Improve your design skills in Flash

16 steps to efficient, faster usage from Ed Symington.

Mastering the tools that you work with on a day-to-day basis is no easy feat. In fact, it takes years to become so adept with tools that you barely even need to think about how to create a desired effect. But it's this knowledge that's going to give you more time to be more creative on projects; more time to brainstorm, sketch up ideas and bring them to life. Without a true knowledge of the industry's leading software tools, your creativity is likely to be stifled, and your productivity lessened. Adobe Creative Suite is the de facto standard in the design industry.

Whether you work in print, web or motion, the tools in Adobe CS are essential to your output. And so we're bringing you 112 invaluable tips for working in Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, InDesign, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, After Effects, Premiere and Encore.

So, whether you work in CS2, CS3 or the recently updated CS4, you'll find snippets of advice that will help you to work faster, more efficiently and, ultimately, improve your design skills.


Ed Symington on Flash

01: Keep your library in order
Keep your library unfuddled by clearing out any unused items. Click the Options drop-down in your Library panel, click 'Select unused items' and then delete. Any library assets that are not currently used anywhere in your timeline and that don't have class definitions for ActionScript will be selected using this feature.

02: Be consistent
Consistency throughout projects will save you a whopping amount of time, especially when returning to projects to make amends. Find a folder structure (such as lib, bin, src, assets) and a naming convention (camel case or hyphenated) that work for you and stick to them.

03: File it down
Use JPEGs, GIFs or 8-bit PNGs over 24-bit PNGs where possible for smaller file sizes, as a PNG's alpha channel can add up to 30% more overhead to your asset. Photoshop's 'Save for Web & Devices' feature is more powerful than Flash's compression settings, so optimise your assets in Photoshop before importing them into Flash.

04: Timeline Animation model
Get to grips with Flash CS4's new Timeline Animation model, as it's much quicker to use. Handy extras like built-in easing functions that you can apply to individual asset properties using the Motion Editor give you way more control over making things move the way you want them to.

05: Edit multiples
Flash CS4 now enables you to edit the properties of multiple assets in your library, which can be a godsend when you want to switch on Smoothing for a big bunch of bitmaps you're using in your project.

06: Choose the right development environment
For medium-to-large ActionScript projects, use a good development environment like Powerflasher's FDT or Adobe Flex Builder. You'll be overwhelmed by how fast you can get your projects off the ground using these programs' auto-completion, class management and debugging features.

07: Increase imports
Importing Photoshop and Illustrator files into Flash is extremely useful, as you can choose which of their layers or folders you want to convert to MovieClip symbols straight off the bat, giving you a usually much-needed head start on your new Flash project.

08: CS4 Star tip Clip your video
Although the prevalence of broadband is now greater than ever, video can still be a big bandwidth muncher. Squeeze every last drop of unnecessary file size from your videos with the new Media Encoder CS4. With the ability to specify bit rate variability, you can be sure you've done your best to crunch those numbers.

09: Do it yourself
Finding the most efficient workflow for yourself in Flash is much easier with CS4. Click the drop-down menu next to the Search bar and experiment with the various workspace layouts provided by those wonderfully thoughtful people at Adobe.

10: Use Open External Library
If you need assets from another FLA file, save on load time and processing power by using Flash's Open External Library feature. Rather than actually opening the FLA, Flash will just import its library so you can quickly and painlessly copy across the assets you need.

11: Be a Space invader
If you're on a Mac, take advantage of Leopard's new Spaces feature and put different Creative Suite applications in separate Spaces. It can take a little getting used to, but once you've got it nailed your workflow can be super speedy between apps.

12: Check out JavaScript Flash
JSFLscripts are an extremely powerful way to automate repetitive tasks in Flash. From help with keyframing to library organisation to batch compilation, they can provide you with all kinds of handy workflow shortcuts. Check out Adobe Exchange for JSFLextensions that can make you life a whole lot easier.

13: Be symbolic
Keep projects up to date when working with other Flash designers or animators by keeping all symbols in one FLA. Import what you need from the master FLA's library into your working FLA then, when they are changed in the master file, simply do an update on those assets in your library.

14: Keep audio low
If your project requires you to embed audio on the timeline, set all bit rates to 8kbps for testing until your final publish, as the higher the bit rate is for embedded audio, the longer Flash will take to compile your movie.

15: Make use of the Movie Explorer
Don't forget that the Movie Explorer panel is always there to help you find instances you may have lost in deep nests of symbols. The ability to filter by text, symbols or ActionScript can be a life saver in these situations.

16: Be Kuler
Get a quick colour injection by using the Kuler panel, which is new to Flash CS4. It works just the same as the website and can be handy for mocking up templates in your projects.

Ed Symington
Interactive Designer at magneticNorth, Ed Symington has been doing web and interactive work for 10 years and has worked for clients such as the BBC, Coca-Cola and Kelloggs.
www.madebymn.co.uk