II. The Process
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Usability benefits with Macromedia Flash

Reason for using Macromedia Flash

Developers must ask "Is Macromedia Flash the best format for the content?" Do other tools - such as plain HTML - offer a better, more effective method for achieving the project's goal? Is the offer strong enough for users to be willing to put up with the potential hurdles they might encounter? Basically, developers should ask themselves whether the needs of the project can suitably be fulfilled with Macromedia Flash content.

To help determine if Macromedia Flash is the best product for the job, developers should examine the client's secondary goals. These secondary goals are known as specifications. They are the minimum requirements the user must meet to use the content.

Macromedia Flash content deployed on the Internet should be usable to the greatest possible number of users. This may mean developing for an older version of the Macromedia Flash plug-in. It may also mean developing a high and low bandwidth version of the content or a non-Macromedia Flash version. Macromedia Flash deployed inside a more controlled environment like a corporate intranet or a broadband portal can have a higher set of specs to meet. Macromedia Flash presented on kiosks or in a stand-alone projector file is in an even more controlled environment, thus it has higher set of specs.

Media needs for the project will also factor into the decision to use Macromedia Flash. Does the project require sound or voiceovers? Will there be XML integration or animation required for the project?

Benefits of Macromedia Flash

Macromedia Flash offers many benefits that other interactive Web formats can not compete with. Macromedia Flash offers compatibility and stability unparalleled by other Web formats. In terms of file size, the use of vectors to define objects makes them smaller than their bitmap equivalents. Vectors are also scalable - meaning that the file size and image clarity will remain the same at whatever resolution it is displayed.

Macromedia Flash offers a tight integration of multimedia content in a single file format. If the needs of a project dictate that sound, movement and interactivity are needed, Macromedia Flash may is likely the best choice for development. There are other features of Macromedia Flash that make it a powerful Web development product including XML support, server-side application support, printing, forms and dynamic content.

The use of vector information in Macromedia Flash means that scaling can be done without distortion or increased file size. Scaling also allows Macromedia Flash to use information from one source, taking away the need to reload page after page. By using the Load Movie command, Macromedia Flash can further improve the loading time by only loading content that is needed by the user. To meet the requirements of this sort of project, Macromedia Flash is the best solution for the developers to use. Macromedia Flash also offers concrete benefits to users by decreasing download times and offering more intuitive access to information.

Macromedia Flash in your toolbox

NFL.com uses Macromedia Flash to deliver page level navigation within their otherwise HTML pages.

Given the power and stability that Macromedia Flash offers, Macromedia Flash content ideally is used alongside HTML on a Web page. The capacity of Macromedia Flash content to interact with database content, provide complex interactivity at a small file size and respond to external actions makes it an excellent product for quickly adding functionality to standard HTML pages. Many Web sites are deploying Macromedia Flash content as navigation or instead of unstable Java applets to improve the user experience.

By delivering the content in this manner, NFL.com saves nearly 30k by using three Macromedia Flash movies instead of 62 images and the accompanying JavaScript. Using Macromedia Flash to improve download speed of a site is one more way Macromedia Flash can improve the user experience on a site.

Even when HTML is the best format for meeting the requirements of a project, Macromedia Flash can still be used to improve usability. Developers can look to Macromedia Flash to be part of their total Web design tool kit. Integrating Macromedia Flash into HTML pages should be no different than using GIFs or JPEGs. With the features and benefits available in Macromedia Flash content, developers can easily extend the potential of an HTML page.

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MacGregor Media | Macromedia White Paper: Developing User-Friendly Flash Content
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