AdvancED Flash Interface Design
18 comments | Posted: 31 May 06 in Books, by Nathan Smith
AdvancED Flash Interface Design is the latest installment from Friends of ED. Incidentally, while reading an interview with Chris Mills, I recently learned that the ED in the title is capitalized for a reason. “Friends of Every Designer” is what the company name stands for. Read blogs folks, you’ll have many serendipitous moments. Anyway, this book was very practical, filled with an enormous amount of information, all of which is very applicable on a day to day basis. This quote from Chris’ blog sums it up quite nicely…
You know those tech books you read and go “yeah, this is all well and good, but would I ever REALLY do any of this in my work?” Well, this book isn’t like that – it’s nothing but real-world Flash design teachings for those of you who have already got past the basics, but want to take your work further, with creative, inspirational techniques.
Since my official job description is Web User Interface Designer / Developer, I figured it would be right up my alley. I chimed in with a comment on his blog post regarding this book, and he was nice enough to send me a review copy. It was written by a trio of talented Flash guys: Michael Kemper, Guido Rosso and Brian Monnone. What I like is that while this series is geared towards Flash, it covers fundamentals that are essential to any sort of visual or graphic design.
Like any book, it starts with an overview of the topic, pointing out some of the benefits of Flash, while also acknowledging a few of its drawbacks. They are quick to point out that long loading times and inaccessible content are a stigma which Flash is helping to overcome. Loading times can be avoided through smart planning of content (ala Ajax, loading things as needed) and Flash can actually be used to add sub-titles to video and such.
Chapters two through five focus on user experience, color theory, interface design and vector drawing. The content therein could be used for a design class as a textbook. Seriously, it’s that good. Also, I like the way the book is planned out. Most of it is black and white, with figures that are contained in a color section. This is a great compromise between keeping printing costs low, while not missing out on some design nuance, because there are color pages too.
Chapters six and seven delve more into the Flash interface itself, covering advanced uses of the timeline and layers, and showing how to use Flash for vector drawing. In the past, these tools were considered to be sub-par, but as of version 8 it has really come into its own for creating non-destructive effects. These same effects can also be manipulated, created and removed with ActionScript. It should be noted that there is also a fair bit of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop techniques covered, throughout the entirety of the book.
Chapter 8 was a departure into the realm of video, talking about the various codecs that can be used. It also showed how to do green screen effects with Apple Final Cut Pro. Once you have isolated the video clips you want to make use of, they can then be taken into the Flash environment for seamless integration with your site’s interface. Think of Adobe’s own site, which has many full-motion video narrators who walk you through their varying content.
While Flash’s forte is vectors, occasionally you will find yourself needing pixel-precision. Chapters 9 and 10 are about achieving this with Photoshop, and how to make raster (bitmap) images with the smallest footprints. This is usually done by exporting PNG files with the correct amount of compression and opacity. One of the nice things about Flash is that IE6 has no problem rendering PNG opacity when used in conjunction with Flash. Many of you CSS guys will know what a headache this is to do otherwise, using inelegant GIF files.
The last few chapters cover creating animated effects, Flash textures, and finishing off a site. They cover some nice tweening and transformation effects, and also show how to make water textures with distortion filters and a background image. If you’ve seen water in games like Unreal Tournament, you will know what I’m talking about. The final chapter covers attention to detail that will make the difference between good work and great work. It teaches how to sweat the small stuff, without being too much of a perfectionist.
My one and only complaint is that this book focused so heavily on Illustrator, when Fireworks is perhaps a more seamlessly integrated tool, and many people who have purchased Studio 8 for Flash and Dreamweaver already have it bundled. Nevertheless, many of the concepts carry over to whatever graphics program you prefer. All in all, this is a very strong title and a must-have for those who do a lot of cross-disciplinary work or just want to branch out into another aspect of web design. I like to think of Flash as SWAT – You don’t call ‘em in for just anything, but it’s great when you really need high impact.
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