Many years ago now Adobe began talking about this shiny new tool they were working on, at that time called Thermo. The intent was to bridge the gap between design and development by finding ways to allow designers to start building the interactivity, animations and components for a project. We were given many previews, much hype and even an early alpha build at Adobe MAX.
Finally Thermo now officially know as Flash Catalyst, is set to released upon the public. This year at FITC Toronto is the first time that Mark Anders has been able to talk about Catalyst as a released product. The idea for Catalyst came from talks that Adobe had with designers about how they were designing applications. The most common answer was that they draw it on paper.
This led the approach for the creation of Catalyst. Designers are able to draw the application in Illustrator, Photoshop or Fireworks and then import that artwork into Catalyst. Once imported it is quick and easy to grab layers of your design and turn those into common components like lists, scrollbars and buttons.
At any point, even after component creation, you can jump back to your art tools and edit the artwork in context and complete with the various states of the component. Changes are reflected live in Catalyst.
The basic model of Catalyst is one of view states. You create the states of your applications and then edit timelines for transitions between those states. Interactions such as button clicks or video complete events can be added with a few simple clicks to trigger transitions between states.
It is possible to put together a simple app entirely with Catalyst but the real power comes when the exported code is passed along to Flash Builder in the form of Flex 4 MXML. The code is generally quite clean and well organized. It's a great starting point for developers to take the application to the next level while not having to worry about details of the visuals.
Another new part of this workflow is the FXG format. This is the xml based mark-up that Adobe's created for the representation of graphics. It's this format that enables the seamless round-tripping of graphics between applications.
It remains to be seen how Catalyst will be adopted. I think it faces number of challenges, including helping people understand what it's used for. It can be used by designers, interaction designers, people building functional prototypes, developers and more. It could be used for complete end-to-end project workflows, a quick tool for testing an idea or for building complex visual components. But it's a new tool that people need to learn and understand how it can help them. My personal experience with it so far has bee positive, saving myself much time as I created the FITC Awards Show presentation for tonight.