Styling a Silverlight Twitter Application with Expression Blend 2

Silverlight 2 provides a rich platform for building cross-browser/cross-platform RIA applications. 

One of the things that makes Silverlight so powerful is the ease with which developers and designers can collaborate together on projects.  Developers can use Visual Studio to open and edit Silverlight 2 projects and get a powerful code-focused .NET development environment, and designers can use Expression Blend 2 SP1 to open and edit the exact same project and use a creative tool to sculpt and create optimal user experience designs.

The WPF UI framework shipped in Silverlight further enables a great designer/developer workflow by supporting concepts like layout management, controls, styles, templates, and resources - which help avoid scenarios where designers and developers end up tripping over each other when integrating functionality, behavior and expressive design.

Silverlight 2 Twitter Sample

Last month I posted an in-depth blog tutorial on how to build a Silverlight 2 Digg application which you can read here.  This tutorial was aimed primarily at developers, and focused on introducing the fundamental programming concepts involved when building a Silverlight 2 application. 

Today Celso Gomes and Peter Blois posted a cool 10 minute video tutorial that shows off using Expression Blend to stylize a Silverlight 2 Twitter Messenger application.  You can watch the video here.  You can download the source code for the completed Silverlight Twitter application here.

The video does a nice job demonstrating how designers can re-style a Silverlight application without having to mess with the code behind it.  In the process it shows some of the power and capability that Expression Blend 2 provides to build really rich user experiences.  Celso starts with a developer version of the application, and then customizes and sculpts the UI to have a fun twitter character theme:

The Application Model

The Silverlight Twitter client is hosted within an ASP.NET server application that exposes a web service that enables the Silverlight Twitter application to communicate to the Twitter service (since Twitter does not allow direct access from client applications). Communication between the Silverlight client and the ASP.NET web server is done using Windows Communication Foundation (WCF).

The client application uses a Model-View-Presenter (MVP) pattern (also known as the Model-View-ViewModel pattern) which is commonly used in large WPF applications. Even though this is a fairly simple application they wanted to take advantage of the flexibility that MVP allows and allow room for future growth. 

Maintaining the separation between the visuals and the application logic also enables designers to make fairly complex visual changes without impacting the basic application flow.  The video goes through some examples of the styling flexibility this architecture facilitates.

The Styling Process

In the video, Celso highlights how Resources can help designers quickly change colors.  A common Brush Resource, for example, can be used to change the color of all the text elements in the application:

Celso shows how easy is to create new User Controls from graphics using Expression Blend 2 SP1 (just select multiple elements in the designer, right-click, and choose the "Make Control" menu option):

And also how to create new states inside this new User Control (using the Visual State Manager feature - which is also now supported with WPF), to animate the bird (fly, blink, etc...)

Celso also shows how to create animations for each state, changing advanced properties like Key Spline curves, and Repeat Behavior:

He also shows how to create custom buttons from drawings (which can come from XAML or any other design tool like Photoshop or Illustrator). All the states of a Button Control are available out of the box.

Expression Blend also enables you to easily change complex controls like List Boxes. Designers have access to all Styles, Templates, and states - and can completely customize all the parts of a List Box without having to write any code:

You can watch the video and download the code to check out the above Twitter application.

To learn more about Expression Blend, I also recommend watching the Expression Blend: Tips and Tricks presentation from the PDC conference two weeks ago.

Update: Also check out Shawn Wildermuth's Deep Control Skinning with Styles webcast.

Hope this helps,



  • We need more designers, really!!!!!

    Peter a Software developer

  • Great post as always

  • Where can you find links, books, tutorials, etc. that help developers learn to create controls/designs similar to bird? Prefer Blend and/or Expression Design if possible.

  • really nice post. lots of interesting information. amazing post as always.

  • Very interesting article Scott.

  • This is all very cool, but as Max C pointed out... it's very hard to find XAML/Blend designers.
    Had this discussion with a Microsoft employee at one of the local Silverlight usergroups recently,
    it would seem they are aware of the problem and are looking into ways to attract developers.

    Meanwhile I'm stuck with my very poor design skills :p I do not have a feel for colours and design :p

  • Do you use Twitter?

  • As I was filling out the survey, I pointed out that, there are not much teaching on making developers as good RIA designers. I think this is something MSFT should invest to have more designing sessions for developers to take advantage of SL for RIA application. Otherwise the apps will end up being dry looking like WinForms.

  • So when can designers get Expression Blend 2 on a Mac? or do they have to use something like Parallels or VMWare to run it in a Mac environment. The only reason I ask, is because most designers are Apple fanatics and they want to do Silverlight, but the tools aren't there for them on their platform (notepad doesn't count). Until Microsoft addresses that, they won't see Silverlight really take hold in the design community as much as it could; I know it probably won't be easy to address the issue either. But I'm all about it, the demo is awesome.

  • Hi Scott, a little off topic here, but I was wondering if you could tell me what the name is of the WPF photo viewer app you demoed at PDC2008 (in the keynote) and whether it's available to download somewhere?

  • To all those asking for designers or lack of talent. It all depends on us. If there is enough demand finding designers will be easy in both silverlight and wpf.

    Shameless Plug! I am available to work! : I am Devigner (a Designer + Developer)

  • I'm curious if there's any info (blog/video) on the original silverlight application. I'd like to learn more about the M-V-VM design pattern, and how the Twitter.cs class is referenced between the multiple user controls in the project.



  • There are many designers out there as some have said above. The problem is they are using other tools from the Mac platform. This tool is targets it seems to me to those very same people.

    For example, I just got a logo designed at which is a site where you can get logos, graphics, etc. designed. They claim to have over 22,000 designers taking parts on the site. THOSE are the people that need to hear about Silverlight and Blend, not developers.

    In my experience (including myself) developers just are not good designers. MSFT has to do a much better job at getting those designers to use their tools if collectively we are to produce applications that have any chance of competing with software on the Mac platform, at least from an aesthetic and design view.

  • Scott

    I was wondering if the styling part of silverlight is going to be further evolved into something like CSS. So that I could easily define different style sheets and dynamically load / unload them.

  • I am a designer. I am even a designer that works at Microsoft. I'm fluent in photoshop and illustrator. I used to use flash a lot before I joined MS. Expression Design is okay, but obviously a early version product. I cannot wrap my head around Expression Blend. It's not intuitive for a designer to use. The verbage used is developer verbage. It's near impossible to find tutorials that don't require me to know how to code. 95% of designers I know (and they are GREAT designers) do not know how to code. They don't WANT to learn how to code. They just want to be great designers. There is a very rare breed of designer/developer hybrid that will take to this like a fish to water. But the rest of us will keep banging our heads against the wall. I'm gonna keep trying but boy do I have a headache!

  • Somethings take time to learn... I've been doing development for a very very long time... and when new things come out I have to remind myself that just what im expert in requires some learning and trial and error. Some people say they arent designers... maybe if they work at it they might actually create something. New software doesnt guarentee instant success... that comes from effort and digging in to learn.

  • Thanks Paul for sharing very important information on-line.


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