When Good Flash Goes Bad
I don't believe Flash is 99% evil or that Flash is 99% good. Flash is a tool.
Flash is a tool and like any tool it can be misused if it's used incorrectly. If you're cutting down a tree for firewood, a chainsaw is a good tool for the job. If you're trying to taper the leg of a table, a chainsaw is not the right woodworking tool.
Designers — like woodworkers — often make two fundamental mistakes. They confuse:
- CAN with SHOULD. Yes, you can use a chainsaw to taper a table leg, but should you?
- WANT with NEED. People want a Ferrari to drive to work, but they need an automobile.
While there are no ironclad rules when you should or shouldn't use Flash, a little common sense can be helpful. Ask yourself the following questions:
- If I use Flash on my site, will it cause people to write me checks with lots of zeroes in front of the decimal point?
- Can the same effect be achieved with HTML and graphics?
- Does Flash get in the way of the user such as increased wait time or visitors who don't have the plugin?
- Has any important customer called up and asked, "Why aren't you using Flash on your site?"
- Do the people suggesting Flash have any vested interest? (Flash designers)
- Do the people suggesting Flash work in the marketing department? (Marketing people, like myself, are mesmerized by shiny things.)
For reasons known but to God, there's something about Flash that causes otherwise normal people to use other bad design techniques they wouldn't normally be inclined to do if they were working with HTML like:
- Splash pages
- "Mystery Meat Navigation" — especially the animated kind.
- Small text. Really, really small text.
- Having Flash automatically load background music.
There's a whole chapter in my book covering the appropriate (and non-appropriate) uses of Flash.
How Flashy Web Sites Can Turn Off Customers
Biggest Mistakes in Web Design 1995-2015
In my article, The Biggest Mistakes in Web Design 1995-2015, Mistake #13 is "Misusing Flash." For simplicity, I'm repeating the section entitled, "Annoying Flash Techniques I Have Witnessed." There's another section, "Proper Uses of Flash I Have Witnessed," that I'm not re-running.
Annoying Flash Techniques I Have Witnessed
- Forgetting to put a “Skip Intro” button, forcing visitors to see your stupid FlashSplash page every time they visit. The problem could be “solved” by setting a cookie so visitors only see the animation once unless they click a button to “play it again, Sam.”
- Putting a “Skip Intro” button on the page. Of course, we all realize that a “Skip Intro” button signifies that the content on the page is worthless. Good Web designers only put content that must be viewed on a page. By giving them the option to skip this material, you're saying it's not worth seeing. If it isn't worth seeing, why do you have it on your site in the first place?
No, I'm not trying to have it both ways. An introductory Flash animation is a Splash page. Splash pages, as we learned long, long ago, are not necessary. If you must have a “Skip Intro” button, make it big enough so people can see it and have it available as soon as the animation starts. Don't wait ten seconds to load the button. Here's a useful Flash video about Skip Intro.
- Making people listen to music. If you have (original) music in your Flash animation, give people the option to turn off the music.
And if people turn the off the music on one page, it means they don't want to hear it on any other page. There are dozens of sites where the programmer hasn't figured out how to make the music stop on all pages. They have a “Stop the Music” button on each page. Arrgh!!! A good example that may not be work appropriate (I warned you) is a fashion site where if you turn off the music on the FlashSplash page and click "Enter", the music automatically comes back on. The designer should be whipped (unless s/he likes to be whipped).
- Creating a “non-Flash” version of a site that still includes some Flash animation. If you have an HTML version of your Flash site, make sure there's no Flash. There are few things more stupid than using Flash in a non-Flash Web site.
- Using Mystery Meat Navigation with Flash—taking one bad technique and making it four times worse.
Hugh MacLeod brilliantly sums up everything that I feel is wrong with Flash in one simple cartoon that is Not Suitable For Most Workplaces.