In my last software review, I covered Blast, an application that shows you the recent files you’ve open or modified. In a similar spirit – but with more of a creative, professional spin – I’d like to introduce you to GridIron Software’s Flow.
Flow’s main goal is to help you stay sane and organized with all of the different files and projects you have cluttered around your Mac or Window’s box. Instead of creating a large ‘collection bucket’ for your files or automatically sort them as you create them, Flow takes a different approach, more on that after the break.
How It Works
When you first launch Flow, it will go through an installer to get started. Afterwards, you should notice that you have both an icon in your Applications folder as well as a hexagonal icon that will sit in your menu bar.
Flow’s approach to keeping your creative files organized is different than most pieces of software. It keeps track of where every file lives and how that file is connected to others on your system. So, instead of forcing rules or structure onto your creative process, it just is an omnipresent application that follows what you make on your computer- be it a Photoshop file, Illustrator document, a Final Cut Pro project or any other creative endeavor.
Going With the Flow
I found Flow to have a fairly high learning curve. I would highly recommend you to check out the numerous videos and screencasts they have on their website. It really helps understanding what the software is designed to do before you try to integrate it within your workflow.
To make things clearer, here’s a usecase example. I created an Indesign file that had other images and layers plugged into it. Instead of jumping into Adobe’s Indesign program to find a specific layer that contains a PNG of the client’s logo, we can open the file in Flow. At that point, Flow will display a easy to follow flowchart to map what raw files are used to create that Illustrator file on the left and the exported versions on the right. As a result, we can easily find the same logo to incorporate into another project.
Flow incorporates built-in versioning, so if you accidentally make an unwanted change, you can revert back to an earlier version. Their versioning system is similar to a Time Machine backup- but without the external drive and space-time-continuum restoration interface.
Archiving and File Saving
Once a project has been completed it can be hard to figure out where all the documents are, spread across your computer. Flow makes archiving these (or Packaging as they call it) a cinch! Just open the Flow map document and package it. This will compress the project full of files into one simple document that can be stored on an external drive or restored if the client needs to change anything.
With Flow’s ability to track files used in various projects, it will help save you if you try to delete a necessary file. Flow will alert you whenever you try to throw a file away that might be used in a project and offers a simple ‘Recover’ option. Hopefully this will prevent last minute recreations of needed layers and media due to accidental deletions.
Collaborating and Time Tracking
Working with others and sharing files across drives is also fairly effortless with Flow. It has the ability to track files that are stored on a server as well as remember files that go offline (if you take your work laptop home for instance). Whenever you’re in the Flow software, you can easily see the location (or last known location) of any file by clicking it inside the flowchart.
If you need to let a colleague finish up a project for you, you can use the archive feature to package up everything associated with a working project and ship the document off. As long as your collaborators have Flow, they can unpackage and redeploy the project without skipping a beat.
Another great feature of Flow is its internal time tracking system. The software records the time you work on the file, making sure every billable hour is logged. From daily to project wide reports, Flow ensures you can have accurate estimates and invoices without needing another piece of software.
Problems with Flow
While I really enjoyed the number of videos available from GridIron Software, I had a very difficult time figuring out how to use Flow in the right manner. I felt a little lost, but maybe it was just my expectations and approach to use Flow.
Flow isn’t magic, and doesn’t work for every type of freelancer out there. However, I’ve found it doing quite a superb job with Final Cut, web development, and Adobe Creative Suite projects.
It works with CS5, if you’re using the latest version of Adobe’s software.
Finally, if you install Flow on a trial basis, when the trial ends the software beings to bug you about the trial experience. Even after trying to close the ‘nag’ screen repeatedly, it would pop up every hour or so to ask again.
I really wish the developers would realize that they are probably getting more negative feedback than if they had simply given an option to ‘Never Ask Again’. It just leaves a bitter aftertaste that I’m sure isn’t pushing people to buy the software.
Wrapping it Up
If you find yourself getting stressed out about files scattered all over the place or if you are constantly deleting and recreating files, Flow can help stop the ‘chaos.’ I would definitely recommend that you give it a shot and download it.
However, if you are already using another file organization system- either your own system or another software based organizer- you’ll be better off saving the $199 (this one doesn’t come cheap!). GridIron Software does offer 50% for students and other enterprise based pricing.
What do you do to keep sane and organized? Is Flow the software you were looking for? Leave a comment with your system or opinion!