How many of you are designers? How many of you are developers? Maybe you fall somewhere in between. Maybe you're simply in an industry or job where you need to create some attractive or engaging content, but have little experience as a developer. Perhaps your organization uses Adobe Connect (whose users now number in the millions) and you know that some simple Flash widgets would be exactly what you need to interact with your customers, students, or users in your Connect room. Adobe Flash Catalyst makes this a piece of cake. Well, maybe not a piece of cake. My wife wouldn't be turning out rich Internet applications anytime soon, even with Catalyst. But it's pretty easy, especially for the design markets at which it's directed.
Here's a video from Flash Catalyst's introduction. It's a bit long, but if you aren't familiar with it (or with Flash development) it's worth watching:
As the speaker pointed out, this tool can handle everything from one-off quick widgets to wireframing and prototyping to pretty serious web application development, all with a fairly intuitive design-oriented interface rather than the more sophisticated code-based UI on Adobe's straight Flash tools.
In my case, I was looking to put together a simple photo gallery for family and friends of some shots we had taken as my daughter comes up on her first birthday. Nothing terribly sophisticated, but it was a good chance to dive into another one of Adobe's tools and answer that age-old question: Can you justify the price of Adobe software? As I keep finding, for anyone in the content creation business, you absolutely can, despite the $1500+ cost of entry for a suite that includes Flash Catalyst.
Here's how. Flash content will run on 97% of the computers in use today and is increasingly usable on mobile devices. When it's easier to create a Flash object to get your point across in a really effective, engaging way than it is to put together an attractive and user-friendly website (as it is with Catalyst), then you're on to something. It also gets back to ongoing frustrations inherent in the interactions between most designers and developers. It's the rare designer who has a clue about the rigors and needs of professional development and it's the rare developer with the creativity and training to drag customers into a great experience. Like it or not, the two must work together.
Whether developers want to use Catalyst to rapidly prototype for their design counterparts to ensure that they've interpreted specifications correctly or designers simply want to take a crack at bringing their designs to life, providing developers with code ready for optimization and integration, this software can make it happen.
While the interface is relatively intuitive, I hit a wall trying to figure out some transitions without creating too many states (essentially screens between which you can switch; more states means a slower application and Flash Catalyst is limited to 20 anyway). So I broke out another bit of Adobe goodness about which I've written on the ZDNet Education blog: the Adobe Education Exchange. While this is designed for educators wanting to incorporate Adobe technologies into their classrooms, it has more than enough examples and tutorials contributed by both the community and Adobe staff to get anyone started.
Click here to see what I came up with, pulling a basic set of layers with the images, text, and buttons out of Illustrator. This took about an hour, including learning how to solve some transition issues and going through some Catalyst tutorials.
I know that Flash isn't for everyone, nor does everyone feel that the best way to create desktop software is Adobe Air. I know full well that there are thousands and thousands of coders who could gin up efficient, lightweight applications using HTML 5, CSS, AJAX, and a variety of other technologies that would do what I did for my photo gallery (or for any number of applications that could be created in Catalyst). When it comes down to it, though, I've never seen a tool that lets me translate a vision in my head into something that people can see and use on the web so quickly. If you use the word prototype in your daily life and you're at all inclined towards Adobe's technologies, then Catalyst should probably be in your toolkit. We're coming up on the end of the year. It's a tax deduction. Go for it.