Mixed Paradigms

Learning Creo? – Start With The Paradigms

If pencil and paper design is like walking, then Sketchup is a bike, and Rhino a car.  Fusion 360 is cheap CAD akin to a railroad.  Solidworks is the quintessential Cessna Citation (that PTC wants to be), and Pro/E (what used to be) is an F-15 - now evolved to CREO - metaphorically, a C-17.

I just made a 20 year jump from Pro/Engineer to Creo, and I'm genuinely disappointed.  There are wonderful improvements, great new features (many at extra cost), and indeed, nice things which make it smoother and faster.  But, software usability is inconsistent, overly modal, and slower - with fewer ways to accelerate.  20 years!  "Wow" I said, "I can't believe they've wasted so much, and still fail to see."

Mixed Bag Learning Creo

Now I understand why people say learning Creo is so hard.  It can feel mixed up and backward.  The concepts are not hard, and the core is amazingly powerful.  Yet PTC, in spite of market leadership they once enjoyed, has downgraded their F-15.  That's how I see the Creo paradox.

SolidWorks started eating their lunch, and PTC forgot they were the leader.  They confused activity for productivity and failed in the basics of UI.  Understanding this, even if it makes no sense, is The First Paradigm in Learning Creo.  Don't expect logic, because the UI is inconsistent, unnecessarily modal, and many powerful functions are hidden or convoluted.

Spoiler:  While Creo is not easy to learn, after the learning curve, it offers greater productivity and functionality than the competitors.  We are not beginners forever, so look ahead.  For more, read the CAD system comparison in our Creo UI Article.

Well, we can't change the past, so let's look at what we have.

Things That Help Me Most Learning Creo

When I made the decision to buy Creo, I was excited and full of anticipation.  I read too much of the PTC propaganda, so I expected really good things.  I love Pro/E, so this must be tons better, Right?  Believing the propaganda was the first mistake, so getting over the hurdle of unmet expectation is hard.

With 20 years of technology development, certainly it will have fantastic improvements?  And, in many ways it has, but failures at the most basic level capture my attention.  It's hard to enjoy the awesome when it is so frustrating trying to get to it.  However, changing the mindset to expect less - to accept the UI failures - makes figuring out pathways to success easier.  I suppose this is just one of the difficulties in learning Creo.

There are a bunch of different user interface paradigms that PTC has mixed in.  I count 14 different UI's mixed in.  The inconsistency on top of the overly modal behavior is, for me, the most frustrating.  What works in one place won't work in another, very similar area.  So, for learning something new in Creo, I must try several directions, then eventually find a path for success.  This is The Second Paradigm in Learning Creo.   Yes, it is slow, and it's hard to remember what to do in each situation, but eventually it sticks.

High Level UI / UX Thinking

(Hear the crickets chirping?)

As we examine Creo with a eye to learning and understanding, there are 3 historical fundamentals to call out.

  • First, PTC is on it's 4th or 6th User Interface (depending on how you count the transitions).  It's just crazy that they STILL cannot think high level UI and have not yet hired a "GOOD" user interface expert.  I don't know what excuses they have for the UI people they have (if any), but they certainly do not comprehend "usability".
  • Second, PTC has lost a ton of market share over the years due in large part to difficulty in learning the software.  I hear complaints frequently.  Many say they went to SolidWorks because learning Creo is so difficult.  (Unfortunately, PTC knows this, yet they still fail to grasp some key UI principles.  Oh well.)
  • Third, One thing I love about Creo is the ability to make it go fast with automation.  Something the competition can't do!  Unfortunately, PTC has killed some of the speed capability by focusing on the New and Casual User - at least that's their excuse.  Yet, they're losing the opportunity for new customers by making the Creo User Interface so obnoxious.  This effectively alienates customers at both ends of the spectrum.

Making the jump forward, I was expecting an F-22, but PTC seems happy with a C-17 that sputters.  Creo is certainly more modern, but (I think) even worse now to learn.

What Does This Mean For Learning Creo?

For me, recognizing flaws, and knowing where the user interface is inconsistent, definitely brings down the blood pressure.  If you expect PTC thought about it, you'll be more frustrated.  (1st Paradigm.)  So, for learning Creo, keep these in mind:

  1. In spite of all the difficulties in the User Interface, know that the core capabilities are still the best in the industry.  You'll eventually master the stupidity, and the Awesome will shine through.  The Third Paradigm in Learning Creo.
  2. Don't expect consistent.  Because it works that way in sketcher does not mean it will work that way in drawings.  (One example.)  Just know there are weird things.  (Like extra steps to save an exploded view - even though the extra steps are not in anything else in Creo.)  Inconsistency abounds, it just does.  (2nd Paradigm.)
  3. Creo is excessively modal.  If you get stuck and can't figure out why it worked a minute ago and won't now, you are probably in some weird mode.  Creo won't tell you, but you might have to click out, or find a hidden dialog box (behind the screen) to click OK.  You might have to switch to a different menu first.  I use "Ctrl-A" a lot to make Creo refocus when it gets lost and won't respond as I expect.
  4. If you want to be fast with CAD, Creo can do it.  Ditch the inconsistent menus and quit chasing silly dialog boxes around the screen.  Build your own go-fast automation.  No other CAD software can move as fast, but sometimes it takes effort.  One silly example:  Internally, visual status for datums are different in Part, Assembly, Sketcher, and Drawings.  So, a mapkey turning datums On/Off requires 4 ways in one - even while the screen button looks the same.
    Convoluted Mapkeys
    Swear if you must at PTC for taking away speed, but Creo is still miles ahead of SolidWorks, Fusion 360, etc..  For me, automation takes away a lot of slowness and therefore reduces frustration.  Thank goodness.  This is the Fourth Paradigm in Learning Creo.

I think a primary focus of PTC should be on those who use Creo everyday.  Help customers be super productive and efficient, then company owners are happy and willing to buy again.  Let the customers and business owners be the champions.

Learning, And Moving Forward With Creo

I like to think of the mixed and often confusing paradigms as a Stew, because the ingredients are so different.  For most of it, each ingredient by itself is great, but mixed together, they become a stew.  This is the soul of learning the Creo User Interface.

There has been a lot of discussion over the years about Action > Object vs. Object > Action.  It's whether you select the Object then tell it what Action to take, or vise-versa.  That's pretty irrelevant now because all CAD systems require both (depending on the situation).   And indeed, mostly Creo will let you do either, which is nice.  However, you need to think both ways, because Creo will force you one way in some situations, and the other way in different situations.  Sometimes it is obvious, and sometimes you just can't tell what is going wrong - which is where the problems lay.  The mixed paradigms - without direction - make this more difficult when learning Creo.

While I may be missing some, I count 14 different menu types, 8 different ways dialog boxes are used, a search function that works well for about three quarters of the functions, and 5 ways you can attempt to exit a mode (some work, some not, and some you can't tell if you're out until you try to do something else).  This is part of the inconsistency we call Paradigm 2.

Eat The Paradigm Stew

The human mind is pretty spectacular in repeating paths that are successful.  After a while I find the mindless reflexes begin to compensate for the Paradigm Stew.  The Creo User Interface does work, even if it is inconsistent and often clumsy.  I'm reminded of just how bad it is, however, when I want to use a function I don't use often, or if I'm trying something new.

Just give yourself more patience, because PTC did not make it easy for learning Creo.

We will talk in more detail about mixed paradigms in future articles, but here are a few "Tip of the Iceberg" examples.

  • Misleading Exhibit AExhibit A.  This message pops up when you create an open section.  The "Warning" is misleading by giving the impression that it's bad to create an open section.  Tech Support says someone just learning might not know about open sections.  I ask, "How long is a new user a new user?"  But, it does not matter, you must interact with this misleading "Warning" again and again - even if you know the power of open sections.  And, you can't disable it, or dismiss it with a keystroke, you must move the mouse and click the button each time.
  • Exhibit B.  PTC has hidden all sorts of nifty functionality.  One example is how to set an intermediate vertex for a variable round (or for that matter, where you have to hover your mouse to tell it you want a variable round).  There are so many really awesome functions - now hidden, some deep - I guess to avoid the appearance that the software is really as powerful as it is.  (Chasing the SolidWorks Cessna.)

As we compare the two examples, we see the "Essential Need" for a warning to help new customers.  But, why hide little gems that make the software so powerful?  — On the one hand, go overboard to nurse along a new customer (to the point of misleading them).  On the other hand, hide awesome functionality so even skilled users have a hard time.  It's a paradox of mediocrity.

It's just crazy to force customers to jump through hoops at both ends of the spectrum.  We'll call this Paradigm 5, because it is part of learning Creo.  Enjoy the paradigm stew.

Much More To Come

Well, that's enough for now.  Hopefully knowing the paradigms of learning Creo can help reduce frustration.  It's unfortunate that we can't really work around these paradigms - except to use automation and bypass them.  Anyway, we'll get into more specifics of the details in future articles.

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