Why We Generally Don’t Use Flash

Contractors I talk to sometimes ask me why we don’t do our web sites in Flash. Well the truth of the matter is we would do a website in Flash if we felt it appropriate to achieve some kind of artistic experience that reflects the brand identity of the contractor, architect , or other type of client we’re working with but we would still at the very least still want to do another HTML site in parallel.

Okay,…why?

Let me tell you this little story to explain. The other day I pointing out to some close friends that I ran across what I thought was one of the best looking most well executed Flash based web sites I’ve ever seen for a builder/remodeler/contractor. It has an excellent design, smooth well designed transitions and animations and the light jazz background music is pleasing comfortable and I think it does a great job of communicating a "kool & classy" brand image. The "Press" section includes several videos produced about the company that when the video starts or ends the background music fades appropriately in or out. It’s just a damn excellent presentation.

The problem with it is let’s say I was with those friends of mine in a local restaurant having dinner and while waiting for our meal to be served I told them I had found this excellent contractor that I thought they should check out for the project they are considering. So I whip out my iPhone and type in DevitoBuilders.com and unlike the great presentation you get on your computer if you clicked on the link to see the site you get this on your iPhone:

Yes, I know not everyone has an iPhone but there is a significant number of people that do and there are other reasons we don’t recommend a Flash only web sites that I’ll get into shortly.

Basically what I am saying is that a Flash only website without a HTML alternative running alongside of it says to some potential clients "we don’t like your phone, you can try contracting us again when you get a different phone" and any chance for some positive ohs and wows in a conversation looking at the company’s portfolio of work was lost for the sake of using Flash exclusively.

I was reading an article Flash, iPad, Standards by the noted web designer Jeffrey Zeldman the other day on the lack of flash in the recently announced iPad and iPhone where he wrote:

Lack of Flash in the iPad (and before that, in the iPhone) is a win for accessible, standards-based design. Not because Flash is bad, but because the increasing popularity of devices that don’t support Flash is going to force recalcitrant web developers to build the semantic HTML layer first. Additional layers of Flash UX can then be optionally added in, just as, in proper, accessible, standards-based development, JavaScript UX enhancements are added only after we verify that the site works without them.

As the percentage of web users on non-Flash-capable platforms grows, developers who currently create Flash experiences with no fallbacks will have to rethink their strategy and start with the basics before adding a Flash layer. They will need to ensure that content and experience are delivered with or without Flash.

Developers always should have done this, but some don’t. For those who don’t, the growing percentage of users on non-Flash-capable platforms is a wake-up call to get the basics right first.

[...]

Zeldman clearly isn’t saying "don’t use Flash" but he is saying instead of using it as you primary and/or only delivery vehicle use Flash elements judiciously in a website designed with a semantic HTML framework. In a follow post a day or two later (Ahem) he writes:

The first part of my post of 1 February was not an attack on Flash. It described a way of working with Flash that also supports users who don’t have access to Flash…

… My point was simply that if you’re an all-Flash shop that never creates a semantic HTML underpinning, it’s time to start creating HTML first—because an ever-larger number of your users are going to be accessing your site via devices that do not support Flash.

[...]

Using any content that requires a platform specific technology or asks requires the viewer to have, or download, some kind of specific software such as Flash will alienate or turn off some visitors and they’ll just click out of your site and move on perhaps to one of you local competitors who is willing to talk to them on their terms at that moment.

You want to make to make your marketing message(s) easy to find and as assessable as possible which brings me to my next point on why we don’t like Flash.

A Flash website while it maybe technically and artistically flashy isn’t SEO friendly (Search Engine Optimization). Search engines also have a very difficult time indexing Flash content, and so your website might not rank as well if Flash is used. The robots that search and index the web instead of seeing the appropriate keywords that a builder, remodeler, trade contractor, architect, or interior designer or what have you should use in the text of a web site with good semantic HTML will instead see a jumble of text , numbers, and symbols. The result is poor to nonexistent set of search engine rankings.

Because of this, we don’t generally produce or recommend web sites built entirely in Flash. Nowadays almost all of the animations and actions that you see done in Flash can also be done using jQuery a lightweight cross-browser JavaScript library.

Despite the drawbacks, however, there are a few good use cases for using Flash that don’t have the negative factors. Most online video is done with Flash. A lot of online advertisements also use it. In these instances, we recommend using Flash.

That said however if you really want to and have your heart set on delivering your marketing messages via a Flash based website you should at the very least consider building a alternative semantic HTML web site along side that delivers the same content and message for the segment of the public that would otherwise just skip over and ignore you.

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One Response to “Why We Generally Don’t Use Flash”

  1. Jafar September 21, 2010 at 7:08 am #

    I use XML to build my content and then use flash to display it on desktops and HTML to show it on mobiles. I think developers who ignore the design possibilities of flash are missing out on what people want, slick transitions, cool music, and movie theatrical experience that you can interact with.

    I love HTML CSS and JavaScript but people like playing with flash websites more because of the aforementioned reasons.

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