I Used Reflow, Now What?

reflow

One of the most frequent questions I get when I show off Reflow is:

Once you finish creating something in Reflow, what is the next step? How do I make this cool resize-y thing show up on someone else’s screen when they go to a particular website?

It’s a tough question that doesn’t get you a super slick and quick answer yet. What it will get you is a few hundred words of “Let me explain.”

TL;DR: There isn’t a good workflow between Reflow and site development yet. But I still think it can be useful to you. 

Let me explain. Reflow doesn’t create an HTML site. It creates an HTML composition. I’m not just being buzzwordy; it’s a design tool. You create compositions with it, not websites. You still have to take what you create in Reflow and hand it off to a developer.  If you look at the tool, you’ll notice there is no facility for adding things like links or workable buttons.  You can draw these things using rectangles, rounded rectangles, and text, but you can’t create something in Reflow that allows you to click anywhere in preview.  You’ll also notice that the preview is only supported in Chrome, because Reflow isn’t trying to solve cross browser issues. Neither does Photoshop — because design tools don’t handle cross browser issues. Reflow creates something like a Photoshop comp but in HTML so it can be rendered in the browser and that you can be resized and viewed in a range of different screen widths.

But, I saw it in my browser, it creates HTML — you just said it did?

Oh, yeah, that.  Um, sure it creates HTML – sub optimal HTML. You see, I’m originally a developer, so suboptimal is short hand for terrible. And terrible is shorthand for I didn’t write it by hand, myself, while complaining about how designers want things that can’t be done in HTML and CSS.  

Assuming one doesn’t care about that, maybe you just want to get stuff done while not whining about code quality.  OK, you can totally grab that code and use it to start your site.  The code is located in the assets folder in the same folder as your .rflw file.

Well that’s an inefficient and poorly designed workflow.

It’s not inefficient and poorly designed, it’s nonexistent. There is no workflow there. What I’ve told you to do is a hack. From Reflow’s perspective there is a brick wall between designing in Reflow and developing for the browser.  That might be a deal breaker for you, and if it is I’m sorry but I won’t lie and say there isn’t a wall there — you’ll only be madder at me when you figure it out.  But I will point out there used to be a brick wall between designing in Photoshop and designing in Reflow.  That is now gone. I can’t talk about future plans, yada yada, but assume that the Reflow team is annoyed by all the brick walls around here and are resting for bit after swinging a pretty big sledgehammer with the help of the Photoshop team.

So what’s your workflow with these tools?

Personally, I design in the browser first and then Photoshop. Basically, my design chops and more importantly my Photoshop chops need work. I start designing where I can be the most facile, where there is as little impedance between my brain and creative output as possible. For me that is the browser and some CSS, for you that might be Photoshop or a pen and paper.  Once I get things like color, font, and site nuggets done in the browser, I bring it back into Photoshop. In Photoshop, I tweak color, font, and base layout. I also refine ideas for site nuggets, and things like borders, shadows, color interaction, etc. Once I get it done there, I move into Reflow.  Of course, once I start in Reflow, I have to do a little organization. Then I use Reflow to figure out where I need break points in my finished design, and how I will want the parts to move around. I also use it to figure out what I did in Photoshop that looks great static, but starts to look bad once I start resizing and moving things. Once I’m satisfied, I move to coding by hand. I do use Reflow’s ability to export CSS snippets to speed up this process. I also grab the HTML from the preview version, but I rip out almost all of the HTML because Reflow doesn’t create things like lists, or blockquotes, and the HTML isn’t very semantic. Basically, I use it to get the text, just the text.

So that’s it, like I said, lot of explanation instead of slick answers.  My hope is that slick answers and no brick walls happen in the future. But until then, I think there is a place for Reflow in a web design workflow, it just doesn’t get rid of a lot of work on the development side yet.

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