Flash Web Design

Flash is a powerful web technology that achieves a high level of visual impact from the graphical point of view. Unfortunately, it is widely misused in web design. There are still many problems with Flash, especially related to usability and search engine behaviour; we need to thoroughly understand what those problems are before we decide to use Flash for our site.

As with any business decision, it all boils down to understanding what our target audience wants.

If you want to make a big impression from a graphical point of view, Flash is definitely a good approach. However, concrete evidence still points to the fact that most web users utilize the web to find information, and what they regard most important is:

  1. Quality of content
  2. Ease of navigation
  3. Speed.

Users also consider the web a highly interactive medium: they are unlikely to watch a computer screen for long periods of time without giving some sort of input.

Flash technology presents several problems that go against the way most people use the web. For example:

Bandwidth and Load Time Constrains:
Sites designed with Flash take a long time to download and consume vast amounts of bandwidth. Not all users have a broadband connection. Flash forces users with dial-up connections to spend valuable time watching the load bar, instead of getting to the information they want, fast.

Usability Constrains:
When you navigate a Flash site designed with a older version, the back button does not work: instead of taking you to the previous screen, it will get you out of the Flash site. Also, the standard colors for visited and unvisited links will not work, and users have no control over the text size they want to use.

Furthermore, many times Flash sites go against the interactive nature of the web. Since Flash technology favors a "presentation style" approach that resembles television, users are many times reduced to mere observers that get bored after a while, no matter how good the graphics look.

Search Engine Constrains:
Although large search engines like Google now have some Flash indexing capabilities, these are still very limited. You will definetely have a hard time achieving high rankings with a Flash site. One option around this problem is to design a second, search-engine-friendly HTML version of your site. This, though, usually represents an unnecessary expense in both time and money, since in most cases the HTML version alone will get the job done.

Although few, there are some instances when Flash technology can actually be helpful:

  1. When you need to show a presentation, for example a demo of your product.
  2. To develop interactive games, like those found on sites for kids like Sesame Street, Nickelodeum, or Yahoo! Games.
  3. When you want to dress up a minimalist site. In this case, a small Flash animation or banner embedded in an HTML document will not consume excessive bandwidth, will load fast, and will enhance the appearance of a bare-bones site.

Although Macromedia (the company that developed Flash) is actively working to improve Flash's usability problems (they even formed a partnership with usability guru Jakob Nielsen in 2002), issues like slow downloads and search engine un-friendliness still remain a problem. Until these issues are addressed and solved, you will be better-off by only using Flash in those rare instances when it actually enhances the value of your content.