Adobe Edge Reflow: Adapting with ‘Responsive Web Design’

We live in an age of screens. You are looking at one right now, and so am I. In our modern lives we are constantly staring at screens of various sizes, and as the diversity of resolutions and aspect ratios has grown over time, so has pressure on web developers to adapt their designs to the changing demands of the end-user.

The first reaction of many developers to having to cater to different screen sizes has been to create multiple static comps for the same project. But the drawbacks of this approach quickly become apparent when you imagine trying to design 4 or 5 versions of the same website, while trying to keep the design clean, functional and aesthetically consistent. You would then have to update each one separately every time the client makes a change. This could rapidly turn into a time-consuming nightmare!

So the need for intuitive designs that can automatically adapt to different screen widths can no longer be ignored. We coined this philosophy ‘Responsive Web Design‘ but until now developers have mostly been forced to either try and repurpose their existing tools to find work-arounds they were not designed for, or work directly in code  - which despite being accurate and clean, can hinder the artistic spontaneity that can be so important to the design process.

The newest addition to Creative Cloud, Edge Reflow, allows you to simultaneously design for different screen sizes using a visual workspace to set media breakpoints and is one of the only tools specifically designed with Responsive Web Design in mind.

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As content is added, resized, edited and moved around on the canvas visually, Reflow translates these changes into CSS script in real-time in the background. This gives you the choice of working either visually, using the canvas to create a layout as you would in Illustrator or InDesign, or by editing CSS values in the context-sensitive side panel to alter the individual attributes of an object:

 

Ever-present at the top of your canvas is the media breakpoint bar. This is where you set color-coded breakpoints for each screen size:Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 12.59.14 PM

Once you have settled on a layout for one, clicking on the next breakpoint causes the page’s content to manouevre automatically to try and fit within the new width (normally in an unhelpful way). You can then tweak the layout, replace or remove objects and reformat text until you are happy, and then move onto the next breakpoint.

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Reflow is very clever in its use of color-coding for content-specific attributes in the side-pane. When an object is selected, the backgrounds of related attributes change to match the color assigned to the layout in the breakpoint bar. This allows you to quickly see if a value is specific to the breakpoint you are looking at, or if it was originally set on another.

The beta still lacks the ability to choose your own colors for these labels, and although the CSS code Reflow writes as you design is very clean and uses a full array of CSS formatting controls, it does not yet allow you to name layers or text styles.

There are of course other flaws that will hopefully be addressed once the beta has been picked apart and the full version is released, but there is also some very nice extended functionality potential in Reflow being used as part of the Edge suite. Such as being able to preview your design on different devices in real-time using Edge Inspection, and the possibility of incorporating assets created in Edge Animate.

We are looking forward to the full release. It should tide us over until they come up with round screens, or say, 3D websites… and when that day comes, may the God of Responsive Web Design have mercy on us all!!