Fun with Flash
Flash is a wily beast. Used well, it quickly can take a bland Web site from an unsalted meal to a four-course feast. Used poorly, it can turn a well-designed Web site into burned toast. Too much Flash (which goes hand in hand with too little information) gives users the feeling you’re all sizzle and no steak.
The question, of course, is how to use Flash — and how to use it well. Flash is best seen as a temptation to be mastered, then indulged in sparingly, used to add spice to your site and keep users’ attention. It should never be overused — “Flash for the sake of Flash” is the novice designer’s fatal error.
Skip the Long Intros
True, your client wants a Web site that begins and ends in “wow.” A long Flash introduction with spinning, freewheeling graphics that is heavy on fancy motion and sound (and download time, I should add) will please the client nine times out of 10. But the client is not the user.
Users want utility. They want usefulness. They want information and convenience. Users hate to wait, especially for designers to show off their design talent with long animations that put off the payload. If you must delay users’ access to information — which, after all, is why they have visited your site — then at least include a “Skip Intro” button as a gesture to courtesy.
And make sure this button is properly designed. When building text-based Flash buttons, be sure to specify the click space in the button’s interface (the last of four frames when designing the button). Otherwise, Flash lets users click only on the text itself, which on an average screen, can be less than a third of a millimeter in width.
Think Small, Act Sparingly
Instead of building a long intro, put your design time into small Flash elements (icons, logo animations and navigation) that add just a taste of the “wow factor” without overwhelming the user. Consider the salt metaphor: Like salt, a little Flash goes a long way. For proof, take a look at www.neteffects1.com (NetEffects 1 is a design group that builds commercial Web sites).
Note how the Flash in the masthead image gives the homepage the right amount of dazzle without delaying users’ access to information, which can be found in the text and links below. Of special note is Flash-based navigation. If you can pull it off, it can add function to beauty. But designing navigation bars, buttons and dynamic menus is one of the harder tasks in Flash, one that involves movies embedded in movies embedded in movies and a healthy dose of ActionScript.
There was a time when Flash was for Flash designers only. No more. Now, even the Flash novice can build decent animations or full-fledged, Flash-based Web sites knowing only the basics — or less. How? Programs such as SWiSH Max, Selteco’s Flash Designer and Namo FreeMotion 2006 let you build Flash movies, often with complex effects, with little real knowledge of Flash’s inner workings. (They tend to work best with text animations, but users have pushed their limits and build all forms of Flash movies.)
Sites such as www.FlashKit.com offer movies, sound loops and sundry sound effects that you can lease or reuse for free. For even more, see www.FlashFoundry.com. You also can buy full-scale, template-based Flash Web sites at template sellers such as www.TemplateMonster.com and www.CoolHomepages.com.
The bottom line? Flash is within the reach of every designer. But when using it, be sure not to overreach.