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This article has been kindly written for WebDesignHelper.co.uk by Luke Humble - Web Designer / Flash Animator {http://www.boritech.com}.

Should I use Flash in my Web Site ?

I have come across some pretty amazing Flash work on the net. Some example sites are www.skyscraper.paregos.com and http://www.phonatix.de and l am still constantly coming across new talent and ideas which seem to push the boundaries all the time!

Along with the impressive Flash there is also the poor Flash work, now this goes without saying that in most cases (like myself), it is always because the designer has only just started to sit down and use the program and therefore has no idea how to use it!

Now, the big question any web designer comes across is whether or not they should use Flash for/in a website. To answer this question you need to consider the following points:

  • Loading time for the animation
  • Whether the whole site is going to be in Flash
  • Who your target audience is and how is Flash going to help in the use of your site
  • How regularly you want to update content
  • Test, test and test again!

Loading time for the animation
Starting with the first point, with all due respect to those creative soles out there that place the most fantastic artwork and vector animations, nobody really wants to wait more than 2 minutes to download something if that! So if it is going to take more than 1 minute - 2 minutes max then you need to seriously consider whether the Flash animation is going to aid you the overall usage of the site to justify the long download time. Remember, a well thought out and presented Flash animation will be impressive to a visitor the first couple of times and then become a monumental pain in the ass afterwards while waiting for it to load. (time considered on a normal cable modem @ 56kb/sec)

Whether the whole site is going to be in Flash
If you want to put all your content into a flash file that is embedded (placed within the coding of the web page) in one html page on your site you might have a few problems with search engine listings! To the best of my knowledge, no search engine around is able to extract the textual elements from a flash animation and so if the majority of your site's content exists within Flash elements then you can probably kiss any traffic from search engines good-bye. Don't ever underestimate the value of search engines as a source of visitors to your web site - without the search engines you could lose anything up to 80% of your web site traffic!

Who your target audience is and how is Flash going to help in the use of your site
Define who your target audience is so you can decide the best way of presenting information to them, for instance, if you wanted to provide information on how to get to your business you would not use worded instructions as you would need to provide endless numbers of different routes for people to get to your business from around the country. This is just the same as using Flash to display text when you could quite easily place it on a html page and it would load anything up to 30 times quicker. So choose the best way to get the information across to your target audience!

How regularly you want to update content
If you have just started to use Flash and you are reading this article to decide whether it is worth placing your whole site in a Flash animation then you seriously need to consider how often you will need to update the content of your site! The reason for this is because you will be placing all the text in text boxes within Flash that will need to be manually updated and uploaded to the web server. If you are adding content constantly then this can become a time-consuming exercise, as well as it will increase the size of the Flash file that your visitors will be viewing (or not be viewing if it takes too long to download!). If however you are a Flash guru then you can use text files to automatically add content for your site. To do this the use of Action Script comes into play (Action Script is very similar to JavaScript whereby it initiates commands and actions). Put all these text files that your Flash animation will draw on will take time to download, and again you will loose visitors dramatically if they have to wait to long.

Test, test and test again!
Finally, when you have decided how you are going to use Flash on you site then you need to carry out some finally tests before you upload your new site! You need to take into account that no every computer that is used by your visitors is set-up in exactly the same way as each other, the factor that varies the most is 'Screen Resolution'. At the end of last year 52% of computers online used 800x600 screen resolution, 44% used 1024x768 and 4% was everything else. So you need to make sure that you build your site to be viewed by the maximum amount of people, which for last year was everyone that had the 800x600 resolution. What also needs to be considered is that everyone perceives colours in different ways, so what looks like the most sexiest colour you've ever created might look like a regurgitated full English breakfast to others! So taking into account these most important factors you need to test your site in as many situations as you can and on as many different computers as you can to determine where you need to tidy up your site. once you are happy then upload the site and tell everyone you know to take a look at the site to identify any problems they come across, remember, feedback, good or bad is one of the most useful bits of information you will ever get, so don't ever get offended if someone doesn't like something as it means you can improve your site to meet up to visitor expectations.

So, use Flash with care. Understand your audience, and view your intended animation in a variety of environments before letting your site run free on the internet.

One of the best ideas I have seen is to offer two versions of your sites on the Splash Page (first page that people see on the internet) - Flash and non-Flash version. There is no point in having Flash detection if your visitor does not want to see it for the 60th time!

One last thing, use Flash to enhance your site and don't over power your site with fantastic Flash animations as it can totally detract from what your site is actually offering! A Flash menu system as part of your layout is a good idea.

Flash has some incredible and stunning functionality, use it wisely.......

Written By Luke Humble - Web Designer / Flash Animator {http://www.boritech.com}

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