Flash websites may be "good" for designers but it sucks for their clients
If you read Bob Atkinson's Tool Tips column in Sep/Oct 2010 issue of DesignEdge Magazine you would think Flash Catalyst was the second coming for web development.
In my opinion, Bob has done designers and more importantly their clients a disservice by suggesting that Adobe Catalyst can replace a web dev team. Let me use the filter of the client's perspective to explain what I believe are the downsides of using Flash for web development, because we're all in the business of customer service, aren't we?
If you believe that Flash is a viable platform to use for web development then I believe you are letting your clients down. Yes Flash doesn't work on iOS products (iPhone, iPad, etc.) but it sucks for the more fundamental reason that it's a non-native proprietary application that ignores web standards and implements its own process for delivering a rich web experience through a browser plug-in. That is all to say that Flash is not web technology but a 3rd-party application that runs on top of a website.
Don't short-change your clients by providing an experience that fails to address their online needs. Designers invest a great deal of time in process. It's what separates the pros from the posers and it's what a client is ultimately paying for—your process and your time. If you're going to develop a Flash site for your client then you had better explain that the result could potentially miss the mark on web standards, accessibility, search optimization, usability...the list goes on and on. Your clients didn't sign up for this did they?
Speaking of process, did I mention Flash kills my computer? Whenever I visit a site with Flash on it my entire computer grinds to a screeching halt. Whatever brilliant Flash animation that's in place slows down all other processes on my computer while resources are diverted to spinning up the Flash "experience".
I fixed that issue with a simple little plug-in called Click-to-Flash. Now all I see when I visit a site that incorporates Flash in its code is a beautiful little graphic telling me that that rogue bit of code has been stopped in its tracks. Awesome! Do I miss any of the interactive experience? Not for a minute. Trust me, your website is way too interactive if I have to reboot my computer to see it.
Moving on...Flash sucks because it doesn't do a good job on search optimization. If your site is built in Flash then there is a very high probability that I won't be able to find it in an online search. While that might not frighten your client at first it should. I would wager that their competitors rejoice when they see that super slick Flash site that just launched. For most clients this should be reason #1 to walk away from a Flash site.
There are a few apologists out there that will tell you about the workarounds that make Flash more SEO-friendly, but they're just that—workarounds. If you are interested in having customers find your company in a web search then does it make sense to block your site from being crawled and indexed? See Flash Island below.
As more and more of us start using mobile handsets to access online content Flash becomes less relevant. Mobile platforms don't require rich media experience to deliver a good customer experience. In fact, the rule of thumb with mobile is to keep it simple. Simple layouts, simple graphics, optimized load times and select content make a better mobile experience. Flash adds relatively little to this matrix.
Why would you intentionally banish your client's website to Flash Island? Flash supports accessibility but I would wager that the majority of designers that use Flash for web development haven't bothered to check out this feature. The amount of time you need to invest (spend) on making Flash accessible is quite high compared to the innate accessibility of HTML code. Does it make sense to knowingly create an inferior product?
There's also the idea that websites should be organic living things that represent a company, brand or product. A static website (one that rarely if ever gets updated) is not worth the bother of creating. If you are not using your website to connect with your customers and stakeholders than why have one in the first place?
A Flash website is a challenge to update. Sure, I'm biased since I think our content management platform is the best thing since sliced bread, but that said, imagine not being able to update your site because it's built in Flash? How frustrating would it be to have to go back to your design partner to have them make even the smallest change? The web is a dynamic place that changes daily and your website should give you the ability to respond to that changing landscape.
Finally, and potentially the most controversial reason that Flash sucks is that it enables designers to be lazy. That's right I said it (apologies to Chris Rock). Flash lets you get away with making something look good without actually making it work right. It's an enabler of the worst kind. Don't designers hate it when marketing people refer to design as "pretty pictures" but that's what Flash makes possible—pretty web pictures that #fail on every other level.
As Bob points out, more-and-more design is moving towards the online environment so it's important to learn about what works and what doesn't so you can offer your clients sound advice that addresses their needs. After all that is what makes you an expert and why they are coming to you in the first place.
You don't need Flash to deliver fantastic, beautiful and functional design since there are many techniques and technologies that add vibrancy and immediacy to websites. There are alternatives to Flash but you have to be brave enough to leave behind "out of the box" solutions and explore the technologies that form the foundation of the next evolution of the web.
If you don't have time for that then find a web development partner that can help you deliver the results your clients need and expect.