1: Could you list as many Flash websites you think use the technology well and those that don’t. I’m looking for examples of good and bad Flash design.
For many examples of good and unique flash design I would recommend anyone check out www.thefwa.com. It’s updated daily with the best Flash links on the planet. I don’t really feel comfortable pointing out any sites which I think have bad Flash design or execution but I do have opinions on some things which I feel are bad Flash design. Flash can be a great asset to any project when used in the correct places. We’ve all seen awe inspiring micro-sites highlighting products in ways which make some products stand out more than others. But not every site is a micro-site and there are many core company sites which would benefit from not being full flash sites. Content heavy sites or smaller clients with search engines, accessibility and content in mind should be wary of full flash sites. Full flash sites are not always the best option for all clients, content, marketing goals, audiences or situations. With smaller companies or sites with more information we as developers need to strike a balance between intelligent usage of flash combined with all of the benefits of html and SEO.
2: Flash was once the latest technology that found its way onto thousands of websites. Do you think that it has now found its true place in the web designer’s toolbox? By that I mean has the initial flood of enthusiasm for Flash now been replaced with a real sense of how the technology can actually be used on websites?
Many developers have calmed down in their uses and approach to flash and we are now seeing more practical, intelligent and targeted usages of flash. There are definitely more flash driven Rich Internet Applications, marketing oriented Micro-sites and Flash video enabled websites than there were several years ago. All of which point to a better understanding of we as developers should be focusing our usage and implementation of flash. Flash video players are quickly becoming a standard means of deploying video on a site. This is great for us as developers because we no longer have to target multiple video formats in order to make sure that everyone can view a video.
3: Usability is often linked to Flash websites in that they are usually pointed to as the worst examples of usability. Do you think this is still the case?
Most people in the industry recognize that just because flash is used doesn’t mean that usability is impacted in a negative way. Any site can handicapped with poor usability as a result of the design no matter what technologies were used to deploy and develop it. Most of the time poor usability comes in the design stage when the designer does not fully think about the process of navigating around a site or through a specific portion of a site. Since a greater number of flash sites have unique designs and interaction there definitely is a greater chance of people not fully embracing the flow of navigating thru a site or how a button or text link might work. In addition, long repetitive transitions and technical aspects like developers disabling mouse indicators on scrollbars and buttons will quickly confuse people making them feel lost and out of control.
4: Clearly Flash has many positive aspects. Could you outline what you think Flash is particularly good at as a design tool?
First of all flash should never be used as the initial design tool. Flash should be used as a method for deploying a design already conceived and executed in Photoshop. That aside, the positives for flash as a visual tool are the ability to use and integrate assets from multiple mediums into an impactful environmental experience. Amazing design, 3d, Video and Audio can all be brought to life by an experienced Flash developer making it a great design tool for architecting amazing sites. Another benefit is that you are virtually ensured that your design and site will be seen the same across all platforms and browser types. As the browser wars escalate once again with Firefox’s popularity, sites developed with flash will potentially have less “visual” quirks or errors with the player dictating how things look rather than the individual browser itself.
5: Conversely, in your experience what do designers try and make Flash do that it simply isn’t designed for?
I think that trying to make full flash sites which fully emulate the function of an HTML site is a big mistake. HTML sites have an immense set of benefits which cannot ever be “easily” achieved in flash if at all.The following are just a few of the built in benefits available on an HTML site. 1) HTML sites are immediately open for search engine indexing. 2) You can easily deep link to specific content within a site by simply copy/pasting any url. 3) HTML sites are more easily accessible to visitors with disabilities and properly structured sites are now even made available to people surfing from cell phones and PDAs. 4) Print pages at the click of a button with no extra programming. 5) Full use of all core browser functions. (Back, Forward, Stop, History, Print, Bookmark) all with no extra programming. 6) Individual pages or sections of sites can be made secure.
Some of these things can be loosely achieved in flash with time consuming workarounds but the facts are that the workarounds are not as fully functional as the average HTML centric methods and they take a lot more time, organization, planning and thought to fully achieve in flash. Even with developers at the top of their game takes a lot of extra time, effort which in the long run effects the potential profits on a project to implement.
6: Flash has now been around for several years and designers have gotten to know its capabilities. What are the rules that a designer should follow when they are using Flash either to build an entire website, or as an element in a larger site?
Keep in mind that unless you’re utilizing the latest and greatest scripting techniques, or creating some robust online Flash application, you don’t have to publish your flash files in the latest and greatest version currently out in order for the site to be successful. Take a close look at who the target audience for the flash piece might be and then decide on what version to publish as. If the target audience is designers, then you be pretty sure they’re up to date with the latest versions. If it is more of a client piece where you want as many people as possible to enjoy the site without having to download the latest plugin then consider publishing in earlier versions of flash. Many of my sites are published in lower levels of the flash player simply because there was nothing technical about them which required the file to be the latest version. Animation is animation and the core timeline animation capabilities of flash haven’t changed in several versions. Take a look at what your Flash file is really doing and ask yourself if it is necessary to possibly exclude people from seeing it simply because you published it with a Flash version which is so new that not everyone has it.
7: In the commercial sector Flash has pretty much been abandoned. You don’t see Amazon using it at all. Clearly there is the issue of search engine listings and the problem they have indexing Flash. But do you think that Flash can be used successfully in an e-commerce environment? If so, do you have any examples you could point to?
I don’t think that all developers have abandoned the use of flash in all e-commerce environments but I do think that it is for good reasons that Flash isn’t used in situations like the viewing of an individual product page or the checkout process. Aside from search engine indexing and ease of link sharing I think that it also comes down to the facts that there are more developers in existence who can more easily deploy and implement flexible HTML e-commerce solution for clients in less time than it takes to develop a custom Flash e-commerce solution. In my experience there just aren’t a massive amount of flash developers with the knowledge and ability to successfully deploy a flash e-commerce solution for major companies in a way that is significantly better than the traditional HTML methods. It can definitely be done in flash but should it if it takes more time to develop, costs the developer money because they lose profits and in the end you cannot easily send a link to a friend for the product you’re interested in purchasing? The only places I’ve seen successful flash e-commerce integration have been in Flash apps which assist the user in their shopping experience to find the products they are looking for. A good example of this is the collection of Flash apps located at Etsy.com.
http://www.etsy.com/sampler.php - Lets people brows thru Top sellers, Top Items, Random Sellers, Random Items and Recently sold items.
http://www.etsy.com/geolocator.php - Shows where you can physically purchase items around the world
http://www.etsy.com/color.php. It allows you to browse products based upon color.
8: If there was one piece of advice you would give to a someone that was thinking of using Flash in their next website design, what would that advice be?
Not all sites need to be done in flash to be successful or impactful. Take a look at the site goals, target audience, delivery date and your own personal skill level in regards to developing in Flash. If any one of those things will be impaired by using flash then don’t use it. In the end Flash is just one of many tool to use when developing sites and definitely not a necessity.