A Cancer on the Web called Flash (editorial)
Recently I have been seeing a lot of Flash sites that are very nicely designed but so far away from a good web experience that I began to wonder just what was up with the designers of those sites. Do these hot shots even care about the people who are visiting the Flash sites that they create? In the case of Manhattan design firm Kioken the answer is no.
Gene Na, who has been spouting off about Kioken's 'agenda', preaches against everything that is good about the web. Kioken talks its clients into presenting a custom 'virtual operating system' as a web site. A site that is "only for those who have fast connections and the latest browser." This is not good design folks, this is posturing by self-infatuated hot heads who think they should be able to dictate your experience online. One of Kioken's favorite tricks is to open a new, full-screen window without the Windows title bar that includes the Minimize, Maximize, and Exit buttons (PC IE only). This leaves the uninitiated visitor with no way of getting back to the Windows operating system with out having to learn Kioken's 'virtual operating system' for that site just to get out. What the hell?
In the article "ethnography and information architecture" by Marc Rettig, Chief Experience Officer, HannaHodge, Rettig states that good citizens of the Web (I'm paraphrasing here) should require two things.
- a deep commitment to user-centered design
- a willingness (eagerness?) to collaborate with other disciplines. Orchestra musicians, not soloists.
It is because of designers like Na that Flash has a bad name. Savvy web critics are already stereo-typing Flash as being evil. Usability experts are crying foul over Flash sites like the ones that Kioken are designing, and overly complex dotcom sites are giving up the ghost one by one (remember boo.com?). This trend has got to stop. We, as designers who like to use Flash, need to get a better understanding of our visitors. They do not have high speed access (and 60% of your visitors will still be using a modem for the next four years) and due to an overwhelming number of poorly created Flash sites, visitors are not going to sit through a 100k+ download to be disappointed.
As the publisher of Flazoom.com I have probably surprised a lot of you by ranting like this about the self-proclaimed "gods of Flash'. I do so because I can see the future that this path will lead us down. If we continue to put up larger and larger Flash files that do not stream in then we will kill the desire for Flash content. With the death of Boo.com online retailers are already weary of using Flash for their sites. Just last night I spoke to a designer for one of the big name dotcom retailers who said that management sent out a memo killing all Flash development period. Salon puts it like this: "In the year 2000, there is no excuse for any professional Web site that expects to reach a wide audience of users to put on its home page an animation that requires a browser plug-in."
The best way to combat the stereo-types that are developing is to be smarter about how we use Flash. Think about the problem that you are trying to solve before you open Flash and start working. Is Flash the only solution for that problem? Is Flash the most effective solution? Can you solve the problem with HTML? Think about the work you do and remember that what you put on the web is not for you, but for your visitors.
afterthought: I'd love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to post on the Flazoom.com Message Board.