Creo User Interface

Creo: Awesome CAD Power, Mired In User Interface Woes

Creo, by PTC, is extremely capable CAD software, maybe the best.  Yet, PTC has wrapped this beautiful gem in a mire of mixed paradigms and inconsistency making it hard to learn and slow-er to use.  Creo is Awesome CAD, wrapped in User Interface stupidity.  Why the clash?

Yes, Creo is powerful CAD with great capabilities.  Compare it to SolidWorks, Fusion, etc. and the capabilities of Creo shine.  But, compare Creo to itself - there is so much room for improvement.  Easy improvement.  Not so much in functionality - PTC does that well - but in Usability.  The User Interface (UI) is the gate.  I'm not saying the whole Creo user interface is terrible, but . . . It's hard to enjoy the Creo awesome while navigating the inconsistencies and head slapping "what were they thinking?" Creo user interface faux paus.

It is easy to go on a rampage of emphasizing the stupidity, but that will accomplish little.  Sure, there is long lists of obvious problems, and while I work, I find by head swaying side to side in a bewildered wonder about how this or that got into the software.  Unfortunately, it's not the first time, as you can read in this article from 2003 about Wildfire.

Anyway, with this series of articles about Creo, we'll point to the issues, then, show ways (if we know) to get around them.  Perhaps we can help other Creo customers before they do serious damage banging their heads too.  Maybe it will lower the blood pressure a bit.

Who Am I To Make Such Claims?

My history with PTC is long, starting with V.13 in the 1990's.  You can see it in the many Pro/E Tips published years ago.  At one conference I was introduced by PTC management as "PTC's greatest supporter and strongest critic".  I also use SolidWorks, Fusion 360, and dabble with a handful of other CAD systems.  (When customers need it.)

Why write now?  I jumped into Creo after 29 years of Pro/Engineer, and I'm horrified.  In fairness I expect new paradigms and navigation, which take time to learn.  So, I've given it a year.  The real issue comes in realizing this software cannot achieve the PTC promises.  There is too much User Interface inconsistency, too many weird problems, and far too much inexperience showing through in the software design.

I know what the software can do, but Creo does not make productivity easy.  Not because it is inherently difficult, rather, because PTC has baked in so many hurdles.  They botched the most fundamental bit - the way customers interact with the software.

Pro/Engineer (now Creo) was the Premier CAD in its day - the core is still more capable than others.  Yet, PTC has been giving away market share for 2 decades - largely because they refuse to address the basics.  It's silly.  Unfortunately, 4 UI's later, the intellectual weakness of PTC's PM's still overshadows what is otherwise a brilliant product.  Is it too late?

A Side Note Of Comparison

I could also write lists of goofy things in SolidWorks or Fusion 360.  They too have a ton of issues, but I'm not passionate about them because they don't offer the same potential.  I expect SolidWorks and Fusion to act like mid-level CAD, because they are.  What?  I suppose if you don't work in complex geometry you wouldn't notice, but there are things I can't create with SolidWorks or Fusion, so to me they are mid-level.

Yes, some parts of SolidWorks are better than Creo, like Structures (Creo calls it "Framework"), but that's not the rule.  I also like the more consistent UI with SolidWorks - even if it is more frustrating in many respects - at least it's consistently frustrating.  Fusion 360 is almost not credible CAD to me - more of a toy - because it fails at too many things.  When I use it, I expect less, and I don't expect to be as productive.  SolidWorks is much better, but still not what Creo can be / should be — or worse in some cases, what it was.

As a personal comparison, even after years with SolidWorks, it is not as productive as Pro/E.  SolidWorks is easier to learn than Creo, but after the learning curve, Creo is capable of greater productivity and real CAD speed.  Yet, this is NOT the relevant comparison.  Moving from Pro/E to Creo, it is unfortunately obvious that productivity has taken a hit.  In the fundamentals PTC has taken away some ability for customers to be truly productive.  The backslide is the important comparison, and I'd say mostly due to the overly modal Creo user interface.

Setting The Creo User Interface Stage

I don't want to leave a wrong impression.  Not all of the Creo User Interface is atrocious.  If you take pieces of the User Interface by themselves, they work well.  BUT, PTC mixes paradigms and unnecessary modalities so much we often have to first figure out what paradigm to use before we can figure out how to function.  That makes it extra difficult to learn.

Creo SplashSure, you get used to doing the same things, but when you step into an area of Creo where you need to figure it out . . . it's a mix.

Unfortunately, this also extends beyond the Creo user interface to the supporting stuff too - like Help.  PTC has some really nice learning tools (like videos, etc.), but if you want something specific, and don't know the exact correct words, good luck finding it.  Creo has its own feature names, and they don't acknowledge words other CAD systems use for the same thing.  Even searching old commands from Pro/E often yield nothing.  Tech documents are easier to find, but they are often incomplete or don't explain the functional implementations.  Whether by laziness or by subtility, PTC has made it quite hard to access the learning too.

I suppose it fits the Creo paradox — awesome, mired in obnoxious.  Well, Emotional calluses required.

We will get into specific Creo User Interface issues in following articles.  We will also talk about things to remember when learning Creo.  Overall, I just don't get it.  Why put out new, super cool and inspiring functionality, but ignore the basis for which it all works?

Creo User Interface Observations

This and the next few articles will focus on details - and what I have learned about working through them.  My goals are simple.

  1. Help other Creo customers reduce frustration in their jobs.
  2. Hopefully someone will point these out to the PTC PM's because they obviously don't care enough to see it on their own.  (Yes, there is a backstory to this rude statement.)

The best way to really understand the software is to challenge it.  You are NOT inept because you don't know what to do.  PTC has not made the User Interface easy to learn, or to use.

They could, but the software writers are NOT users.  Even those defining the specifications - the PM's (Product Managers) - refuse to "authentically" use the software, so they write specs in the dark.  (They dabble, but they don't use the software.)  We can say the same thing about the quality team.  I see no evidence of meaningful QC.  Bugs have plagued the software for decades, yet PTC won't do the most obvious things to correct it.  —  Just use the software, hardcore.  Design the impossible, and you'll find the bugs.  I do it everyday.


I give PTC a lot of credit for attempting to listen to their customers.  They have a few different channels for that, but there is a big missing piece.  Comprehension hinges on relating at a level of common experience.  Since the Product Managers don't use the software (at a deep level), they fail to comprehend the nuance and importance of what customers say.

So, moving on with this series of articles, we will start with Creo Workflow That Slows You Down.  We'll discuss high-level Creo Paradigms, as well as various modes.  Mostly we'll seek workarounds to lower blood pressure and improve productivity.  As we get into the nuts and bolts later, we'll talk about ways to succeed in spite of PTC's intellectual challenges.

Stay with us to learn how to conquer at least some of the Creo User Interface challenges.  Oh, and if there is something specific you want to discuss, or tips you want to share, please let us know in the comments below.

On The Humorous Side, Propaganda Worth A Laugh

Scrolling through PTC's website, I found the following:

"Is Creo easy to learn?"  Their answer has some truth, twisted, to support a pretty blatant misrepresentation.  (Red marks added.)


It would be more honest to say:  "PTC has wasted 20 years and millions of dollars on an inconsistent and unnecessarily modal UI that now hides many of the wonderful functions of Creo.  It is now one of the more difficult CAD systems to learn."

Ah, but don't worry.  What they say about the courses is pretty true.  It's what they DON'T say . . . If you need help, "We have invested heavily in terrific learning and help centers where you can really struggle to find the things you search for."

The mixed paradigms and inconsistent Creo user interface are only part of the difficulty to learn.  Often, when I struggle - if I find a help document - the software won't work as it says.  Finally, after a lot of frustration, I find out it's a bug.  Lack of Quality Assurance compounds problems.  Nope.  Creo is NOT easy to learn.

Well, to me, the propaganda is worth a laugh.  Truly, it blows my mind the PTC insiders are so removed from reality as to write such stuff.  But, in this day of misinformation, they fit right in.  They don't want to learn their own product, so I suppose they will continue to slide in the market until they cease to exist.  I don't want that to happen, so hopefully some exec will take note long enough to climb off their ego and force some internal changes.

In the meantime, we will work though the silliness of today, and hopefully find ways to decrease frustration.  Let's hope we don't also become callous to the mixed paradigms and lack of thought in the Creo User Interface.

More To Come In Creo User Interface Adventures.

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