a movie on cellular biology and you come to a part that confuses you. An indication appears on screen that there is supplemental info available. You click on it, the movie pauses, and an animation begins that opens up the cell and explores and points out the specific area of the cell under discussion. Sometimes animation can illustrate things that words or even actual movies can't; stripping away complications and yet using movement to provide enhanced understanding.


About Jesse Liberty

Jesse Liberty has three decades of experience writing and delivering software projects and is the author of 2 dozen books and a couple dozen Pluralsight & LinkedIn Learning courses. He was a Senior Technical Evangelist for Microsoft, a Distinguished Software Engineer for AT&T, a VP for Information Services for Citibank and a Software Architect for PBS. He is a Xamarin Certified Mobile Developer and a Xamarin MVP and a Microsoft MVP.
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