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December 5, 2007

Overview and introduction to Flex

Adobe Flex is a new medium specifically created for designing and developing rich Internet applications, or RIAs. RIAs are a new breed of applications that break out of the constraints of traditional web and desktop environments to provide a more fluid, information-focused user experience. Flex makes it much easier to create these experiences, but it requires application designers and developers to think differently about the application design problem than they did when creating traditional web and desktop applications.
The Designing for Flex series surveys new possibilities, techniques, and challenges designers and developers will confront when designing Flex rich Internet applications. Specifically, the series covers: planning and structuring Flex applications, special considerations for designing web versus desktop Flex applications, the design of rich content displays, appropriate use of motion in application design, improving an application’s efficiency of use, and ensuring your users feel safe using your application and trust it with their data. We have supplemented the series with an ever-growing set of components and sample code to assist you in applying the theory presented here. In the near future, we also plan to release the official set of "Flex Interface Guidelines" that describe in depth how to apply the Adobe standard for Flex application design to your projects.
The Designing for Flex series includes the following articles:
Part 1: Overview and discovering Flex
Part 2: Planning your application
Part 3: Structuring your application
Part 4: Merging the web and the desktop
Part 5: Designing content displays
Part 6: Guiding with motion
Part 7: Making your application fast (coming soon)
Part 8: Making your application safe (coming soon)
Appendix A: List of best practices
Appendix B: For further reading
This content is a public draft. Please give us feedback in the Flex Interface Guide Forum.
Planning for Flex application design is similar to application planning for other mediums, but places special emphasis on deeply understanding your users’ goals, the content they use or create, and the tasks and workflows they go through to accomplish these goals. The next article in this series: Designing for Flex – Part 2: Planning your application discusses this topic in detail.
Flex applications eschew the strict page-to-page or window-to-window metaphor of the web and the desktop, and instead focus heavily on interactions within individual screens of the application. As a result, they must be structured somewhat differently from traditional websites or desktop applications. Flex applications are comprised of three types of structure: information structures, process structures, and creation structures, all of which must be designed differently. Structural design is discussed in Designing for Flex – Part 3: Structuring your application.
While Flex applications break outside of the constraints of traditional web and desktop applications, they also bring together the best aspects of these two mediums. Common features of web applications, such as back button support, bookmarking, and hyperlinks must be preserved on the web just as proper support for the file system, network connection changes, and windows and menu bars must be preserved on the desktop. In Designing for Flex – Part 4: Merging the web and the desktop, I discuss these web- and desktop-specific issues.
Well-designed Flex applications put the user’s content first, helping her understand and visualize the information, then provide discoverable means to interact with the content if appropriate. Designing for Flex – Part 5: Designing content displays describes how to use the powerful graphical capabilities of Flex to help users interact with their content.
Flex offers the ability to employ motion as part of the design medium, yet in the past, motion in applications has often been abused. Designing for Flex – Part 6: Guiding with motion describes how to use motion to teach and emphasize, not to distract and annoy.
Computers are intended to improve human productivity, so for any application, efficiency of use is paramount. Well-designed Flex applications help speed up users both through snappy system performance and through providing appropriate assistance to help users complete their work faster and easier. Designing for Flex – Part 7: Making your application fast (available soon) discusses both of these aspects of efficiency of use.
Finally, no application is useful or desirable if users cannot trust it with their data and their reputations. Good Flex applications must carefully safeguard both of these through technical measures and through keeping users informed of the consequences of their actions and empowering them to undo their mistakes. Designing for Flex – Part 8: Making your application safe (available soon) discusses which measures are necessary to achieve application safety and earn your users’ trust.
Flex offers you the opportunity to revolutionize the way your users interact with your application and your company. Incorporating the best practices discussed in this paper into your design thinking will put you on the right track towards making this opportunity a reality.

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