I spent the better part of a week doing nothing but this and sleep, but I think it's nearly ready. If you're brave, you can go get the current one out of CVS. I warn you, it'll be minorly annoying because I got rid of the delegator (What's that do?!) module and replaced it with the Page Manager (I bet you can guess what that does) module.
First, once you've got everything, if you go to admin/build/panels you'll see the Panels dashboard. It's really just an overlay over other stuff, because Panels itself doesn't really have a UI. But it gives UI to lots of other stuff.
So from there, you might click through to the page manager. Because we are prejudiced against panel nodes and mini panels.
Then, after you've had fun sorting and filtering that page, you'll probably try to create a new panel. You'll get presented with a screen to provide some basic information. You know, name it, describe what it's going to be, and check off which of these features you want. You're going to get these features anyway, but if you don't check them you won't be asked about them. Think of it as 4 or 5 screens you won't have to look at because you don't care about them.
Then you get to the meat of what you really want to do:
Then, after I skip the screenshot for the actual drag and drop UI, which hasn't changed terribly much (well, it has but not in THIS round), you are presented with the full edit interface for the Panel. Notice how it's still new and not really in your database yet, but you're one click away from making it live:
So moving on, let's look at some of the features from another page I have. When you first click on a page to edit it, you're presented with a bit of summary about what the page is.
Like Views, when you make changes, they're not immediately permanent, and it's happy to let you know this:
Where this system gets really cool, though, is that you can have multiple pages per page, and use a system called selection rules to figure out which page is actually used. For example, here is a simple idea of a membership page, where members get completely different content than everyone else:
And you have a bunch of control over the actual criteria. You can choose any number, based upon the objects (aka contexts) that are available. Note on the left that now that we have variants, they're collapsible so that the UI doesn't get too difficult to figure out. Also, beneath the list of available access tests what you can't read is that you can say "All of these" or "Just one of these".
One last thing. Editing a panel can be complex and time consuming. It sucks when someone edits things out from under you.
Well, we don't let that happen:
This UI will probably see some refinements, corrections, and "I coulda had a V8" moments as time goes on, but whatever glitches it may have, I don't think anyone will argue that it isn't miles better than the previous UI which was scattered all over the place and required tons of extra clicking. It was a nice idea but ultimately proved to be a failure. Mostly I'm sad about how much time I wasted doing it, but it wasn't all wasted. The actual code level changes for this UI were not nearly as bad as they could've been, because I spent a lot of my time previously making sure I could easily do multi-step forms and all kinds of cute little things to make this work.
This is in CVS now. I hope to have the beta out within the next week or so. This is the point where I'm looking for usability comments before some of this gets too late to change!