The latest trend in web site design is the inclusion of animated Flash content.
If you have a web site or are considering one for your business, you may consider embracing this
technology. Many companies offer tools to produce Flash animation, but the principal player in
this medium is Macromedia and its Flash software.
Macromedia Flash offers web developers the ability to design visually stylish interfaces with ease.
Flash is still an emerging technology. Guidelines on how to utilize this tool successfully for
web sites are still being formulated through the trials and errors learned from current implementations.
This article examines design concepts you should consider if you are thinking of incorporating Flash
in your Web site.
Flash is here to stay
Macromedia's Shockwave product brought animation to the Web. It's main drawback was that it required the
browser computer to download the entire file before the multimedia would begin to play. At that time, a
company called FutureWave Software had a Shockwave-like product called FutureSplash, which was a superior
product in that it delivered multimedia much more quickly through its smaller file sizes.
Sensing the rival product's superiority, Macromedia bought FutureSplash from it's competitor and renamed
it Macromedia Flash. Although the original Shockwave still exists, Macromedia as well as the web design
community is favoring Flash.
The All Flash site
Today, Macromedia's Flash player has become the standard format for running Web page animations. Throughout
the Web, there are examples of high quality artwork to substantiate its use. And now Macromedia is lobbying
for designers and Web developers to create entire pages in Flash.
Building an entire site in Flash can result in consequences that defeat the benefits of HTML. Flash limits the
sharing of Web information because Flash pages can't be easily indexed and are thus inaccessible to search
Because everything happens within the same browser window, there is no way to externally link to specific parts
of a Flash site. One of the benefits of HTML is its openness. It allows for a variety of sources, such as
Yahoo, Google, and AltaVista, to index all the content on the Web and make the information accessible to the
To get around these problems, Macromedia does offer tools to allow developers to export an HTML page containing
the keywords used in their Flash site. However, Macromedia's stance is that indexing is really up to the search
engines. Their freely published SWF specifications have been open for years, and it should be pretty
straightforward to develop new search tools for their format, but only time will tell.
How to use Flash on your site
Until further progress is made on this front by either Macromedia or the search engines, consider using Flash
only sparingly on your site. And instead of designing your site around a visually appealing Flash interface,
your site design should be designed to reflect your and your customers needs. Below are some guidelines for
incorporating Flash into your site design.
A major obstacle with Flash is that some users may not be able to receive your Flash content. Not all users
have the Flash plugin installed, and they will have to download the plugin (and in some cases download the
correct version number). Thus, your homepage should accommodate users without the Flash player by providing
the following options before any Flash content is introduced:
a link to download the plugin
a link to a non-Flash version of you site.
This does create a duplication of effort, in that two sites need to be created and maintained, but anything less
says that you do not care about your customers.
Animation should be used to as a tool to promote your site's goals or as a navigation device. Animations that
loop repeatedly or shout for attention distracts the user from the main content. On your Flash enabled pages,
use Flash to enhance the company’s products, to raise its overall appeal, and to promote the brand.
Flash can be an excellent tool for demonstrating how a product works or creating very exciting banner ads about
the company. Use Flash when it has advantages over other media. If you can achieve the same results with
Animated GIF’s or Cascading Style Sheets, then it is best to use them to reach the broadest audience and save
the Flash for another section.
A prevalent, but misused practice of Flash by Web designers is the inclusion of lengthy animated introduction
pages (commonly known as splash pages). Many sites force Flash introductions upon their users, and some
force you to download the latest Flash version before you can enter the site.
If forced to sit and wait, most visitors will leave the site and never return. Companies that wish to
have such introduction pages should consider what value this really offers. If you feel that your site
does require an intro page, observe these design guidelines:
All intro pages should have a Skip button that enables users to skip the intro if they wish.
When users return to your site, redirect them to the main content page so that they do not have to wait
through the intro again.
Provide a link to ‘View Flash Intro’. This will allow you to record how many users voluntarily go to
watch the Flash intro.
Navigation is the mechanism your web site provides that allows a user to move around your site. Good navigation is
critical to the success of your web site. If your customers can't find what they need in a timely manner or get
trapped or lost somewhere in the site, the probably won't return. Some things to keep in mind with Flash from a
Ensure that there is a navigation menu.
Don’t create pages that are linked to nothing else.
At a minimum, display previous and next links.
Keep the navigation structure visible instead of hiding it until the user has triggered an event
(such as a mouse over).
Design Buttons and Links that are easy to click on. Avoid using tiny text or small ‘cool’ buttons
that are difficult to click.
Using HTML Frames, include the navigation in a fixed frame and load the Flash page in a separate
frame. If there is a problem, such as low bandwidth supply, the Flash stream and the requested page
may crash. With the fixed navigation menu still visible, users can still visit non-Flash sections
of the site.
Sound adds a richness to many experiences in your life. Film and Television rely heavily on the combination
of audio and video get their messages across. The use of sound on your web site can enhance your image, but you
should follow some general guidelines when designing it into your site:
Don’t use it as a gimmick.
Not all users have computers that can play sound or may be hearing impaired. Be sure to include information
contained in both audio and visual format.
Sound files increase the download time. Every sound file has to be downloaded by the user.
Always provide a way for the user to turn the sound off (and have the their settings preserved between pages)
A homepage with Flash content should be no more than 40k in size. This translates to 40 seconds of a wait on a 56k line.
If a wait is required, display a ‘Loading...’ sequence with a progress indicator. Users need to see something appearing
on the screen or they will click elsewhere.
Use background loading of images and sound where possible to improve the perceived speed of the site.
Operating System Considerations
If your users are running under operating systems such as UNIX, Linux, Amiga, forgo the use of Flash
content on your Web site. Macromedia's licensing practices for the Flash player make it difficult to
incorporate Flash into anything but Windows and Mac Web browsers.
Ernest Leong is a Senior Web Developer at
F3 Computerized Solutions, a web site design and consulting firm specializing in
providing innovative solutions to business problems. F3 Computerized Solutions can be reached by telephone at 813.413.4558.