InDesign CS4 delivers the ability to move your InDesign layouts to the web and beyond via SWF and XFL export features. The former creates a web-ready .swf file that’s intended to be the final form for delivery, and not editable. XFL, on the other hand, is a new, XML Flash native file format. The purpose of this export path is to enable you to take your InDesign layouts and convert them into a native Flash CS4 documents that can then be opened and enhanced with all the powerful interactive capabilities of Flash CS4.
This series of blog posts is aimed at giving you background on the technical issues and best practices relevant to exporting as SWF or XFL.
The focus of this first blog post will be positioning the two different export methods. What are they for? InDesign’s SWF export is aimed at facilitating the creation of interactive presentations, client pitches, and personal portfolios. It’s aimed at traditional print designers who wish to use InDesign as a bridge into the world of basic interactivity, whether it’s being used for a customer facing presentation, an internal document review process where a single spread or an entire book could be viewed in a web browser, or as a way to help prototype a more sophisticated interactive experience that will ultimately be produced using Adobe Flash.
InDesign CS4 has a remodeled Buttons panel new page transitions (including the definitive "page curl"), and hyperlinks. These interactive features can be built into an exported SWF file, and used to advantage in the use cases enumerated above. What Adobe is not trying to do with InDesign’s SWF export, is try to make anyone believe that it’s designed to compete with Adobe Flash. That would be rather silly. Instead, our first cut at a SWF export is designed to introduce traditional print designers to the world of interactivity in a pretty painless and accessible way. The SWF export dialog contains straightforward options for presenting the InDesign generated content and interactivity in a SWF file.
InDesign’s XFL export, on the other hand, is designed for professional workflows in which InDesign is used as the basic layout engine, and then Flash is used to add high-end interactive features. SWF is a black box that cannot be opened and edited. XFL, on the other hand, is a native Flash file format than enables a Flash designer/developer to leverage all the power of Flash with a design that comes from InDesign. InDesign has a rich set of tools for layout and publishing: styles, text wrap, drop caps, etc.–all things that layout designers want to leverage whether they’re designing for print or for an interactive experience.
In the past InDesign users have had to export layouts as JPEG files to move them over to Flash, or also add copy and paste in and out of Illustrator as part of that workflow. The new XFL export feature eliminates those limiting and time-consuming steps, and instead offers a direct way to move designed from InDesign into the powerful interactive world of Flash. Most text can be converted directly to editable Flash native text, rather than ingested as uneditable and unsearchable "piles of pixels", as InDesign Product Manager Michael Ninness puts it. The goal of XFL is deliver InDesign content as faithfully as possible, while preserving editability in Flash.
In the next installment of this series, we’ll start to look into the technical details and background as a necessary foundation for establishing and understanding best practices for taking InDesign documents into SWF and XFL formats.