Michæl Graves

Groundskeeper @ gskinner.

Google, Adobe, gskinner | Flutter Interact ’19

Flutter is a mobile UI toolkit that combines fast development, expressive and beautiful UIs, with native performance. To test-drive the platform, Grant Skinner & Mike Chambers recently built Redrix: a mobile companion app for Destiny 2.

Download Redrix on iOS or Android

In the short time since, in preparation for Flutter Interact ‘19, we’ve been collaborating with Google & Adobe to showcase the capabilities and potential of the platform.

With an open brief from Google, we were given the freedom to create expressive experiences with the purpose of inspiring and empowering designers and developers to explore the capabilities of Flutter and learn how easy it can be to elevate UI.

We created 17 distinct vignettes spanning a range of UI concepts and styles targeting different devices and screen sizes. They’re all released open-source (under the permissive MIT license) on our dedicated vignettes showcase website.

Approach

We established some high-level goals for the vignettes:

  • real-world: representative of pragmatic & relatable scenarios for apps (with an occasional fun, novel piece sprinkled in)
  • approachable: simple enough to help creators get started quickly
  • delightful: thoughtful & fun motion, interactions, and design

After dedicating time to charge up our own inspiration — researching the most beautiful interactive designs we’ve seen — we compiled a list of ideas, rough sketches and descriptions for potential vignettes.

We reviewed and prioritized the ones that would best achieve our goals. Our designers started working on visual language, illustrations, interactive models, and motion design prototypes.

In parallel, our dev team started building Flutter widgets: modular, re-usable elements used across numerous vignettes for common tasks, such as masking, sprite sequences, and simple 3D rendering. These serve as take-aways for developers to utilize in their own Flutter projects.

We set guidelines for design & development: the architecture and code for all the vignettes should feel like a single, cohesive, and approachable unit. We favored readability over optimization; simplicity over intricacy.

As our vignettes came to life, we earmarked time to share, critique, and prioritize. These sessions informed our iterations & effort, weighed against our timelines.

Near Real-Time Iteration

Hot-reload in Flutter is a game-changer for productive iteration — our design team could critique & communicate concepts, tweaks, and polish to developers to make changes right before their eyes: no recompiling, no deploying a new build for review. No wasted cycles.

We even performed critiques and applied real-time feedback remotely through screen-sharing. The feedback loop almost disappeared; designers and developers working in unison, applying discrete talents towards the same goal simultaneously.

We’re a bit smitten with hot-reload in Flutter.

It’s a testament to the Flutter team, that despite our ambitious vision for the vignettes, our biggest challenge was a familiar one — timelines.

XD to Flutter Plugin

To create our Flutter vignettes, all the UI was hand-coded.

If you’ve poked around our blog for the past 17 years (!) you know we have a long history of building tools, utilities, and workflow enhancements for Adobe products.

As such, we are incredibly excited to be working with the Adobe XD team on their integration with Flutter.

The goal is to empower creators to use familiar design and layout tools & workflows in Adobe XD, and generate Dart code to use in their Flutter apps — streamlining designer and developer collaboration to go from idea, to prototype, to working product, faster.

Leveraging a fairly complex view in Redrix, we re-created the design in Adobe XD, which is exported as a near pixel-perfect view in Flutter. It additionally offers functionality to export elements as re-usable Flutter widgets, complete with configurable instance parameters.

Paired with hot reload, you can make design changes in Adobe XD, and see them instantly reflected in Flutter on a simulator or device.

In 2020, we plan to continue helping Adobe to evolve this tool and release an open-source XD plugin.

If there are specific features or functionality you’d love to see, leave a comment and we’ll add it to the wishlist. You can sign up for early access here.

Explaining Patterns and Matches in RegExr

RegExr 2.0 was released a little over 2 years ago. If you haven’t used it, it is a great way to test, preview, and share Regular Expressions. We’re committed to updating and improving RegExr, and in January we quietly pushed out some features to help inspect and explain patterns.

Check out RegExr here.

The New “Tools” Bar

Initially, RegExr only had one tool, the “substitution” panel, which let users show sample text with matches substituted using an expression. It was hidden by default, unless a pattern included a substitution expression. This tool has been renamed “replace”, and is now part of a larger “tools” bar, which we hope to continue growing in the future. In the meantime, it has a few other useful tools that I’ll describe below in more detail. Continue reading →

The Lab: Experiments From the gskinner Team

Sharing code and visual experiments has always been a huge part of my professional life. Experimentation in Flash launched my career, and remained an important theme in my presentations for years. I exhorted audiences to make time for play, but ultimately forgot to follow my own advice.

As the company grew, and life got busier, I lost the habit of building things for fun. I’d dabble now and then, but there was no real concerted effort to create something worth sharing.

This seems to have affected much of the industry. The lab section used to be an integral part of every agency’s site, now they are rare, and when they do exist, tend to be really sparse.

Come visit the gskinner lab.

Hex grid experiment.

It’s time for that to change, at least for us. We’re launching our lab section today. It has a decent smattering of experiments already, and we’ll add to it as time goes on.
Continue reading →

Keeping it Grounded: Why We Avoid the Cloud (Sometimes)

The Cloud

Don’t get me wrong, the “Cloud” is great. Being able to utilize existing apps and not having to worry about updates or security is a huge time saver. But when it gets down to it, “In the cloud” is a buzz term. When translated to laymen speech it means “Storing your data and running your applications on an offsite server, somewhere”. It’s that “somewhere” that is a legal gray area for us, and for certain clients. For example; let’s say we’re working on a project for Microsoft, but are storing documents and files on Google servers. The two companies can (and do) collaborate, but what if they don’t on this project? And we’re storing sensitive Microsoft information with Google? It could cause legal issues if a dispute ever came up. This is the primary reason why we choose to self-host the vast majority of our infrastructure. The services we self-host include a Git server, bug tracker, wiki, file syncing server, and a custom built timetracker. Having a local server host all these services allows us to be extremely agile in development and with our workflows.

Continue reading →

Better Typography for Any Web Project

Using the SCSS Baseline Type Utility

Typographers and type enthusiasts will attest that aligning a typeface to its baseline grid is an essential part of any text-heavy design. Maintaining a consistent vertical rhythm is an important part in the creation of beautiful typography and layouts. This is accomplished easily in programs such as Adobe InDesign. However until now, I have yet to find a tool that easily accomplishes this with web type, while remaining flexible to the individual needs of a project.

Continue reading →

Automation in Your Daily Workflow

Automation saves you time, your company money, and your employee’s sanity. At gskinner, we have a long history of building workflow tools to aid with anything from creating a simple button in Flash, to managing the build process for entire web apps or JavaScript libraries like CreateJS. Automation doesn’t need to be complicated. Some of my own tools only have a few lines of code, but those few lines can take hours off any project. For large scale projects spending hours or even days building an automation tool can have the same impact as a small tool. I generally start with a small scope (no more then a few hours) and see if what I’m building is a) Useful and b) Useable. If it doesn’t meet both of those criteria then I can re-evaluate my approach without burning too much time.

Continue reading →

A Mental Model for Media Queries

Handling layout changes across a broad landscape of devices and browsers typically involves the use of media queries, which enable layouts to bend and flex based on their viewing environment.

Most queries I see are built around the concept of width:

@media screen and (max-width: 640px) {
    body { background-color: blue; }
}

I love the simplicity of this methodology. It’s straightforward, easy to implement, and it works with content that comprises most websites. But what about web-based apps, the website’s younger cousin? Is this model the most effective media query strategy that can help us with the unique challenges of designing web applications? Continue reading →

Check. Check. Is this thing on?

It’s been nearly a full year since I last blogged. (Do people still blog? Maybe I should snapchat this instead?) I used to blog a lot, but life became busier, posts became more infrequent, and eventually it stopped being a habit and became a chore.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot to say. It’s just that the last few years have been a crazy and exciting ride, and I haven’t had a lot of time to dedicate to writing posts.

Five years ago, Flash as a platform died. For a lot of shops, the migration was gradual. Not for us. Our clients come to us for cutting-edge tech, and almost overnight, Flash didn’t meet their criteria. We went from almost 100% Flash work, to nearly 0% in less than a year.
Continue reading →