It seems that Flash design is one of those things that people either love, or love to hate. It's had some bad press due to accessibility and SEO considerations; as well as annoying users when used badly in web design. However if used well it can deliver a powerful message both quickly and efficiently. Immediately communicating to the user the fundamental purpose of a website, whether that is to deliver products, services or information to the user.
Poor Use of Flash design
I'm sure most of us have experienced tedious Flash introductions that provided users with little more than a search for the 'Skip Intro' button. Who wants to give visitors a pointless waiting room that many will abandon in favour of a competitor's site that allows immediate access to products and information? Who wants to create a barrier to the search engines and put it on their site? Could its relative invisibility in the search engines defeat the purpose of the website in the first place – to reach customers? No wonder so many site owners and businesses are cautious about using flash design.
True Flash Integration
This track record combined with many misconceptions of flash design is unfortunate and should not be the case; Flash if used correctly can work in harmony with usability, accessibility and SEO. Flash can be a very powerful web communication tool enabling the multimedia elements of sound, animation, interactivity and video to be experienced through a website. The old saying a "picture is worth a thousand words", well flash can provide an all singing, all dancing experience that will convey products services and unique selling points to a target audience in a way that static text and images alone can not.
The solution is to use Flash by its strengths and to make Flash an integral part of a HTML website, rather than creating an all flash introduction or website. This was how Flash as a technology was always intended to be used; by those who developed it. This hybrid solution if implemented correctly, can deliver all the benefits of both Flash and HTML content for web design.
Search Engine Friendly
With a hybrid site nothing prevents the creation of a fully optimised search engine friendly website as would not be the case with a Flash only website. The combination of both technologies mean that even if the homepage is Flash heavy, it can still be optimised with HTML content and headers to allow search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN index a website effectively. This can include search engine visible links to other content within the website.
Flash does not need to be a hindrance for websites to be seen. Web sites with flash content can be ranked in the search engines for primary keywords as well as being accessible to users.
The subject of accessibility can fuel a range of arguments and what is important to users can get lost. Flash can aid accessibility by engaging the user in sound, animation, graphics and non pixelated content that can be easily scaled for accessible viewing.
Websites that use flash can be accessible. Adobe continues to bring improvements to Flash that allows web designers and developers to provide more accessible content using the Accessibility panel or Actionscript; such as text equivalents for whole movies and button labels.
Effective use of Space
Another advantage of this hybrid approach to web design is more effective use of space. Space is a precious commodity on a web page, especially the homepage. Flash provides the means to display a lot of visual content in one area. For example a flash panel on a web site homepage could be used to show a whole series of products that are stocked; one after the other, rather than just displaying a single static photo. The advantage of this is that it allows visitors to quickly view a range and different types of products on offer. As well as space, it also allows the best use of time as visitors can get bored very quickly if they have to figure out just what it is that you sell or the services being offered, Flash allows this to be visually conveyed immediately.
The Wow factor
First impressions count and users can make their mind up about a website in the first few seconds. As an amazing presentation tool Flash can ensure that the first impressions are good ones. Flash enables you to virtually do anything you can imagine in a multitude of creative and engaging ways. As well as telling a customer about a product or service flash design can be used to show them, whether this is via video, animation, sound, interactive application or all combined. A real focus can be placed on communicating a core message in the most effective and powerful way to customers and visitors.
Flash is interactive allowing users to engage with a website and products. Flash design can be used to create an interactive mini application that encourages users to use and connect with a product. This could be interactively, demonstrating its primary function or mechanism.
Flash is just a tool and like anything else it's how Flash is used that will determine its success. If used correctly as part of an HTML / Flash hybrid site it can bring many advantages to a web site, online business promotion and sales campaigns. The disadvantages that are associated with Flash, are largely because of Flash only websites and poor design. Use of flash does not need to impede SEO nor accessibility, in order to maintain an accessible search engine friendly site the whole site would need to be considered, not just the flash elements in isolation.