Phoenix is a dynamic simulator that integrates flawlessly with Autodesk 3ds Max, Maya, V-Ray, and Corona. It can produce a broad spectrum of effects, including fire, smoke, liquids, flames, explosions, rigid body simulations, ocean waves, mist, and splashes, among others.
However, a prevalent demand among users is the ability to effortlessly and swiftly convert file extensions within the Phoenix system without exiting the ecosystem.
Consequently, the decision was made to develop a file converter – a compact official plugin within the 3D software that enables users to transform files from one format to another without leaving the application.
End-to-end service: user story, user flow, brainstorming, concept development, wireframes, prototype, visual design.
As a 3D artist using Phoenix, I want to be able to quickly and easily convert simulation caches between different formats. This ability would allow me to use cached data in various software and rendering packages without the need to resimulate in a different format, saving time. Currently, this option is not available, and I have to rely on external methods to achieve the same results.
The subsequent phase in this process was to devise a straightforward user flow for the project. I identified that usage of this plugin fell into two distinct categories: users seeking quick file conversion and those desiring a more detailed methodology.
It's crucial to recognize that the Phoenix converter caters to a very specific audience: professionals well-versed in 3D software. The majority of these users are highly knowledgeable about the intricacies of 3D rendering software, boasting several years of hands-on experience. The primary consideration here is the capacity for rapid file conversion, with the secondary being the availability of advanced options when necessary.
For the initial stage of the visualization process—which helps me identify key features from a bird's eye view—I used Figma as my digital equivalent of pen and paper.
The challenge at this point was to devise a concept for creating an unlimited solution for channels, considering two factors: the possibility of channels being infinite and the existence of subchannels within channels. I reviewed numerous existing competitor solutions to develop my own.
Handing off the final mock-up to developers was a straightforward process. The whole design was based on an existing design system, so the only task I had left was to adjust the placement within the selected frames.
The final two design screens show how the plugin makes it easy and fast for users to change one file type to another with just a couple of clicks. For users who want more, I made a special 'advanced' tab. This tab has more settings and a list of channels that can keep growing, offering endless number of particle channels, including smaller group options. This way, the design meets everyone's needs for changing file types using this one program.
The final design files were handed over to the developers. The prototype I created allowed them to see all elements in action, eliminating questions about how specific components function in different states, such as hover or pressed states. These issues had been addressed during the design system phase. This efficiency helped both the developers and me save time, allowing us to proceed directly to the software development.
Even though it's a small project, the Phoenix file converter proves that following the product design pipeline closely is key to achieving success with the final design. Had I skipped the rough sketch phase, I would have completely overlooked a crucial technical detail about how channels function and are organized within each particle file, leading to many fixes later on. By sticking to this pipeline, I not only contributed to delivering a vital product users needed but also saved the company time and money by overseeing the process from start to finish.
Another lesson I learned is that, despite niche software like Phoenix being hard for non-professionals to grasp, and developers' common approach of directing users to manuals (as discussed in my Medium article), this shouldn't deter designers from aiming to create intuitive interfaces. These user-friendly designs enhance usability and save users time in getting things to work.