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May 06

Does Flash irk me?

2008 at 01.25 pm posted by Veerle Pieters

Recently my mailbox seems to contain a few messages of people mailing me about Flash. Many readers will likely assume that I have a natural distaste for anything Flash related. It’s not because I prefer HTML/CSS that I don’t like it or hate it as some people do. Flash/Flex have their place. With that out of the way let’s continue…

99% of Flash is bad

This isn't 1999 anymore where the web was filled with splash screens and large intros you couldn't skip. It was Jakob Nielsen who said that 99% of Flash is bad and while he had some valid points his advice is always a little too harsh for my taste. But like anything else in life it isn't the technology that is bad it is the execution.

It's all about the user experience

When you start thinking about any good user experience for the Web, it's important to evaluate the needs of the project. I personally believe that a good Web experience should be transparent so that the users can focus on his or her goals rather than trying to grasp the interface. A perfect example of a good Flash user experience is this Swedish site from IKEA about closets.

IKEA closets

Another fantastic user experience is found in the game "Get the Glass" created by North Kingdom, the agency where Robert Lindström works.

Get the Glass game

How to decide?

If I'm working on a project where Flash is involved I try to think in terms of user experience and usability first. I will question the purpose: do we need Flash to be able to do this or that? If we have a choice and we choose to use Flash will it enrich the user experience? Will it improve usability? In some situations where the choice is open and the options are as good as even to go either with Flash or not, the most logical option for me will be not to go with Flash. If using Flash brings a lot of added value for the user experience, then Flash will be my prefered choice, of course, as long as the usability doesn't get affected by it. It is the designer's job to make sure it doesn't. In fact with the freedom Flash gives you there comes great responsibility. Flash gives designers the ability to create complete new interactions and behaviors and it is just that what makes it hard. You have to think long and hard if the users will find this natural and expected behavior when creating these. If they aren't consistently implemented problems will rise. All in all, it's the excecution that will make it stand or fall. I believe Flash has its place. I don't see it as the "bad" way to design a site. I just think that each project should be carefully thought trough and it's wrong to just blindly decide that an entire site should be Flash based without even considering HTML/CSS.

Not being able to bookmark a webpage within a Flash site and not being able to use the browser's back and forward button is one of the dissadvantages of Flash in terms of usability. I did some research and it seems possible to have the back and forward browser button working. Back in 2001 Robert Penner experimented and found a solution to make this work, but it requires an HTML hidden frame that interacts with Flash and vice versa. So not really ideal. Today there are a few newer techniques already out there. One of them I found is Deep linking for Flash and Ajax from SWFAddress.

Is Flex any better?

I'm no expert but Aral Balkan is, and from what I read in this article there is still a bit of a way to go. For example:

The State of Accessibility in Flex
  • Accessibility is not enabled by default for Flex applications (ideally with a note stating: "We will be changing this in the next release.")
  • Accessibility in Flex is optimized for JAWS on Windows. (This is not necessarily a bad thing; better to have great support for one accessibility aid than shoddy support for several.)
  • JAWS users will need to install additional scripts to take advantage of advanced accessibility features.
  • Accessibility is more than adherence to standards and screen-reader support. For a full discussion, read Accessibility Best Practices for Flex.

Flash as complete site builder tool

One of the emails I talked about was from a person who is developing a flash platform that allows people to easily create a website. One of the questions that the person in question raised after my response that I wasn't interested was:

But if a graphic designer, new or experienced, could become a true web designer without needing to learn any code or html marking and still have the accessibility options that we are working on right now for out next mini version and all the "your own designs" upload capabilities, and with that being able to create almost any kind of website or online presentation for his customers – wouldn’t that be great?

This makes me think about the WYSIWYG applications and the promises that you can create a site without even touching a single line of code. This approach is broken in my humble opinion because if you want to call yourself a *true web designer* you got to have an understanding about what is beneath the graphical layer. A machine, how good it made be, will never have the capability to think like a human. It already starts with separating content from presentation. When I start the web development process I always start with thinking about structure first and the implications it may have.

Would any web designer want to learn code when he or she doesn’t have to when he/she knows that anything he creates in our flash platform has an HTML mirror for Seo and accessibility needs?

Same problem as above. How can you truly be good at it when you don't understand the technologies behind it. Every site and project is different and needs a different approach. A machine can't decide these things for you. Take the validator for example: your page can validate just fine when your structure is fundamentally wrong. I can't imagine a Flash application that takes all this in account. Even if it would be possible it would have to come with a questionnaire that takes every accessibility possibility in account. Hell, it's already difficult for an experienced person to understand and execute things wisely.

What features do we need in our flash platform to give the future web designers a truly strong design tool to compete with css?

It isn't about competing with CSS but about using the right tool or options for the right project. Like I said, to me personally it is impossible to build such a tool that thinks and behaves like a real human. A human that worked hard to understand web design in all its aspects. If that tool was there it would take a considerable amount of time to have enough input so that the Flash platform completely understands the situation. The only way my brain sees that possible would be in the form of a questionnaire and even than it isn't ideal because things sometimes change along the way and you have to adapt.

It's a great step in the right direction that the owner thinks about accessibility when developing this Flash application, but I have to disagree that it would ever become a replacement for a true web designer. To me this sort of thing belongs in the amateur world and should never promote itself as the solution to become a web design pro without study.


60served

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permalink this comment DeaPeaJay Tue May 6, 2008 at 02.21 pm

My big problem with flash is primarily with it’s accessibility. Creating a whole site as one big JPG with a huge image map on it is obviously a bad idea. But it seems to me that in terms of accessibility, Flash is only a few steps ahead of that, as far I can see.

You made a good point though. If the usability is great, and the project warrants flash, go for it.

A lot of cases that I get though are from clients who want to create a “wow factor” by using flash, and it has nothing to do with enhancing the user experience, and more often than not, can the experience can be enhanced better with advanced javascript technologies like jQuery or Scriptaculous. I would much rather devote my energy to learning those technologies than I would Flash.


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permalink this comment John Leschinski Tue May 6, 2008 at 02.37 pm

I completely agree. I wrote a piece on flash websites and photographers a few months ago. It seems you can’t be a successful photographer without ho hum flash and cheesy music. If it doesn’t add to the user experience in a way that HTML and CSS can’t, then there is no need for flash.


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permalink this comment Andrew Ingram Tue May 6, 2008 at 02.43 pm

Another problem with Flash/Flex is the the UI controls are proprietary and don’t necessarily behave in the same way as your operating system’s native controls.

If Flash used native controls by default (with the option for the designer to override them like with CSS) it would be a lot better in my eyes.


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permalink this comment Nick Toye Tue May 6, 2008 at 02.46 pm

Veerle, I’m glad that someone like yourself has said something like this. However, there are many clients out there who swear by the “wow” factor. 

Where I live in the North of England, there are many marketing and design agencies who offer me work, but every single one of them so far this year have said that the client want’s flash. Be it in the form of a splash page, banner, advert, image gallery, etc…

Its there for the sake of it. As a result I have had to pass on many job opportunities because a) I don’t do flash and b) they were not willing to budge on why they want flash.

So I say my piece and let them learn the hardway.

Now as for frameworks that you have talked about, I wholeheartedly agree that if you are to truly succeed as a web designer, you have to understand the science as well as the art. 

Any web designer/developer worth his salt needs to be able to think outside the box, be creative.  Not only in visual effects, but functionality too.  Flash based frameworks enforce the idea that you can think outside of the box, but that box is within another box, and its mine.

By the way, Get The Milk - now that is something special, and probably cost thousands of pounds/dollars.  Completely worth it because its immense. The everyman wanting to do Flash is unable to achieve that kind of production, but clients want it - and they also don’t want to pay for it.

Some really need to be educated into what can be done, what should be done, and what you can expect for your dollar.


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permalink this comment Tom Hermans Tue May 6, 2008 at 02.49 pm

Interesting article.

I agree with most of your thoughts, future versions of flash should be giving more attention to the web as collection of texts & pages, enhancing SEO and such, while keeping it a strong visual tool, but the way they’re going with Flex and Air seems very promising.

In the meantime it stays the weapon of choice for RICH Internet, media and stuff. It’s got more power than most people realise.


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permalink this comment David Tue May 6, 2008 at 03.17 pm

As far as developing flash goes I tend to steer clear. Usually as it isn’t much if anything to a website and because of the obvious SEO problems.

Nick Toye said:

Where I live in the North of England, there are many marketing and design agencies who offer me work, but every single one of them so far this year have said that the client want’s flash. Be it in the form of a splash page, banner, advert, image gallery, etc…

I have had similar scenarios with clients and designers. I can’t believe people still think a flash splash page is a good idea.  Luckily, I usually am able to convince them that it will damage their website.  Saying that they will lose visitors and thus revenue usually does the trick.

While I enjoy seeing beautiful flash interfaces online - they have to load fast as im pretty impatient and wont waste my time looking at a loading screen. (yet another problem with flash)


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permalink this comment Tory Tue May 6, 2008 at 03.38 pm

Very, very well put, Veerle. I would have to agree. Flash, is a very useful tool when used properly and when needed. I did some ranting of my own when people make a case that Flash should never be used. Hope you enjoy. Thanks!


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permalink this comment Nick Toye Tue May 6, 2008 at 03.53 pm

David said:

I have had similar scenarios with clients and designers.  I can’t believe people still think a flash splash page is a good idea.

Well it reminds me of the wonderful Mr Miyagi, or has he was better known, Pat Morita.

He once said that “Do Karate yes, or do Karate no, do Karate maybe, sooner or later - squish, like grape”.

Which roughly translated means, if your incredible talented, know what your doing, and can pull off that sweet perfect flash based design, then do it.  If you can’t, then don’t because you will come a cropper.

Unfortunately there are also people who are keeping alive the flash intro malarkey, by pretending to be something they are not.


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permalink this comment Mark Wunsch Tue May 6, 2008 at 04.27 pm

This approach is broken in my humble opinion because if you want to call yourself a *true web designer* you got to have an understanding about what is beneath the graphical layer.

Preach on.


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permalink this comment Olivia Tue May 6, 2008 at 04.28 pm

Totally agree with you - thanks for that interesting post.


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permalink this comment Matt Radel Tue May 6, 2008 at 04.32 pm

I’m a firm believer in using the right tool for the right job.


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permalink this comment esben Thomsen Tue May 6, 2008 at 04.48 pm

Flash sucks and its as simple as that!

Try to validate your xhtml and make it works equally in IE 6-7, webkit and FF and try to take a look at linux while your at it.

jQuery all the way


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permalink this comment Michaël Guitton Tue May 6, 2008 at 05.11 pm

Veerle, I couldn’t agree more.

IMHO, Flash is also the right tool for delivering video content on the Web—I mean until a non-proprietary video format is made available and is supported by a wide range of devices. [1]


[1] iPhone and iPod Touch have currently no built-in support for Flash-based content.


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permalink this comment Tom Hermans Tue May 6, 2008 at 08.00 pm

DeaPeaJay said:

A lot of cases that I get though are from clients who want to create a “wow factor” by using flash, and it has nothing to do with enhancing the user experience, and more often than not, can the experience can be enhanced better with advanced javascript technologies like jQuery or Scriptaculous.

John Leschinski said:

It seems you can’t be a successful photographer without ho hum flash and cheesy music. If it doesn’t add to the user experience in a way that HTML and CSS can’t, then there is no need for flash.

I want to point out that these techniques (perhaps not the cheesy music) indeed ADD to the user experience ! (what else does it do ? a photographer isn’t too worried about SEO, cause 99% of ‘em just present pretty pictures)

+ for a long time there was no alternative like the css/javascript-combo’s now.

I agree that the navigation/load on these sites (and even the presentation itself) sometimes is sucky, but imho the photographers sites are one of the best examples of flash put to work. Just because of the visual experience, and isn’t that a user experience as well ? That’s just the thing that attracted me to the web.


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permalink this comment Sean McAuliffe Tue May 6, 2008 at 08.40 pm

No matter how much you love artful, well-acted, innovative independent films, there’s always going to be a Michael Bay blowing things up and cashing in at the box office. Sometimes I just want to sit back and be wowed by a summer blockbuster. And sometimes I just like to be wowed by a good ol’ fashion Flash site.

Kidding aside - I agree that its best use now is in video deployment and creating experiences beyond just play, pause and stop. I think they were incredibly smart to focus on that.


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permalink this comment Arik Tue May 6, 2008 at 09.13 pm

Hello again and thank you for your published answers to my questions.

First of all, I also saw your recommended good flash examples a few months ago, and like you, I was amazed.

Secondly, all your points about the disadvantages of flash were the first things we considered when we started to develop Wix.  We do have expert css/html web designers on our dev team you know.

And like you: I have to disagree on some of your points.

This is not 1999, as anyone who used the wix.com flash design platform can tell you.

Only for amateurs?  It is true that there are amateur website designs and expert website designs out there, but the main difference between them is in the amount of money spent on their design and construction, not on anything else.

Wix was not created to be used by Nike and IKEA, it was developed to serve all those who can’t afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their websites – which means most of the human race that needs a web presence in some form or other.

I can’t imagine a Flash application that takes all this in account” and “The only way my brain sees that possible would be in the form of a questionnaire and even than it isn’t ideal because things sometimes change along the way and you have to adapt

Well, we already have a questioner waiting for any graphic or wed designers who is willing to try out wix, and give us his input on how to improve Wix for their needs.  So there is no need to imagine any more, but try.

And since we are still in closed beta, you can use the special registration gate I prepared for the design community.
http://www.wix.com/webdesign/graphic designers invite

Thank you again for your answers and for your amazing blog.

Arik


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permalink this comment Jin Tue May 6, 2008 at 10.42 pm

i agree with the sentiment of using the right tool for the right job.

imo, i like flash for:

* games
* rich media sites(that target youths or tech geeks)
* video streaming

hmm that’s all.


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permalink this comment Simeon Tue May 6, 2008 at 11.07 pm

It’s gotta be all out flash, for a purpose, or none at all. I had someone recently say to me they saw some “page turning” effect and wanted that on their site. I had to inform them that while that’s tricky and all, most of their users would just rather a “next” button.

Bring on MooTools and their kind for flashy effects, built into the HTML. Leave flash for the flash sites.


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permalink this comment John Faulds Tue May 6, 2008 at 11.17 pm

Nick Toye said:

Be it in the form of a splash page, banner, advert, image gallery, etc.

Splash page no, and complete image galleries will have some accessibility problems, but I don’t see much problem with using Flash for fading in & out banners etc where the primary use is as decoration: if they have Flash they get the full experience, if they don’t they get a replacement image instead.

I have to agree with Veerle though about not thinking that a tool that helps wannabe web designers skip the whole process of actually learning how to do the job properly is a good idea. If you want to be good at something, there should be no shortcuts.


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permalink this comment alvaro Tue May 6, 2008 at 11.47 pm

mmm.. i don’t know… i still hate a site with 99% of flash, flash is really really good for banners, or some “cool” dynamic section in the site


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permalink this comment wendell Wed May 7, 2008 at 01.34 am

hi veerle! great post and fabulous references.

as you mentioned in your post, from an seo perspective, flash certainly makes it more difficult to market a website. i think most designers that build a site in flash lose sight of how very expensive and demanding it can be to market a site built completely in flash correctly. 

from a usability standpoint, only a select few truly understand how to work with it correctly. Flash is such a pain in my opinion.


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permalink this comment DeaPeaJay Wed May 7, 2008 at 02.06 am

Tom Hermans said:

I want to point out that these techniques (perhaps not the cheesy music) indeed ADD to the user experience !

Point taken. Photography *can* be enhanced well with Flash. Although, there are several photography sites that are very good that simply use dissolves through a series of pictures, and forward, next, and pause buttons, or a sidebar of thumbnails that dissolve to the image, and they’re all built with Flash. But it’s entirely unnecessary as a good clean dissolve can be done perfectly with jQuery.


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permalink this comment Alex Wed May 7, 2008 at 07.58 am

Hiya Veerle,

I liked your article, and I agree that Flex does have some way to go still, while it does its job for all intents and purposes, its accessibility factor is what may cause a problem.

With respect to Flash, in my eyes it also depends on the industry you are working for. I used to work for a major power tools manufacturer in the UK, and there the requirements for flash were limited at best, simply because of the target audience using pc equipment that was “from a couple of years ago” at best. As such, the user’s need was to see picture, specifications, tool comparisons, and a contact button.

In my current industry everything is about the travel market, and here interactivity or “the WOW-factor” is what drives booking conversions and repeat visits. It wasn’t always so, but it is coming, especially with clients being more and more interested in mash-ups such as this one.

We have just redone a client’s mapping solutions (destination information and itinerary information) by going completely flash, and the response has been very positive, with an about $0 increase in visitors (and 0 increase in repeat visitors) to these pages, and with a 170% increase in converted bookings - completely without any help of PPC campaigns. So that’s a start! ;)

Cheers for the article, keep up the great work!


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permalink this comment André Wed May 7, 2008 at 09.33 am

Hhmm - I like Flash for RIAs, too, but Silverlight gives me more flexibility and a better programming experience (hey: it´s basd on xml…). So Silverlight is my way of developing RIAs today and in future.


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permalink this comment frank Wed May 7, 2008 at 09.54 am

I guess it’s important to make a distinction between a general-purpose public website and a specific, complex web-application here.

For the latter category, the use of a fully flash- or flex-based interface can indeed be a good choice, although I would personally always prefer a ajaxified webapplication (using e.g. dojo with siblings dijit and dojox).

For public/ company websites, containing a mix of text-based content, a few simple applications and a some multimedia on the other hand, accessibility and SEO will be very high on the features-list, meaning it may be wise to limit the use of flash to maybe to some fancy banners and movies.

As far as Flash and SEO are concerned; Google does index Flash, but that isn’t always a good thing, as google links directly to the swf-file instead of to the embedding page. That means that you might loose visitors if you don’t take this into account. Luckily there are some ways to solve this, as I explained on my blog yesterday (shameless plug, sorry veerle).


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permalink this comment e-man Wed May 7, 2008 at 04.07 pm

I absolutely loathe Flash but I do have a number of Flash sites bookmarked for inspiration. The really good ones (far and few between) have a sense of adventure and freedom about them that is pretty hard to achieve with regular HTML/CSS, not without a lot of scripting anyway.

Interestingly enough, an increasing number of clients (especially business) is demanding a cleanly coded standards-based website rather than a flash vehicle for their company. Some of them are even asking for valid code :)


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permalink this comment Nick Toye Wed May 7, 2008 at 10.27 pm

John Faulds said:

Splash page no, and complete image galleries will have some accessibility problems, but I don’t see much problem with using Flash for fading in & out banners etc where the primary use is as decoration

I agree that fading animation is cool, and is subtle.  That kind of flash is good integrated with a html/css site.  Like the PGA sites.

I was really referring to the tacky text spinning, and zooming effects that we get.


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permalink this comment Marcos Peebles Thu May 8, 2008 at 04.24 am

Nice article Veerle. Kinda funny though that this discussion takes place in 2008. As many stated here above, you can’t compare what is not comparable. Well, you might as an intellectual exercice. But in real life, clients will decide, according to their wallets/knowledge/education. There’s room for everybody and eveything, as long as it is well done (and even when it’s not, sadly enough). I fully agree that there is no shortcut in being a webdesigner. No point in making amazing layouts if they don’t fit in the process, wether code related problems or budget or GUI or whatever one has to handle with. Same goes for coders, same goes for all the people in the “chain”. You gotta sweat and sweat again… No pain, no gain.


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permalink this comment Suadref Thu May 8, 2008 at 04.59 am

Absolutely true, Veerle. Flash really irritates me, most of the time. I listen to music while I surf and when I open a website in one of my many tabs, and it turned out to be flash, and playing some background music especially. I had to hunt down which tab it was and without giving it a chance, I’ll just close it. Lost one visitor instantly there.

Rarely do flash websites deliver its purpose. But I wouldn’t say they’re obsolete just yet.


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permalink this comment James Creare Thu May 8, 2008 at 10.00 am

Veerle, I understand your problem with Flash also.

At our design studio, we find that when we are pitching work, and making presentations, having a small tasteful piece of flash on the homepage, can clinch the pitch.

I think so long as flash is used correctly, and in moderation, it can become an attractive feature in a CSS design.

What we tend to do on an average site is to just have a small piece of flash on the homepage, that is part of the design, and then the flash usually doesn’t continue through the other pages of the website.


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permalink this comment DazzleCat Thu May 8, 2008 at 02.56 pm

Great entry… there is such a perception around that a good website is one that uses flash. Flash totally cheeseys me off.


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permalink this comment Jorge Quinteros Thu May 8, 2008 at 03.45 pm

Great post and I completely agree with you in that the whole usage of Flash is more about the user experience and less to do with availability. I enjoy a sprinkle of Flash here and there but not to the point where it’s going to tarnish and crash my browser.


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permalink this comment CS Thu May 8, 2008 at 04.03 pm

Its’ sure that Flash shouldn’t be use to make web site (all website in Flash)
When I was starting my webmaster journey I made one or two Flash sites.. belive me.. now it’s looks very comics…

Now I’m html/css/php/mysql webmsater.. but and i proud :)
But its not good that are many web sites in Internet made all in Flash…

good artice,
Greetings C.S.


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permalink this comment Cristina Thu May 8, 2008 at 07.17 pm

I totally agree with you about to Flash or not to Flash, haha. I’d have a few people in my computer class who couldn’t code a web page, but could make one in Flash and would ask me why I wouldn’t use it. I admit, I do prefer hard coding, but also it just depends on the project.

Bottom line, like you said, a true web designer knows the code behind the design. Excellent article!


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permalink this comment Daniel Thu May 8, 2008 at 11.29 pm

Informative article Veerle but somewhat scattered. You talk about usability, accessibility, Flash, Flex, CSS but you do not successfully tie them together.

I am surprised that you would link Flash to Flex. They are used for different things. Perhaps write an article on Flash specifically and a separate one on Flex. Or an article on usability specifically. Then maybe another article on accessibility. What about RIAs?


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permalink this comment aylwin Fri May 9, 2008 at 06.47 am

I agree with the statement that Flash is not a good tool for web development due to its limitation in terms of accessibility.

However, I understand that photographer want that site to be Flash-ed because they do not want their photos to be downloadable - and Flash did great job on protecting it.
Should there any solution for Javascript to provides this functionality, I’m sure Flash could be out of our way.


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permalink this comment funkyboy Fri May 9, 2008 at 12.51 pm

I agree with you, more freedom (to redesign the interaction) implies more responsibility to avoid users getting “trapped” in “interaction paths” that are unknown. Technically Flash/Flex might seem easier to adopt from a programmer view point, because you skip the “compatibility with browser” issue.

Let me also mention a new trend, ad hoc clients and rich internet applications, which move to the desktop some of the experiences (e.g. chat or browsing a db) usually “lived” through a browser. Web will never die, of course, but I think some experience can be more effective if lived through a custom application rather than through the browser.


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permalink this comment Sean McAuliffe Fri May 9, 2008 at 02.48 pm

I’d be curious to know if there are any studies or surveys of user experiences in this regard. Do users realize they are looking at Flash vs. AJAX vs. something else? Do they report being more impressed by one or the other? I agree with most of what has been said here, but it has been said mostly by designers and developers and I don’t think the perspective is the same as the “average” website visitor.


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permalink this comment Mike J Fri May 9, 2008 at 05.24 pm

Veerle - Well stated. I am a Flash and web developer, and I happen to greatly dislike sites done in Flash - just doesn’t seem the appropriate tool for the job. Though as was mentioned, sometimes business wants the fancy animations for marketing wow. But I think that can be acceptable when used as an interactive header in an oversized sub-banner area ( like is done on the Adobe site and many others ).

It really excels at interactive applications ( design a t-shirt / book / photoshop / etc using JS and DOM ) and video. Those are the things I love doing with it. It’s also way more approachable for things like games and experiments than java applets in my opinion.

But if you want large quantities of text entry or displaying text and whatnot ... there’s already a tool to do that and we call it HTML. Just like we wouldn’t advocate taking 3 pages of text from HTML into one gigantic image just because we can, we shouldn’t responsibly advocate shoehorning Flash into a niche that is better served with another technology. We have a lot of tools at our disposal when it comes to web development and how to present a site / corporate image, and choosing the best one for the need is probably an area that needs more focus by many.


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permalink this comment Todd Fri May 9, 2008 at 09.42 pm

The document-based workflow of web browsing is extremely popular for a reason: It’s easy to use with low intellectual investment.

The ‘advanced’ workflows of RIAs often require a greater investment from the user. Unless they are designed extraordinarily well, it leads to frustration and disuse.


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permalink this comment Maurice Williams Sat May 10, 2008 at 08.27 am

The best sentence in this article: “In fact with the freedom Flash gives you there comes great responsibility.”

I think this gets to the core of why I find so many “serious web designers” who are so personally offended by Flash. It’s because so many Flash sites are designed irresponsibly.

On the other hand, when I hear “if you want to call yourself a *true web designer* you got to have an understanding about what is beneath the graphical layer” I’m reminded of the guy I knew back in 1990 who could edit PostScript by hand. That skill was needed to troubleshoot Illustrator documents (and I guess it may still come in handy at some pre-press shops) but as tools got better no one needed to know anything about PostScript. The same will happen with the Web. There is too much money to be made by creating a tool that allows designers to step away from lower-level code.

For some people it seems that the code is as important as the end product. But these Wix guys understand that the end product is what is important to the public. Their tool may be a bad tool; Flash itself will probably reach a dead end and be replaced by something smarter. But there will eventually be a professional tool that writes code that will be good enough.

Web pages (albeit crude ones) are already just another output option of many design programs now. In 10 years no one will believe that Internet content was once coded by hand in something called HTML.


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permalink this comment April Sat May 10, 2008 at 05.25 pm

Maybe Jakob doesn’t like flash because he jus t hasn’t got the skills. I think he should take a look at his own less than desirable development skills before he goes round slating everyone that doesn’t makes sites that look like they were made in 1996.

Nice post and good to see someone who takes the effort to make sure everything validates.


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permalink this comment frank Sat May 10, 2008 at 08.45 pm

just found a good article about situations when and more importantly when not to use flash;
http://www.wakeuplater.com/website-building/places-that-flash-does-not-belong.aspx


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permalink this comment Tom Sun May 11, 2008 at 10.48 am

Maurice Williams said:

On the other hand, when I hear “if you want to call yourself a *true web designer* you got to have an understanding about what is beneath the graphical layer” I’m reminded of the guy I knew back in 1990 who could edit PostScript by hand.

Maurice - really? I’ve not seen that happen with software development. Granted, design programs should soon be able to export simple text and image sites to valid, semantic HTML/CSS/images, but what about stuff like custom content management systems, Javascript, or indeed, Flash?

I’m not sure if you are a web designer/developer yourself, and I’m sure you didn’t mean to make out that the entire job of a web developer could be replaced by a piece of software with a decent Export function, but just to be clear, *serious* web development (by which I mean being a CSS guru, working with object oriented PHP/ActionScript, etc) is really just another branch of software development. There’s no less skill involved, it’s just a slightly different output medium, and that’s not going to be replaced by a piece of software (can you tell I count myself amongst them? :))

Regarding the topic of full Flash websites, as others have stated, the real problem is inappropriate use of Flash and a lack of care for accessibility. I remember reading on /. about a bank who changed their homepage to Flash, and you couldn’t access online banking without Flash installed. That’s just stupid.

On the other hand, I do a lot of Flash work for well established design firms/photographers/print companies. For these people, the image of the site is everything, and they want a content managed site using Avant Garde or whatever for the body copy, with nice animations and smooth image preloading, etc. etc. As the main purpose of the site is to be visual, the accessibility argument becomes less important IMO, and any Flash dev worth their salt should be able to use SWFAddress to enable back/forward history navigation, unique page URL’s (allowing bookmarking) and alternative, text-only content for each page if Flash isn’t installed (which works a treat with Google).

So a well developed Flash site, for the appropriate target audience, is actually not really any less usable than the equivalent HTML site. I still want to hit my computer when Flash steals the focus and I can’t Ctrl-Tab in Firefox though ;)


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permalink this comment ana gomez Mon May 12, 2008 at 12.26 am

Really intresting thoughts.


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permalink this comment J. Jeffryes Mon May 12, 2008 at 05.26 am

Flash is just a tool. It’s no more responsible for bad usability or bad design than your keyboard is.

The “problem” is that Flash is easy to dabble in, but hard to master. And the demand for Flash outstrips the supply of people that have mastered it. So you see a lot of bad Flash done by people that aren’t very good at it.

Good Flash design is often indistinguishable from the rest of the page. It blends in, and the only hint you’re dealing with Flash is when you take advantage of functionality you can’t get any other way. I’m willing to bet everyone that reads this has unknowingly looked at Flash on several pages today. The difference was those pages were built correctly, by designers that had mastered Flash.


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permalink this comment davansy Mon May 12, 2008 at 10.28 am

veerle,I love the article you wrote as well as you work you made, to be honest,I know some Cool Flash site such as Bumpnetworks.net and 2advanced.com are really wonderful site. I knew little about Flash,so I didn’t know It well or bad for web structure. Now,I am busy in helpping my school to build a web with css skill.


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permalink this comment Maurice Williams Mon May 12, 2008 at 12.28 pm

Maurice - really? I’ve not seen that happen with software development. Granted, design programs should soon be able to export simple text and image sites to valid, semantic HTML/CSS/images, but what about stuff like custom content management systems, Javascript, or indeed, Flash?

Hi Tom,

I don’t disagree essentially with anything you’ve said. I would just point out that starting with PageMill in 1993 there have been attempts to provide solutions for those who wanted to avoid code. Amateurish pages, with bloated code to be sure, but they got better along with the Web. 15 years later there’s Sitegrinder and others, and now this Wix thing. My point is these tools, crude as they are, are catching up with hand coding.

So in 2008 you say the toolbox for a serious web designer or developer is CSS mastery with object oriented PHP/ActionScript? OK. What I’m saying is that what you can create today with those skills will eventually become checkboxes and pulldown options in a web design program’s interface.


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permalink this comment Maurice Williams Mon May 12, 2008 at 12.53 pm

One other thing—I don’t mean to suggest that any professional Web designer or developer necessarily will be replaced.

What I am suggesting is that higher level tools will appear that make hand coding a thing of the past, and that it’s a good idea to investigate the attempts (Wix, etc.) so that you’re not caught flat-footed writing PostScript by hand when Illustrator 2.0 comes out :)


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permalink this comment Veerle Mon May 12, 2008 at 01.41 pm

Maurice Williams said:

On the other hand, when I hear “if you want to call yourself a *true web designer* you got to have an understanding about what is beneath the graphical layer” I’m reminded of the guy I knew back in 1990 who could edit PostScript by hand. That skill was needed to troubleshoot Illustrator documents (and I guess it may still come in handy at some pre-press shops) but as tools got better no one needed to know anything about PostScript. The same will happen with the Web. There is too much money to be made by creating a tool that allows designers to step away from lower-level code.

I never had to do such thing in the past (15) years and don’t recall any colleagues doing so either. I also don’t agree with your comparison here of Illustrator/PostScript coding. It just holds no ground in my humble opinion. The difference is, with Illustrator you don’t have to know what is behind the application to create “good or bad” things in output. As long as you know enough technical background of print, you know what you need to know to do a good job here.  With web design you do. It’s all about coding to be able to do a good job. You can code pages that look perfect on the eye but are completely inaccessible code-wise. You constantly have to make decisions in terms of structural code to make sure your page is well structured and accessible.

About Wix: I don’t see the point of this being a solution for (professional) designers who don’t want to code. It looks more like a solution for those who can’t design, and don’t want to bother with design even. On top of that they don’t want to bother with code either. For me this doesn’t have any value as a professional tool. A professional designer, wants to use his/her own design, not to choose from templates etc. The design is made in Photoshop or Illustrator and then turned into a webpage. If you have to pick a design from a gallery of templates, you’re not allowed to call yourself a designer. That’s crystal clear to me.

Arik said:

Well, we already have a questioner waiting for any graphic or wed designers who is willing to try out wix, and give us his input on how to improve Wix for their needs.  So there is no need to imagine any more, but try.

I didn’t see any questionnaire either for making structural decisions and no accessibility options either. I also saw a lot of usability issues with the whole app, starting with the registration already. You don’t end up at the page where you can start editing. You have to find your own way to just name 1.


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permalink this comment Marc Calatayud Mon May 12, 2008 at 04.59 pm

I think Flash is good for a few things on the Web, such as delivering video or videogames.

The problem is, as previously pointed out, Flash is used in a bad way 99% of the time.

Even the 2advanced.com crew (a Flash reference site), is doing it plain wrong in some sections like “quick news” or “where are we” (in the bottom of the main page), which could be HTML. The text is not even selectable to copy their phone number or email!


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permalink this comment Maurice Williams Mon May 12, 2008 at 06.18 pm

Hi Veerle,

1990 is a bit more than 15 years ago :) At that time, and for some time after, editing PostScript by hand was a central skill required of service bureaus who needed to troubleshoot Illustrator files. Illustrator files created by designers who had no idea what problems they might be creating. Why? Because they were using a design tool that hid the underlying PostScript code.

But you don’t accept my PostScript analogy. No problem. Time will tell.

Don’t be too hard on the Wix guys, though. They are only going where the money is. There will always be a place for professional designers/developers.


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permalink this comment DeaPeaJay Mon May 12, 2008 at 07.11 pm

@Maurice - I think the problem is that you’re thinking of web sites purely from a visual standpoint, but the idea of standards is that the content comes first, marked up semantically and organized structurally with html and from there is styled with CSS. WYSIWYG is fundamentally flawed in my opinion.


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permalink this comment bill seymour Tue May 13, 2008 at 12.49 pm

I recall some years ago an ad (I think for IBM- since I can’t recall the product, I guess the ad failed…) where two guys are trying to design a website for their company. Their product is something mundane, quiet, but the guys are mesmerized by a web page that has animated flames. Both stare at the page enviously, murmuring: “Fire….”

Maybe designers feel the need to be ‘cutting edge’. Maybe *some* websites need to be ‘cutting edge’. But shouldn’t the needs of the end-users, the customers, be the real focus? If Flash is what excites or encourages the folks who visit a site, then great. On the other hand-

A cutting edge site with frustrated visitors is a failed site, as I see it. Even if the designer and the client lovingly click to the site, murmuring: “oooh, Fire…”


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permalink this comment Aaron Wed May 14, 2008 at 12.54 am

I’m always saddened by the sheer volume of clients that believe Flash(y) sites take more skill to produce, and hence are more valuable, then css/html based sites.

Your response to the WYSIWYG Flash tool is perfectly stated.

Thanks for driving home those key messages to your blog audience.


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permalink this comment billseymour Thu May 15, 2008 at 01.50 pm

BTW- For an example of user frustration with a Flash site, consider Adobe’s Kuler site. Here is a representative link of user experiences trying to ‘see’ Kuler using a variety of browswers.

I think Kuler is fascinating- yet there are compatibility problems. (I, using Firefox and Vista, need to use the IE Tab to read Kuler as IE).

Speaking generally, I don’t think it is wise to create a site that requires this much explanation to help people visit it. (Adobe is a special case, since folks will make the effort; if this had been a ‘new site’ I was visting, I would not spend the time, and would simply move on.)


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permalink this comment Gilbert Thu May 15, 2008 at 11.00 pm

Part of the skill of being a good web designer is to figure out what’s best for the project, not your career.

Good Flash

www.medici.tv

Dreadful Flash

www.multi-mania.be/2008/

(try registering! Innovative, but I didn’t need that much innovation while signing up.)


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permalink this comment Bob Nolin Sat May 24, 2008 at 05.04 am

Two comments:

1 - funny, but the absolute WORST site I’ve ever tried (and failed) to navigate was IKEA’s. So it was surprising to see it singled out here as a good example. Totally unusable site, IMHO.

2- In response to the person looking into creating a tool for website creation using Flash: he/she may want to look at a site I’ve used for going on four years now, Moonfruit.com, which is a Flash website builder. I’m planning to migrate to a blog-based website or CMS using HTML/CSS, because my site has terrible SEO (due to being completely Flash), among other things. The site is built with Flash and the site that is built runs on Flash. Perhaps a site builder that generated HTML would be better, for SEO at least.


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permalink this comment Veerle Sat May 24, 2008 at 10.00 am

Bob Nolin said:

funny, but the absolute WORST site I’ve ever tried (and failed) to navigate was IKEA’s. So it was surprising to see it singled out here as a good example. Totally unusable site, IMHO.

I’m not referring to the main IKEA site. I’m referring to a mini-site of IKEA, about their closets, which I believe is a good example of how Flash brings more value to the user experience.


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permalink this comment John Macpherson Wed May 28, 2008 at 09.51 am

Lets not forget that “Flash” has revolutionised the web in the last few years : Video.

Technically that is Flash. Many people hate “it”, but lets not forget that video is an integral part of Flash these days, and without the small plugin, millions of us would have to go and download some hefty other software.

Off course you arent talking about that aspect of it. Your point in not putting technology first is still one
i sometimes struggle to force upon myself, because of the cool factor or impressing people.

Jacob Neilsons latest report is spot on, in that he says that web users go online to complete a task, as in, get exact information or buy a very specific product. There is even a place for great funky design and quirky Flash animations / sites.

As you so rightly point out its all about thinking the end users experience at all times.

Great article, many thanks.



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