Should I have a Flash website?
I suppose I should expand upon that response otherwise this will be the shortest blog post ever. The question was, should I have a Flash website?
Okay, I’ll elucidate a little. When I ask if a website should be Flash, I don’t mean snazzy and showy, I’m referring to it being built using Adobe Flash software; a product that allows for fast loading illustrations, smooth animations, sound effects, music, embedded video and other forms of highly fluid user interactivity that simply isn’t possible with a standard HTML website.
I’ve said this before, I loved using Flash (note past tense). I took to illustrating and animating in Flash like a duck to hoisin sauce, finely chopped spring onions, cucumber and a wad of gently warmed rice pancakes. Given the choice of illustrating in Adobe Illustrator or Flash I’d always pick Flash hands down, I just found it so intuitive. I’ve done a lot of work using Flash in the past; stand alone interactive presentations featuring videos and a soundtrack, futuristic animated websites with sound effects, and too many advertising banners to mention.
The problem with Flash is that it only works if the end user has a plug-in installed. In the past most desktops came with the Flash plug-in included, and if it wasn’t present (and the website was set up correctly) it would prompt the user to download and install the plug-in.
So, why the short, angry response to the original question?
The problems with Flash websites
Well, there are other downsides to using Flash. When browsing the web, all users, regardless of ability should be able to navigate and access the content that is available within a website structure. All websites have different designs, but if built by a professional website designer (especially those who care about their audience, accessibility and usability) they can be navigated by everyone, including people who are colour blind, partially sighted, blind or disabled. There’s nothing complicated about this, it just takes a little thought, sensible and considerate design, helpful colour choice and effective use of code.
- A user should be able to tab through the navigational elements of a standard HTML website and use the back and forward buttons within the browser – this isn’t possible in Flash.
- A user should be able to view the website content in black and white by turning off the stylesheet – you can’t do this in Flash.
- A blind user should be able to use a screen reader to hear the text content within a website – yep, that’s not possible in Flash.
- An HTML website loads very quickly and allows the user to scroll through content more or less immediately, in Flash there is often a pause or holding screen whilst elements such as music, video and other large files are downloaded.
- A normal HTML website can be set up so that the user can press control and + or – to increase or decrease either the text alone, or the entire website to make it easier to navigate and read – again, you can’t do this in Flash.
- The Flash plug-in is regularly updated, which means that browsers need to be updated on a frequent basis (and updates require downloads and sometimes just don’t work).
- To top it off, the text content within a Flash website is unreadable to search engines, so if you have a Flash website it will never be found in organic search results (and you have to ask the question, what’s the point of a website if no-one can find it?).
So why you might ask, am I even bothering to write this article when it’s so obvious a Flash website is such a bad idea?
Watch out for Flash designers
Amazingly, there are still “website designers” out there who not only use Flash for their own website, they are continuing to promote “bespoke Flash website design”. It’s simply staggering that this is still happening.
To put things in perspective, when I started designing and building websites all of these problems with Flash were known back in 1996. Nearly two decades ago! This was back in the day before the dotcom bubble burst, back when venture capitalists were buying web design agencies and hiring a Chief Operating Officer to run the design team instead of a Creative Director. This was at a time when the craziest business concepts would be taken seriously and have hideously large amounts of money thrown at them.
COO to design team “We’ve got a new client that wants an ecommerce website that sells live baby bunnies delivered inside chocolate eggs specifically for Easter.”
Design team to COO “Er, won’t the bunnies suffocate?”
COO to design team “They’ll put some holes in the chocolate eggs.”
Design team to COO “What if the bunny defecates, what happens if it starves?”
COO to design team “They’ll put a nappy on it and a nose bag full of carrots – it’ll look cute!”
Design team to COO “What’s the unique selling point?”
COO to design team “The USP? It’s a website that sells cute little baby bunnies inside tasty chocolate eggs that are delivered to children at Easter!”
Design team to COO “Isn’t the timeframe for prospective sales rather limited? It might fail.”
COO to design team “Of course it won’t fail, it’s a dotcom. Here’s £250,000 for the start-up phase.”
Design team pick themselves up off the floor having collapsed in hysterics, then start to sob wildly as they realise that web design of this type has absolutely no future.
So even at the dawn of the internet when the majority of website ideas and ecommerce plans were crazy, absurd and massively overvalued, every professional website designer worth their weight in salt knew that you never, EVER, built a website just using Flash, there was always an HTML back-up that was accessible, user friendly and search engine friendly (and even small uses of Flash within the page structure, say for an animated promotion, had a back-up graphic just in case). And what’s happened since then?
How can I put it? Flash is DEAD!
As I touched upon in an earlier post in 2011, things have become even worse for Flash in recent years. When Apple unveiled the iPhone, then later the iPad, they advised they wouldn’t support the Flash plug-in. Adobe tried to fight this for a while, but even Adobe gave up and they have now stopped supporting the Flash plug-in for smartphones. I’ve also noticed that many new desktops and laptops don’t now come with the plug-in installed.
Flashbacks to chocolate-encased rabbits aside, Flash websites are not only useless with regards online marketing, accessibility, usability and standards compliance, they are invisible to anyone browsing the web on mobile phones, tablets and iPads. It therefore really is quite disgraceful, if not professionally incompetent, that in 2014 web designers are still promoting Flash websites. So, if you find yourself being tempted to consider having a website built using Flash, JUST SAY NO!
*No rabbits were hurt during the development of www.I-cant-believe-its-a-live-bunny-inside-a-real-chocolate-egg.com.