Price: 185 . 250
Pros: Keeps projects organized; behind-the-scenes time tracking and versioning; works almost seamlessly.
Cons: Won’t appeal to all creatives; lacks support for some applications, such as QuarkXPress.
Another nifty feature is the ability to manually add other files to the Map -- so you can tie in briefs, scripts, storyboards, and other project ephemera. This helps you avoid losing the files when you’re working, but is also useful if you want to use Flow’s Packages system (which works in a similar way to the Package function in InDesign) to bring all of your elements together into a single folder to pass on to a client or colleague, or for archiving.
The downside to creating Packages is that Flow doesn’t update the project file to the location of the packaged elements – so whoever opens it next will need to relink them – but it does also bundle in information from two of Flow’s best features: Versions and Time Tracking.
Versions (above), as the name suggests, saves a version of your project every time you save. This means that if you take a project in a wrong direction -- or one your client doesn’t like -- you can quickly return to a previous version of the project. The key point here is that this is done for you, but you can manage the process if you wish.
You can set how many versions of each project to keep, view previews of these versions to help find the right one, save versions at important points at project development, and delete versions. The only issue here is that if you’re a compulsive Cmd/Ctrl + S presser due to years spent using software that crashes if you look at it funny (say hello, InDesign CS), you end up with either an unmanageable amount of versions or a small number of very similar ones.
Time Tracking (above) offers a simple way of building a timesheet of how long you’ve worked on a project, as Flow knows exactly how long you’ve been working on each of your files.
You can see the time spent on a project file, or all of the files within a Map, or a selection of files -- for example, only the ones created for the current-motion graphics project, but not the logo you created for the client two months ago and for which you’ve already charged them.
You can export this information as a CSV file, ready for importing into an Excel spreadsheet, or into a full-scale project-management application, such as Sohnar Traffic or Streamtime. Whether you keep detailed notes of time spent or ‘estimate’ it at the end, Flow gives you accurate information instantly.
Alongside the Flow application and Dashboard, GridIron has also created Flash Panels that run inside the CS4 versions of Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and Flash. These display the basic Maps for the current project so you can refer to them without launching Flow (including checking out their Internal Attributes), but -- more usefully -- access to time tracking information and versions.
GridIron Flow has been a long time coming -- it was announced in January 2008, and has been in public beta since March. However, this long gestation period has created a tool that’s incredibly useful, full of innovations and -- unlike the original public beta -- reliably and solidly stable, and not much of a drain on your computer’s performance.
Our frustrations with it are largely related to wanting support for more applications – and not just creative ones, but everyday tools such as Outlook, Mail and Entourage to track parts of projects sent to clients.
Flow won’t suit everyone -- creatives who mainly work on single-use, unrelated projects will have little use for it -- but if you spend a lot of time on multi-faceted projects with lots of different versions and shared assets, Flow could make your life so much easier.