Flash Website Designs
What you see above is known as Flash animation. It is a design element developed by Macromedia Inc. (now owned by Adobe, Inc.) as an alternative method of bringing motion to static websites. Prior to the development of Flash, the only way to do that was using animated GIF files which were the equivalent of how old-time cartoons were made. A series of frames grouped together and displayed in sequence where each frame has a slight change to the subject. Because animated GIFs were comprised of a series of individual frames, the end result would always be a very large file size that took forever to download unless the dimension of the animation was very small and limited to just a few frames.
Flash changed all that and made it possible to create larger animations that incorporated more detail and more style while still maintaining a relatively low file size for downloading over regular dial up connections. That was many years ago.
To view Flash animation, your computer must have a special plugin or program installed on it called the Flash Player. When it was first developed everybody had to go to Macromedia's website and download the player. Nowadays it is already installed on your computer when you buy it.
The increasing availability of broadband (high speed) Internet access has changed the way website developers incorporate Flash into their site designs. It used to be implemented as a minor design element to give a little spice to an otherwise boring page. Someday, broadband access will be the only way to connect to the Internet and by then most websites will be constructed completely with Flash programming. But we're nowhere near that time. In fact, it could be 5, 10, 15 years or more before broadband access is the standard.
Flash is the future of the Internet and how websites will be built. No doubt about it. But at the present time, the use of Flash comes with a number problems every website owner needs to consider before they add it to their site.
First of all, Flash is still very much in development. As of this writing, the Flash Player that comes installed on almost every new computer sold today is version 6.0. A special program is also needed to create Flash animations (our Flash builder is based on it). There are a number of programs available that can create Flash, but they don't all recognize the same standards. Macromedia's own current Flash Player can't even recognize animations that were created using the original version of its creation software. So it is possible that a visitor to your site could have a 2 year old computer with Flash Player 3.0 installed that can't display your animation because it was made with a newer creator or vice versa.
Another problem is that the more dynamic your animation is, the larger the file size will be and therefore the longer it will take to download. For a visitor with a broadband connection that isn't a problem. But 60% - 70% of the Internet using public are still on slow 56K dial up connections. Using even a little bit of Flash will cause them to have to wait longer for your site to load. That's never a good thing.
Search engines don't like Flash either. Their spiders can't read anything contained in the animation. When they come to index your website they are looking for text, not graphics. If the first thing they run into is a Flash intro screen then the spiders will almost always immediately leave your site and go elsewhere looking for what they do like.
Finally, it is a well known fact that constant movement of something on a webpage will draw the visitor's eyes to it. That can be a good thing if whatever is moving is the primary reason for the visitor to be there, but if you want the visitor to see something else then the movement becomes a distraction. That's also never a good thing.
So Flash can give your site that dynamic POP that can really set off your design. But in doing that it can also distract from your overall message, slow down the loading of your pages, and possibly not even be seen if the visitor doesn't have the right software. So, should you really be using it?
If your site is business related in any way then the answer is definitely no. The downside just isn't worth it. You can't afford to alienate or discourage any visitors. But don't take our word for it. Go to any of the high-traffic, well known websites that actually sell products or services. Sites like Amazon.com, Buy.com, Yahoo, MSN.com, IBM, Microsoft, etc. Do you see any Flash animation? The answer will be no. Even Adobe.com uses it in a limited way on their own website and they are the creators of the technology. Notice if you go to their site that they suggest to make sure you have the latest version of the Flash player installed on your computer. Again, that's because if you have an older version then you won't be able to even see the flash at all. When a visitor comes to your site they want to see your site. They don't want to have to download and wait and install any new software to be able to see it.
The companies listed above are multi-billion dollar companies. There is no doubt that they could have the most technological and visually stunning websites on the planet if they wanted to. But they don't and the reasons why are simple. Flash slows downloading, distracts the visitor, and may not even be viewable if the visitor doesn't have the right version of the player installed. One of the most common sense rules in business is "Don't try to re-invent the wheel." If those companies don't do it then it is likely that you shouldn't either.
The Flash at the top of this page is the only Flash animation you will find on our site as well. We make it available as part of our software because our customers ask for it. Companies like Macromedia do all that they can to promote it. But one of the most basic rules of website design is this, "Just because you can do it, that doesn't mean that you should." All of our design templates that have Flash animation as part of the design also contain a switch to turn off the Flash completely. You'll find that option in the design settings area by clicking on the red Design button.
The goal of this article is not meant to discourage you completely from using Flash on your site. It is only meant to inform you of all the pros and cons of using it so that you can make the best decision for yourself. If you have any questions, please send email to firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE - The recently released Windows XP Service Pack 2 from Microsoft increases the security settings on any computer it is installed on. In most cases, Windows update will download and install it automatically. That security setting increase classifies any Flash animation on any site as an ActiveX program and blocks it because ActiveX is a potential vulnerability for hackers to exploit to gain access to the visitor's computer. Obviously, the Flash on your site isn't any kind of security threat, but a visitor's computer can't dtermine that on its own. If it is set to block any ActiveX programming from running then that's what it will do. Until either Macromedia or Microsoft figure out how to exclude Flash from being classified as ActiveX programming any Flash on your site will be blocked from showing to any visitor who has the Windows XP Service Pack 2 installed on their computer and has not manually lowered the security settings afterward.
Update 2 - Spring '06
Microsoft recently lost a patent infringement lawsuit regarding how Internet Explorer recognizes and displays flash content. The lawsuit loss effectively prohibited Microsoft from displaying flash content the same way that it has always been done. Microsoft claimed to have a different way to do it that would not infringe on the patent and implemented the new method right away with an update to the IE browser. However, now any flash on a webpage that was coded into the page the old way has to be clicked on for any navigation links embedded in the flash to be functional. Yet another reason to not use flash for any significant parts of your site.