This is Not a House of Cards
I run Flow and, from time to time, another company that produces cutting-edge interactive experiences called Logic&Form. My background is in Interface Culture and Interactive Arts, and for the majority of my career I’ve had the fortune to work on amazing creative technological projects. Over the last 15 years, I have been developing ways and means for creative individuals to express themselves through software. Flow is an extension of all that.
Flow is a tool that lets you import a Sketch design, animate it, and export beautiful software. From an outsider’s perspective what may not be clear is that it’s actually the foundation for something far more powerful. This is because what we’re trying to accomplish something big: transforming how creativity gets expressed in any digital format.
Some very successful tools have arisen in the last few years, many of which challenge what we are doing. There are prototyping tools, animation tools, tools that generate full Xcode or Android projects, and tools that allow a developer to inspect and extract the styles from a design. They all solve some particular pain-point, and with each of their releases we get a bit uneasy. However, in our opinion, none of them appear solve the hardest problem: accurately communicating creative vision in a way that can become real, expressive, digital products. So, we stick to our original vision of realizing a transformative approach to design and development.
This vision requires a tool that is built equally for designers and for developers. It has to provide enough power to allow the nuance and detail of creative vision to come alive, while translating that into clean, efficient, trustworthy software. It has to provide the means for easily integrating design output into existing projects – which is more than just spitting out code.
For anyone considering investing their time (and money) into it, Flow the Animation Tool appears to have many competitors and offer features that you can get elsewhere. However, a closer look reveals that Flow really does translate creative expression into software, and it paints a convincing picture of its future potential.
The current version of Flow is awesome for UI Animation and code export. It generates super clean code that can easily be integrated into existing web or iOS projects. The next major version will incorporate developer APIs and services for making dev work smoother. Longer term, we plan to incorporate Interaction Design features, including app layout, user flow and components. Throughout all of that, the potential for Flow to be used purely as an animation tool will grow by leaps and bounds. We put all our proceeds into making the tool better, so you’ve purchased a license, or are thinking of doing so, then you’re actually contributing to the development of Flow itself.
Stepping back a bit, I’d like to offer some insight into our decision-making process. Basically, why we are where we are and how that’s actually the right place to be for our bigger vision.
The Market is Saturated with Prototyping Tools
Years ago we had Flash which, despite its shortcomings, was a tool that actually allowed designers to produce products that could ship live. A designer could create beautiful interfaces, animate them, and incorporate their work directly into websites. Based on some pretty high level Thoughts on Flash, Apple decided to not allow it to be used to publish apps for the iOS platform. This created a vacuum where there were no effective tools that designers could use to experiment and produce interfaces. As a response, an era of prototyping arose where tools like Framer X, Marvel, Principle and Flinto were able to provide some very great features for designing interactions.
Today, the market is replete with options where both indie development studios and larger corporations are offering sophisticated prototyping tools. Despite that, there is a major problem with the majority of tools in this space: they were designed to be prototyping tools. If you’re a designer or developer working with some of these tools you’ll know that their output is, typically, something that needs to be recreated from scratch by a developer. Producing a cutting-edge tool in this space requires thinking beyond the prototype.
So, is the market saturated with prototyping tools? Yes.
Does that matter? No.
Why? Because Flow is a production tool.
Flow Needs to Have Prototyping Capability
Absolutely true. The act of being able to prototype is critical to the creative process and our industry needs tools that inspire iteration and expressive thinking. Yet, until now there have been no “prototyping” functionalities incorporated into Flow.
The main reason is we’re not building a house of cards.
About a year and a year ago we were in a position to start building out a suite of amazing interaction design tools for Flow. We had scoped out some very interesting new approaches to interaction design and app workflow. Along the way we were confronted with our own interest in keeping Flow a production tool, which required robust code export. After many, long, challenging meetings we realized that without a world-class approach to code export any interaction tooling built on top of Flow would fall apart. We decided to double-down on solidifying the pipeline of going from static design to animation to code export and distribution.
Our long term our goal is to introduce a revolutionary continuous-design workflow that upends the current culture of design ↣ specify ↣ handoff ↣ development process that is pervasive in today’s app production economy. Flow represents new class of production for the design and development of software applications.
Let the Tools Translate
One of the key things I learned from my years of working with creative coding APIs, and developing one myself, is that no matter how easy you make a programming language there is still an insanely steep learning curve for getting a creative vision into reality, as software. This is one of the reasons that the handoff process from designers to developers is protracted, long, and can actually result in products that have sub-standard design quality. Fundamentally, software is precise and rigid whereas creative expression has latitude and flexibility.
Designers and developers shouldn’t struggle with getting creative vision into production. Their tools should communicate with one another and do the heavy lifting of translating nuance into software.
So, what we’re really up to is this:
Build a powerful UI Animation tool that exports great code. Sell the animation tool. Build pro services for easily integrating code into projects. Sell the pro tool. Build interaction tools into Flow. Create an explosion of creativity, and enable a new wave of beautiful products.