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To Flash Or Not To Flash

Flash designers amaze me. I thoroughly enjoy making graphic mockups, slicing them up and coding them for the web, then integrating them into a content management system. But those who can take a blank canvas and turn a movie into a website baffle my mind. However… Flash-based sites can also be the most annoying in the world.

I must issue some disclaimers at the outset of this article. First, I’m not a Flash designer. I can work with photo galleries, slideshows, and banners, but I don’t design web sites in flash. Second, Flash-based sites are ideal for some web applications such as photography, video, and other media-related sites. Third, some Flash designers avoid the mistakes I’ll highlight here and they deserve kudos.

What Annoys Me About Flash Sites

1. Sound. Adding music to a site is understandable. Forcing users to hear it when they log on is not. There’s nothing wrong with music incorporated into design, but make silence the default and let people turn the sound on.

2. Scrollbars. Little ones, in fact. Who wants to scroll through six paragraphs of information inside a box that’s 200 pixels high?

3. Little text. Yeah, it looks good, but it’s… small. We’re already all going blind from staring at monitors all day, at least give me text that can be re-sized.

4. File size. This is improving quickly but many of the “effects” created in Flash can be duplicated easily with the right javascript library, such as Mootools or Script.aculo.us, and they’ll be faster loading.

5. Overdesigning. Not everything has to slide around on the screen, especially every single time you mouse over the same graphic. Show off your design ability, but don’t just design to show off.

6. Code secrecy. The net gets better as we learn more tricks of the trade. We learn by dissecting sites the way a shade tree mechanic tears apart cars. With Flash, right-clicking is useless.

7. The absence of any real content. I often coach churches in their selection of web technologies and I’m amazed at how many want a flashy front page with all kinds of effects happening to dazzle the eyes of potential visitors, yet they think very little about the informational and inspirational aspects of their site. What good does it do for a visitor to say, “Wow! What a cool noise just happened when I moused over the spinning cross!?” It’s far better to give them clean content that draws them back for a second-, third-, etc. time.

When Flash Doesn’t Annoy Me

As I said before, Flash is awesome for portfolio-oriented businesses such as photography, music, and even web design agencies. It’s also good for packaging video. The FLV craze has brought attention to Flash as a great way to package media, and Adobe does a great job of shrinking video file sizes. Plus, they’re quickly solving security issues. Further, Flash is great in moderation when there are css-based areas of a site where the text is resizeable, the page can expand naturally, and the look remains clean.

Flash developers, don’t hate me, I actually envy your abilities. But those of you who are really good at Flash should take notice of how those who are really poor are cheapening your niche. In fact, if you’re really great, let me know and I may even throw a little business your way.