Archive for February, 2009

Flex Interface Design with Scale9Grid Bitmap Class, another approach

Recently I changed my job to part time, so got some spare time in my own project and some researches on Flex developments. I’m happy with that as I found more and more solutions in these days when I’m not pressed by full-time tasks as a major/lead developer and the only senior/firefighter for a team.

What I get most excited is getting some more ideas on interface design methods for Flex/AIR applications. I’m not a designer, most of my time focus on Flex/Flash coding and I constantly feel bad especially interface design in Flex. Not only Flex itself has no good work flow yet designers can easy to work, also it very hard for team/companies to find a really good designer for Flex projects.

Ok, I’m talking here is another optional approach in interface design for Flex. See follow I did in my own Flex/Air project:

Have you seen somewhere like this? Well, I don’t have designer on my own project, but like good designs when I write codes and testing, so I ‘borrowed’ some graphics from CS4 for use temperorily. It looks beautiful isn’t it? I hate any bad ugly designs in development, man, it’s Flash platform. I like beauties when I’m working and that’s why I choose to work as my career.

Requirements to make it?

The example above I used three images:

  • left highlight skin image
  • right skin image
  • dropdown button image

Scale9Grid bitmap class, you can get from bytearray.org. (I made some small modifications so its Scale9Bitmap class in this example. May write a new UIComponent-based class myself from scratch later when have time.)

How to make it?

The example above is the dock header, each one is a single object based on UIComponent. I show here how to make the right skin inside that component.

createChildren function, load bitmap with url:

Complete handler:

updateDisplayList function:

The component wouldn’t create bitmap until loader complete, then insert into bottom layer as its the background image. (In this example I put another skin image above so it will be inserted into layer 1 when the bottom layer has already added, that’s why I use a flag _rightSkinLoaded.)

The bitmap wouldn’t renderer until invalidation display list is called, which make maximum performance based on Flex framework. In updateDisplayList function, two skin images will be scaled with scale9Grid rectangles, that’s where the magic happens.

There’s one more thing, to get best result in my example, scale 9 bitmaps works better when positioning in pixels, I use int(xx) as followed:

Discussion

There already lots of approaches for interface design/skinning, like Flex/CS4 skinning kits, Degrafa. These approaches ‘work’ but I myself much like use scale9grid bitmap inside component directly. Here’s what I think:

  • Any designer can make graphics design, can support developers easy to use this approach, in case of scale 9 grid can work perfect (I think most standard interface components?).
  • Degrafa can be hard to ‘code’ graphics result what designer expect, but image with scale9 rectangle easy.
  • Less code (code lines after compiling) and better performance. If there’s tons of components in your application, you have to take care of performance. If you can, don’t use CSS skins for highly reused components.
  • Bitmap don’t need to be embedded, which make less size of application and less compiling time if there’s many bitmaps.

Of course, this is just an optional approach for Flex interface design, as scale 9 slices may not work in some designs.