Our Insights

Top 5 reasons why I made the switch to ArcGIS Pro (2 of 5)

October 18, 2016

by Robert Krisher
Senior Consultant at POWER Engineers
This article was originally published as a LinkedIn Article

Reason #2: The Ribbon Interface and Dockable Windows

Here is my second article with another compelling reason for making the switch to this new platform. If you haven’t already read my first article about how you can expect maps to draw faster and look better, I encourage you to check it out.

The Ribbon Interface

ArcMap was built from the ground up as a set of tools focused on data analysis and visualization.  Unfortunately, if you’re anything like me, you’re so obsessed with having all these tools available that nearly half your screen is taken up with various toolbars and dialogs that you may need to open, close, and move around as you undertake different activities throughout the day.  To make matters worse, no two users will ever have the same sets of toolbars visible and everything is either docked in a different location or floating around in some random piece of screen real estate.  Sitting down at a new workstation can result in a solid 15 minutes of going through and re-arranging toolbars until you get everything set up just right.

To solve this problem ArcGIS Pro implemented the ubiquitous ribbon UI found in many modern applications and that many of us were introduced to via Microsoft Office products.  While not everyone may like this style of interface, it does a great job of reducing the clutter by providing context-sensitive menu bars and tools.  I no longer need to open and close the labelling toolbar when I want to tweak the properties of a layer; it appears when I select a layer in the table of contents and goes away when I select something else.  It takes a little getting used to in order to figure out where all the new tools and dialogs are, but once you do you’ll be glad that you no longer have to click Customize > Toolbars to get your job done!

Expression Builder

Even if you’re not an ArcGIS superuser, you’ve probably been faced with having to use the “Select By Attributes” tool at some point.  While the ArcMap version of the tool was very functional, it was usually  a little intimidating for new users.  Although the tool still looks intimidating in ArcGIS Pro, they have done a lot to address some of the usability issues with the old tool.  In particular, the new Expression builder will allow less advanced users to build the types of expressions typically only built by more advanced users.  The interface is intuitive and will provide pick lists for you even if you don’t have a domain assigned to a field!  You can find the new interface anywhere you can build an expression, but you’ll get the most mileage out of using them in the “Select By Attributes” and “Definition Query” dialogs.

Dockable Windows

While dockable windows have been around in ArcMap since the 10.x release, ArcGIS Pro has made a concerted effort to make as many windows dockable as they can.  Docking your windows not only saves screen real estate and helps prevent you from losing your dialog behind another window, but it also allows for some serious time-saving combinations.  What follows are a few of my favorite combinations.

The Scripter

How many times have you been running a geoprocessing tool or writing a Python script where you need to reference field or  domain values?  The process of getting at your schema is so clicky that  most of us use a dedicated instance of ArcCatalog, track our schema in a Visio diagram, or rely on a spreadsheet just so we don’t have to constantly open and close all the different dialogs.

With the release of ArcGIS Pro, all of the schema management tools have been streamlined into a series of dockable windows.  This not only allows me to view / edit multiple objects at the same time, but also allows me to dock and work in a Python window or geoprocessing tool at the same time without having to open/close dialogs or switch to another application.  I call this setup “The Scripter.”

The Architect

If you’ve ever found yourself in charge of a data model, you’ll get a lot of milesage out this next setup I like to call “The Architect.  It makes use of the new dockable windows to split the whole screen between whatever you happen to be configuring at the time.  If you’re the master of the domains, split up the screen between your class fields and all the domains.  This will allow you to quickly review, assign, create, and modify the domains associated with our table.

If you’re trying to get your subtypes ironed out, you can use the same approach using a similar setup I call “The Architect Plus.”  This approach is different because it relies on the fact that we can actually dock our domains behind our field properties as a second tab while still splitting our screen with the subtype properties.  This setup allows us to quickly true up and adjust each subtype with the changes we just made to the object class while also providing us with a way to quickly cross reference all of our domain information for an individual subtype.

The Analyst

When dealing with a new dataset, one of the first tasks we undertake is to start analyzing it.  Typically, this involves reading a data dictionary, then browsing through the raw data, and eventually we start prototyping different visualizations.  In ArcGIS Pro, I use a setup I like to call “The Analyst.”  I’ll put a tabular and graphical view of the data on one half of the screen and dock all of my schema information on the right.

While doing this analysis work I’ll usually put together a chart or two using the new tools that Esri has put front and center for building charts.  While I could spend a whole article talking about using charts in ArcGIS Pro, I wanted to briefly mention them here as they’re a quick and easy way to visualize your data.  Simply right click any layer or table in your map document and select “Create Chart” then pick your chart type.  For this basic analysis, we typically rely on a bar chart to give us a breakdown of feature counts (or lengths) based on some attribute like subtype.  For an added bit of fun click on one of the bars in your chart, it will actually select the corresponding features in your map.

The Cartographer

One of the inconveniences of building symbology in ArcMap is that all of the layer properties are managed through a dialog window.  While the layer properties dialogs still exist in ArcGIS Pro, the good news is that the window is now dockable and many of the properties can be adjusted using the ribbon.  I take advantage of this by using a setup I refer to as “The Cartographer.”   On the right hand side, I’ll dock whatever I’m working on – symbology or label classes, then on the left hand side, I’ll split my workspace into a map and the attribute table.  From here I can scroll through the table to get a sense of my data, make changes to the symbology, and then immediately see the changes in my map.


Hopefully by now most of you are beginning to see the benefits of ArcGIS Pro and some of you have even tried it out yourself.  If you have, how do you feel about the new user interface? Are you a fan of the ribbon? Have you come up with even better combinations for docking windows? Let me know by emailing me at Robert.Krisher@powereng.com!

About the Author:

Robert is a Senior Consultant in POWER’s Geospatial and Asset Management group with over 10 years of industry experience. Robert excels at pushing the boundaries of what is possible with GIS and related technologies at utilities, often by re-purposing proven technologies and methods in clever ways. As an active member of many early access programs across the industry and author of more than a dozen published articles, Robert is a recognized expert with Esri’s latest technology including ArcGIS Pro and the new Utility Network. He loves finding innovative solutions to complex challenges and sharing his insights with the GIS community. If you have any questions or comments for Robert, you can contact him at robert.krisher@powereng.com.