On April 12th, 2010 Adobe will soft launch (no product released) their new Creative Suite 5 which includes updates to most of their design programs. Flash Catalyst, currently available in Adobe Labs, is a newcomer to this suite. It’s a tool that allows UI designers to create basic UI interactivity in Adobe Flex. As you probably know, Flex is the leading interactive rich media platform which Adobe acquired from Macromedia. What I love about this tool is it helps to address a critical gap in communication between interactive designers and Flex software developers.
Product development cycle time is constantly under pressure. A huge bottleneck in the development pipeline is efficient communication between the interactive designer who often builds static representations of the user interface(jpeg, Photoshop, Illustrator) and the developer. It sometimes turns into basic conversations like “when you click here you will see this happen… OK”. This collaboration often takes a long time and needs to iterate several times before consensus is achieved. Furthermore, interactive designers and software developers often report to different organizations and have entirely different approaches to development. You can tell a developer centric Flex design because it is often driven by the data model (Try Citibank’s virtual credit card app.) The developer wants to represent information efficiently and completely, whereas a solid interactive developer is focused on how the user is perceiving the data flow. Creating applications with an intuitive user interface design is probably the greatest challenge in web software development.
Are Catalyst and other Interactive Design tools pressuring designers to also become developers? Is it slowing down the design process? IMHO the answer is no. Whatever can be done to empower designers and improve communication is a blessing and not a curse. In fact, in many smaller companies, the Product Manager also plays the role of interactive designer. A quick prototype can be used to get early customer feedback without engaging the development team and while Product usually communicates effectively with developers, an iterative prototype is always an efficient functional specification.