Flash Catalyst CS5 review

Flash Catalyst CS5, Adobe’s new interactive design tool, represents a bold initiative with a narrow function. The program lets non-coder designers fashion interactive graphical elements that come to life as components of a Flash project – but only in conjunction with a programmer using Flash Builder 4 (you can’t take it to Flash Professional).

Flash Catalyst’s boundaries are defined by The Three Nos: no design (drawing tools are limited – you use Illustrator or Photoshop); no coding (you use Flash Builder); and no animation (you use Flash Pro). That might not seem to leave much, but it enables you to create a look that will be maintained by coders much better than prototyping in Photoshop or Fireworks.

The Catalyst interface is not  intimidating. Coding is generated in the background as you work. There is a Code view that lets you see the code generated, but you can’t edit it. So, while you can create, view, and test a button’s rollover effect in Catalyst, the button itself can only have a limited set of actions associated with it – such as opening a web page or launching a video – until a Flash Builder 4 ActionScript expert gets to it.

There’s much here that’s familiar. The Layers Panel, rules, grids and guides, an Align function, and a library of components that you can quickly add. All of which makes Flash Catalyst a great design-led tool for creating the first stage of interactive projects. 


Flash Catalyst CS5 is a radical step towards integrating visual designers more closely into the process of building Flash interactive projects, and separating out Flash’s three major functions: interactivity, animation, and coding. Catalyst is a work in progress that is stable but has limited features. Designers who find Flash Professional challenging but approachable may not be satisfied with Catalyst’s limited set of actions, but designers who have never crossed the bridge into working with Flash will find it an appealing entrée into the process.

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