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Archived entry | Matt Wilcox .net

100% Flash websites, a rant

I’ve been waiting for the Transformers website to go live with the new trailer for a few weeks now. The fateful day arrived, and instead of seeing the old HTML page, I was told I needed Flash Player 8. No other content, no ‘non-flash’ link. Just a big message saying ‘go download Flash Player 8′. I’m on Ubuntu. There isn’t a Flash 8 I can use. Which set me on a real rant on one of the forums I visit regularly. I’ve cleaned up the original post, and expanded on it a little here…

Flash 8 required to view it. I’m on Ubuntu. Macrodobe have not released Flash 8/8.5/9 for Linux.

Why do all movie sites use Flash? I hate how they do that. Quit with your inappropriate and trite uses of Flash. I bet the guys that do the flash websites are the same ones that do the slow, pain in the ass to navigate, DVD menu animations. Movie studios should force their web designers (and DVD designers) to go learn about user orientated standards design before they let them at the Web. Or vice-versa, depending on which are the ones senselessly pushing Flash/poor menus.

They didn’t even include a ‘no flash’ site. smiley icon: angry

Me (this version edited for less foul-mouthed anger)

I got a couple of responses, which went pretty much as expected (Whether Flash is any use for entire websites is not a new argument), and wrote a more considered reply:

My problem is not Flash itself - that was explicitly why I pointed out the need for the designers to go learn user orientated design. My viewpoint is that Flash, as in interactive websites run on pure flash, are very rarely needed. There is already a standard (lower-case, a convention if you prefer), and the need to re-design the entire interface and method of interacting with a page, purely because you can, is often a major draw back that I as a user have with Flash based sites. I do not want to bloody well ‘learn’ the interface. I do not want to mess about trying to discover which bits of the screen are interactive. I want to get to the information I want, quickly and intuitively. The vast majority of Flash based site do not allow me to do this, and that is why I hate them. I’m not ranting about Flash the technology, I’m ranting about Flash as implemented by ‘we didn’t really consider this through’ designers. It infuriates me when they then don’t offer a non-flash alternative. They are saying ‘think like we do, or f*** off’. Well I don’t view 100% flash websites, experience has told me it’s a painful and anger-inducing thing to do, and because I physically can’t.

The problem of bad design and poor implementation of technology is not limited to Flash, there are HTML site out there that are just as bad to use - but it’s my experience that the percentage of god-awful flash sites is far higher, and so it has earned a viable stigma. HTML was the same, but it’s trying to claw it’s way out by way of well considered mark-up (Standards, with a capital) and better considered design.

There is nothing to stop people making perfectly accessible (and again, you can read ‘intuative’ or ‘obeying convention’ rather than ‘accessible’) Flash sites - but, all you would really be doing is re-creating a HTML page in Flash - which is clearly pointless. If you want to use it to add fancy headings (sIFR), or to add a bit of video, all well and good. But do not ever make an entire site out of it. It’s a cardinal sin as well as a waste of time.

I’m also aware that Standards (note the capital) are an ideal. They are the dream at which to aim. They aren’t actually here yet, not really. The day when browsers stop rendering non-compliant code will be the day when Standards are a genuine reality, rather than an added bonus. Most end users don’t give a monkey about what makes the site - but web designers should - because it’s our craft. Just like carpenters want to use the right tool from their array of tools, in the right ways and in the right places. A good carpenter doesn’t want to always use a hammer and chisel for all tasks. Both ways get the job done, but only one way is the right way, and one way produces better results. In the same way, web designers need to know their tools and use them in the right places e.g., tables are for tabular content. They are not for layout, etc. Sure - it makes no difference if you’re an able sighted person, which the vast majority of users are, but it isn’t the right way, and good designers know it. And it does make a difference to the minority who need to use screen readers, etc.

I’ve also seen plenty of ’standards’ sites that are awful. They validate, but they are just as abused and incorrect as ye-olden tag-soup websites. I’ve seen loads of ‘CSS Gallery’ sites which promote some of the tricks you can do with CSS - but so many of those tricks require verbose, redundant and un-semantic mark-up. It’s the same story with Flash - it’s not actually the technology that’s a problem so much as the implementation, but as with Flash, there is a trend. Sites that validate do so because the author/designer/builder took the time to learn how to code properly. Which also means they probably understand the ideal behind the name. As a trend, valid sites are more accessible and better built. As a trend, flash sites are a bitch to use and horribly inaccessible if you are disabled.

Design isn’t about making things pretty. That is the last step of design. Design is about arriving at a solution to a problem. Good design is about getting the best solution for the most people. The sexy stuff afterward is the icing on the cake, but if all you do is icing, then you are not a designer. Flash has an awful lot of icing potential, but too many Flash designers forget to bake the cake.


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  1. Philip Roche posted 1 days, 3hrs, 46mins after the entry and said:

    I agree completely. As you know I have quite a short fuse when it comes to sites or apps or anything that requires more than a few seconds to grasp the basics (especially Ctrl+F in TextPad - why the hell is textpad so special as to not conform with the pseudo-standard that all others apps do - Ctrl+F = Find and NOT find next).

    Back to websites, I hate flash sites - if I see a hint of one lading its Ctrl+W for me dude (close tab). I cannot be bothered. Flash has it's place and I agree that the technology is sound but that place is not in my browser (except for youtube and google video of course).

    To follow on from your carpenter analogy (finally an analogy that makes sense smiley icon: smile) - use the right tools for the job and if you don't know that tool. Learn it.

  2. Matt Wilcox posted 2 days, 3hrs, 13mins after the entry and said:

    Glad you agree Phil.

    What I find hard to understand is that there are really only two types of website that use 100% Flash - Film promo sites, and Artist promo sites. I just don't understand why they do. You sacrifice so much when you use a full Flash site. You can't bookmark individual pages, you can't change the text size, you can't use your back button, you can't use your right-click context menu, you end up needing to work out which part of the page is actually a scroll bar (because the designer made their own) and other useability nightmares. Why do these two types of site still use Flash? Because it's convention? Because they can't possibly live without the inter-page animations?

    Fair enough if the site is an application that isn't do-able in HTML. I'm thinking video conferencing, multi-media manipulation etc. But for normal sites, it's just not needed, the definable and non-arguable price isn't worth the subjective gain.

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