( I'm placing this here though the time span of such a change is probably within 1-2 years. )
In the first two texts (1st: Tackling the Materials), I've tried to analyze the current Fusion 360 Materials handling and found it very complex and hard to work with.
The basic problems seem to arise from a legacy approach that has been shoehorned into the supposedly cloud-based Fusion 360 workflow.
To solve the problem, the Materials management should be completely revised, using both the native client UI and the browser-based web UI approaches.
The Fusion 360 Dashboard is already living in the cloud (though it also lives in the native app, when online). A similar approach can be taken for materials, having a dedicated web page for a user's materials handling. This web page would cover what the current 'Material Browser' does - management, grouping, import and export of materials. It would also merge the 'Download Materials' functionality seamlessly in, so that there would be only one page to manage materials, not two as in the current implementation ('Material Browser' in the edit space and 'Exchange Material' as a separate tab).
The new 'Material Hub' page would merge the two approaches in taking the visual approach of the current browser, further developing it strongly (more game-like, flatter UI, faster) and the web-based approach of the 'Exchange Material' tab.
( I'm not proposing a UI mock-up here. It can be done if needed. )
Support for (Intranet) material libraries
Some current features in 'Material Browser' use locally stored files and show them in the UI. i.e.:
~/Library/Application Support/Autodesk/Common/Material Library/<..hex id..>/assetlibrary_base.fbm/1/Mats/Finishes.Lamina
~/Library/Application Support/Autodesk/webdeploy/<..hex id..>/*.adsklib
The .adsklib files are binary and are used also by other Autodesk products (at least Revit and Inventor). I'm not fully aware of the intended cross-application use scenario for them (guessing sharing of materials in a corporation's network drive).
The same case of handling material libraries would occur with also other data formats. Fusion 360 is good in importing almost any design formats in, so it could also be good in integrating with 3rd party material libraries. Let's see how this could be done.
1. Corporation hosted material browser page
For the Dashboard I've suggested eventually allowing corporations, or private users, to have their own tweaked Dashboard pages (here). If a similar approach were taken for material browser, it would be easy to have plugins that watch (or even write to) any material library formats that the particular corporation hosts. This would keep the material files sealed within the organization's Intranet, which may be seen beneficial for many.
2. Tying libraries to the Autodesk cloud
Another approach could be to have local processes in the Intranet, which would sync changes to binary material libraries to some Autodesk 360 account, where the materials could then be shared using the normal Dashboard mechanisms. This would expose corporate libraries to the cloud, but presumably keep them private (the same as using cloud in general).
What's common to both these approaches is unification of corporate material libraries with those available by default (or via the Exchange) from Autodesk. All material management issues are pushed to the single-page Material Browser web page.
Selecting materials for particular design pieces should be way easier than it now is. The client side 'Material Browser' dialog can go, completely (this is "flattening the UI").
Instead, use a similar tree-form browser as the current … emm … Browser in the UI (the Browser could be rechristened i.e. to 'Elements').
Such a 'Materials' browser tree could be like:
allowing visibility of all, or only physical materials, and maybe some other filters
duplicate leaves for the materials actually preferred (not the same as current 'Favourites')
Autodesk Material Library (the same as in current Materials Browser)
materials of that category
My Library (any custom libraries)
Custom libraries should be stored in the cloud, not locally (as now). I.e. they should be visible across any computers I use Fusion 360 or Autodesk 360 on. They - like other material libraries - should show on the Material Hub web page.
Use case: changing a material of certain elements
1. select the elements
2. open the 'Materials' browser tree
3. hover over the material leaves
preview of the particular material, applied to the selected elements will occur
To not do a change, cancel the selection without clicking on material leaves.
To make a change, click on a material leave. It applies the particular material to the selected elements.
Use case: customize a certain element's material (i.e. color, scaling or rotation change)
The current 'Edit > Material' control would turn (be reduced) into this.
The tabs would be gone, and only the 'Adjust' feature remain.
The preview can be done only within this dialog, or here and the actual model (there could be a checkbox for that - maybe not updating the whole model gives performance benefits for large models?)
Also, there could be a way to store multiple 'shots' (like in OS X Photo Booth), out of which one would pick the best one.
'Picker' would actually not be needed, since selecting the elements would happen before entering the dialog. However, it's left here because the current Fusion 360 UI does not work that way (it requires one to first launch the dialog, then use Picker or Select to select the elements to work on). ( Personally, I have problems with current Material Adjust, so it might not even work that way. Sometimes, I'm just not able to get changes applied. )
There could also be a 'store' option for storing the modified material as a leaf in one of the libraries in the Material Browser. One cannot store only in Favourites because Favourites would be links to materials in actual libraries - not a library of its own as it currently seems to behave. The 'store' option would ask for the library, the material name (with a nice modified default), and whether to add the material in Favourites as well. All other material management would happen via the Materials Hub online.
Editing materials within the native client
One could allow right-clicking the material entries in the Materials browser tree, and opening a dialog similar to what's in the current Material Browser dialog.
This would allow edits to the material library, from the client. Similarly, moving materials among libraries, renaming, adding to Favourites could be possible right here. Such changes would either happen atomically (preferred) or be tied together into a transaction that either happens all-in-one or not at all (the current Material Browser suggests this with its 'edit lock').
If 'edit lock' is needed, the state of such should be indicated in real time within the Materials browser tree. Having claimed the lock myself would radically change the looks (i.e. background coloring of the leaves) of the tree so that I realize something urgent is happening and I better finish it up quickly.
At least 'Adjust material' should be available also in offline mode, and all the libraries remain available (as read-only). Ability to modify libraries from within the client (renames, moves etc.) can presumably be left to require online connection (otherwise there exists the problem of conflicting edits of the same material - that would be found out only possibly much later). If needed, also such edits can be implemented using splitting of conflicting edits to two new materials.
Material handling as presented here would:
- flatten the current Fusion 360 'Material Browser' UI, by placing most of it on the cloud (= in the separate Material Hub web page or in-app tab)
- ease the common work flows (picking, applying, adjusting and managing materials)
- make the division of client vs. cloud responsibilities clearer
- eliminate the problems associated with Intranet level material library support in a cloud based product (i.e. no exposure to local file paths)
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