January 15, 2008

GridIron Flow: Ridiculously cool workflow management

Unless you buy After Effects plug-ins, you’ve probably never heard of GridIron Software.  That’ll change.  This small Ottawa-based developer has unveiled one of the slickest, most potentially transformative applications I’ve seen in years.  My enthusiasm comes from what it could mean to Photoshop & Creative Suite customers.

Called GridIron Flow, the new software is designed to give you “Mind of God” knowledge of where your files are, how they’re related, how long you’ve been working on them, etc.  It consists of two things: a system process that runs in the background, tracking events while consuming minimal resources; and a front-end application (see this pair of screenshots) that displays files & data about them.

Let’s say you copy some vectors from Illustrator and paste them into Photoshop.  Flow, running invisibly in the background, notices the event and sees that there’s a relationship between the AI and PSD files.  When you pop open the Flow browser, you can see a connection between the files–even though Photoshop & Illustrator themselves don’t store or track a link.

If you then place the PSD into, say, After Effects, create an AEP file, and then render an FLV, Flow will create a workflow map–a chain of connections from one file/project to the next.  Right-click any of these files in your Finder/Explorer & Flow will show how they’re related.  If you try to move or delete a file, Flow will pop a message to mention that the file is related to others, offering to show the relationship.  Upshot: fewer broken links due to accidentally misplacing assets.

Okay, that’s cool, but it gets more interesting.  Now let’s say you edit your PSD a little, save, edit, save, etc.  Flow (not unlike Apple’s Time Machine) can be automatically versioning your files.  Although only the current version shows up in your Finder/Explorer, in the Flow UI you can see previous versions.  You can use a movie-style scrubber to move your project back in time.

Here’s why this is a big deal: All the data collection and versioning is automatic and invisible, which is the only way designers will benefit from it.  Creative people want to create, not type in metadata, fill out timesheets, etc.  If you force them to do data entry; to work in highly regimented projects; or to use wonky, restrictive tools for check-in/check-out, they’ll generally kick like mules.  (I know: I did just the same thing.)  The beauty of Flow is that it’s like an airbag–unobtrusive unless and until you need it.

I think that if you’ve ever used multiple design tools together, when you see Flow in action you’ll get the value in a hurry.  (I’m told GridIron will post a demo video soon, as that’ll make things much clearer.)  I’m waxing their cars pretty hard, so let me say for the record that I don’t have any formal relationship with these guys.  I was really excited by the concept when I saw an early version last summer, and we’ve been talking with GridIron about how to make Adobe tools play really nicely with Flow.

If this sounds like it’s up your alley, check out the additional feature notes on their site, and maybe sign up for the beta program that’s starting this spring.

PS–The GridIron guys have created a cute little video that sets up the problem they’re trying to solve.  I like that “goatee” has become universal shorthand for “designer.” ;-)

Posted by John Nack at 9:42 PM on January 15, 2008
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