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.
How to decide?
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.