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A Cancer on the Web called Flash
Thursday, June 1, 2000

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.

  1. a deep commitment to user-centered design
  2. a willingness (eagerness?) to collaborate with other disciplines. Orchestra musicians, not soloists.
The folks at firms like Kioken, who are known to fire their clients if they do not follow them down their ego led path, are not good citizens of the Web. The sites they design are the con artists, the flimflam shows, the child labor shops and the fascists dictators of the web all rolled into one.

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 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.

When Flash first hit the web (back when it was called Future Splash) it was all about streaming and small file sizes. You could design a Flash menu that would load faster than a bunch of JavaScript rollover GIF files, and it would stream in. Now, four years later, no one understands the art of streaming in their content. Flash designers would rather make their visitor wait for a 100k+ download than learn how to keep their files within the download stream. Flash designers are also proclaiming the death of HTML like something was wrong with it. HTML is still a far better medium for content on the web than Flash will ever be. Someone looking for information with a search engine is not going to find what they need on one of Kioken's Flash sites because you can not search Flash.

As the publisher of 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 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.



(thanks to, and for initiating the genesis of this article.)

afterthought: I'd love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to post on the Message Board.

posted by CHris MacGregor - - 11:15:19 AM