Quark Interactive Designer full review

This month sees the launch of Quark Interactive Designer (QID), an XTension that enables designers to build interactive Flash SWF files directly within QuarkXPress, using tools that most designers are already familiar with.

You can use QID to create straightforward presentations, buttons or animations. The projects can be standalone Flash projects, which can be played back on any desktop computer, or through any browser with the Flash player, which is said to be installed on roughly 97 per cent of desktop computers. Alternatively, the projects can be embedded into HTML pages, including those created in QuarkXPress, to add maps or pop-up windows or to liven up a banner ad.

According to Gavin Drake of Quark, designers are increasingly being asked to work across different media and having everything within the one application means you don’t have to shell out for extra RAM to keep several programs open. Nor do you have to learn lots of other programs, and this is particularly important, as designers frequently have to hand over a job to someone with the coding skills to finish a Flash animation, which can cost a freelance designer the whole project.

How does it work?
Quark Interactive Designer adds an extra type of layout – Interactive – alongside the familiar choice of Print and Web. So, if you are working on a cross media project you can duplicate an existing web or print project as an interactive layout or you can start from scratch with a new interactive project. You can synchronise content across different layout types within a project, so, for example, you could update prices in a web catalogue, and have the print and fl ash layouts updated automatically.

The basic idea is that you select objects on a page, define an action for them, such as sliding into the screen from one side, and then set up something to trigger that action, such as clicking a button, or rolling a mouse over an object.

Objects can be any text or picture box, a line, or anything that you can draw using the standard tools from QuarkXPress. You can leave any object as a background item, or convert it into a button, or an animation item. Objects can also hold audio, video or flash files, or a list of menu options.

Buttons and animations
As well as standard Flash presentations you can also use QID to make Buttons and Animations, which are single items that are built up over several pages.

You can turn virtually any object into a simple button by assigning it actions for events such as a mouse button being clicked down or up. So, for example, we could import a picture of someone, define that picture as a button, and set it up so that when that button is clicked on, it jumps to the home page of that person’s website. You can also make multi-state buttons which are made up of several images which combine so that the buttons change their appearance when they are clicked on.

You can animate objects within a presentation by having them move along a path. But you can also make simple animation sequences by drawing each frame of the animation as a separate page, and then running the pages together as a single animation.

For both these animation sequences and for making multi-state buttons QID uses Quark’s composition zone technology to place a copy of the sequence in the Interactive layout. This means these sequences appear in the Shared Content palette and so you can use composition zones to embed a Flash layout into a web layout, and then export the whole lot as a HTML page complete with an embedded fl ash presentation.

The Interactive palette
Once you’ve installed QID you’ll find a new Interactive palette under the Window menu. The idea is that once you’ve set up your page complete with all your design elements, you open up the Interactive palette and work your way through its various tabs.

You begin with the objects tab, and go through each element on each page, giving it a name, and an object type, such as a button or a video object.

Once you’ve done that you move to the Events tab and set up how the end user will interact with each object. So, for example, you can set buttons to be triggered when they are clicked down or up, or an image to change when a mouse is rolled over it. You can also link in sounds, and choose an action, such as a menu to pop up when you click on an image. There’s a fairly comprehensive list of actions, ranging from opening a pop-up or a URL to playing videos or running animations.

You can set up a script for multiple actions, or you can choose ‘No action’ for individual objects, and move onto the Script tab to set up actions for all or several objects on a page. So, for example, you could set a page up so that all the objects slide into place from either side when the page is opened.

You can use QID to create pop-up menus and windows, in any size, shape, colour or design of your choosing. Pop-up windows can act as menus or they can hold additional information, such as a definition of a term from the main page, or a description of an item from a catalogue. You can have a window open from a place on the layout, in the centre of the screen, or from any coordinates you choose. You can also choose whether or not to give the window a title bar or a close button.

Flash Output
You can preview your work at any point, either in single pages or as a whole project. Previewing is a simple one-click operation from the Layouts menu, but, depending on how complex your project is, you may have to wait a while for the Flash file to be written.

This is because Quark has only been able to license the SWF format used for completed Flash projects. Not surprisingly, Adobe won’t license the editable FLA version that Flash itself uses for projects in progress. When you’re finished you can choose to output files either as standalone SWF fi les, which can be played back with Adobe’s Flash player, or as a projector with a built-in SWF player for Mac (or Windows).

The Export dialogue offers an option to embed fonts though it’s difficult to see any situation when you wouldn’t want to include the fonts. There’s a compression tab which lets you set the quality of JPEGs, and you can also set the minimum compatible version of Flash player, which is basically a trade-off between the widest possible browser compatibility and some advance features such as support for FLV Video which needs Flash 7 or above.

QID will support virtually all the file formats that QuarkXPress supports, so, for example, you can work with EPS images, but when you export the final SWF file those images will be converted to JPEGs.

Cross-media authoring
Quark is keenly aware that Adobe has bunged just about every tool a designer could conceivably ask for into the Creative Suite. Quark has countered this by selectively adding the type of features that designers really need into QuarkXPress, repositioning it as a cross media design tool. Authoring all the different media projects from the one platform makes it easier to keep all the colours and styles uniform across the different media types. It also means you do have all the tools of QuarkXPress at your disposal, such as drop shadows and transparency and you have the same methodology of working, so you can set up libraries, and master pages. You can also use the multiple layout feature to keep an eye on all the different versions of a project, to be sure that the interactive version stays faithful to the print version.

It does have some limitations. You can’t produce the same range of sophisticated presentations as you can in Flash, but then again you don’t have the hassle of having to learn how to use Flash with its complex coding language. Equally, although you can make reasonably good animation sequences with QID, it’s based on object behaviour rather than timelines and so there’s a limit to how sophisticated your animations can be.

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