You’ve seen the sites. They start with loader and launch you into a complete sensory experience. Immersive sounds, fancy effects, dazzling animation. You think to yourself, “I wish I had a site like that!”. I’m gonna tell you why you don’t.
The “WOW” Factor
For most people the main reason to go with a Flash website is the WOW factor. You want to show them how fantastic you are by doing all this crazy stuff with your website. The problem is most visitors don’t want to be “wowed”. They’re usually coming to your site with a purpose. Most of the time that’s to find information about a product or service, or to purchase a product. 95% of the time, the wow factor just gets in the way. Think to yourself how many times you searched for the skip intro link at the bottom of the website or when you couldn’t find the skip intro link and left the website because the flash intro was too long and annoying.
One of the main flaws with building a website in Flash is that you’re relying on a non-standard plug-in. With traditional web design, there’s a very low technical barrier. HTML & CSS is very well understood and widely supported.
When using a plug-in such as Flash, you’re hoping a number of conditions are true:
- The plugin is installed (not true by default on a lot of computers)
- The version of Flash everyone using is universal
- It’s working properly and is reasonably up to date
- The plug-in has been designed to work with the user’s browser and operating system
Usability is the science or designing things to be easy to use. One of it’s basic rules is the idea of conventions. That things that appear similar, should work in a similar way.
When it comes to Flash websites, a number of these basic browser conventions are broken.
- The “Back” button doesn’t work the same. You can be 10 clicks into the website and when you hit the back button, you’re back at the beginning.
- Links don’t behave the same. If your designer has gone through the effort to underline them (which isn’t the default formatting), they’re often not colored any different.
- Text zoom (i.e., increasing/decreasing the text size) doesn’t work reliably in all browsers
- The “Find in page” feature in most browsers will not find and highlight text in a Flash site.
- Printing pages can be difficult or impossible.
When you consider the primary goal of most of your visitors is to collect information, these problems can be deal breakers.
I should note that many of these issues can be addressed by an experienced Flash developer (not always easy to come by). Just expect to pay more for both the experience and the extra time involved.
While you may be tempted to use Flash for the wow factor, it’s not what most users are interested in. Flash adds an extra layer of software to your website which may not work consistently for all users. It also introduces a lot of usability and accessibility problems. Think about using flash elements like a header or a banner to convey a similiar message. When it comes to Flash, think twice.