Tuesday November 16, 2004

All Puppies Eventually Grow Up.


A recent article by revered Atlanta-based designer Todd Dominey sparked some thoughts that have been sitting on my backburner.

When I began my current job here at G2E, we had something to prove. We were an unknown design company in a big city that has, historically, not fostered much growth in the new media field. Although the company had actually been around for a few years, no one really knew about us. With an influx of investor capital came the opportunity to hire new designers (like me, in May 2003), buy new equipment, and make a name for ourselves.

A major priority for any design firm is the company website. It is often the first contact between designer and client. Even when designers and clients are brought together by other means, the website is undoubtedly used at some point in the job negotiation process to measure the creativity, skill, professionalism and organization of the company. We all know it: your website is your face on the web, your 24-hour salesman. It had better do its job.

Being unknowns in the business community, we felt the need to “show off”—really flex those creative muscles and put up a website that “wowed” its audience. We were the new dogs in a strange kennel, if you will.

The website paid off. Originally offered as Flash only, the HTML side was just added in the last few months, squeezed in between other projects as I covertly studied CSS and web standards. Our Flash site, while essentially simplistic and straightforward, accomplished its purpose. Every one of our clients have been impressed, and convinced of our creative capabilities.

But our little company has entered a new phase of its life. We have a potent portfolio under our belts now, and a list of satisfied clients to use as references. We have done a fair amount of Flash work, but we have done equal amounts of HTML and print work. While the decision to eschew Flash for the next incarnation of our company website is not entirely in my hands, that is the direction I am leaning. The real question is why.

I’m not just enamored by CSS/XHTML layouts; I’m convinced that, compared to a Flash website, our company would benefit more from using this non-Flash alternative. Let me run through the list of pro’s and con’s of switching to an HTML website:

  • HTML pages can be indexed by search engines. The typical Flash site ends the crawling at Page 1.
  • HTML doesn’t need a preloader. Flash does.
  • With a properly-employed CMS or template structure, updating an HTML page can take minutes compared to hours in Flash.
  • You will never need to update your HTML plugin.

These are just a few points I have considered, and are common knowledge to most web designers. The trick is convicing the higher-ups that we can achieve a sophisticated web presence without using Flash. It is about letting the work we have produced shine through with unfettered brilliance, not sinking small thumbnails into an elaborately-transitioning site.

Well, that’s my thought for the day—coherent or not. Wish me luck as I gather my ammunition for the decisions and meetings ahead!

Commentary


Abel Rios » 4604 days ago #

Hey man, great site!

I’ve been completely engulfed by web standards, but my loyalty still remains to Flash. I’ve always been an artist/animator, so I have to stick with my roots. I’m going to agree with you to some extent on your views with Flash vs HTML. Yes, it’s true that search engines don’t index Flash pages as they do HTML. However, if done right, you can have the best of both worlds, and be completely satisfied with the end result.

With a properly-employed CMS or template structure, updating an HTML page can take minutes compared to hours in Flash.

A CMS powered Flash site, is just as powerful (and easy to update) as HTML is. Granted, you don’t get to enjoy adding html tags, but just you wait, that will come soon enough.

Cheers! :)

Jared » 4604 days ago #

I’ve seen your site through Texas Flashers, Abel. Very nice, fellow Texan!

My first job was as a Flash designer, and it’s really been the skill that has kept me employed, so by no means do I want to write off Flash as obsolete medium. In my experience, however, Flash seems to require a much more complex level of understanding to implement things that are achieved relatively easily in HTML. I love Flash, and think it’s the best medium to use for many projects, but for this particular use—our new company website—I feel like we can deliver more concise content by not using Flash.

Maybe I’ve just lost touch with Actionscript. ;)

Abel Rios » 4604 days ago #

I totally understand where you’re coming from. I’m in the process of rebuilding our company’s website, and they want to use Flash, but I want to use HTML with some Flash. I’ve been spoiling myself with Web Standards concepts, so much that sometimes I lose sight of what I’m actually doing.

Yes, Flash still has a way to go, but I bet you’ll be rather surprised with this next release.

TexasFlashers eh? I knew your URL looked framiliar!!! :)

Katie » 4603 days ago #

Wow! You all are located in San Antonio, TX? I’ve lived there for 6 years of my life and was looking all over for a design/development firm for ages!

I am located in Toronto, Canada now (I’m Canadian), and currently working as a designer for a small development firm. I’d just like to say that I wish I found you all earlier on!

Good luck in your endevours! Wonderful site, by the way!

Matt » 4600 days ago #

J-man. I totally agree with you. As much as I’d hate to say it but – Flash is dying a slow death (take a hint from director – who still has not seen the light of day). Fellow bloggers – don’t get me wrong, I love flash. I’ve seen some really cool site and animations over the past few years. But nobody’s buying. And nobody’s closing (ABC). The designer’s kryptonite are the old school- slow learning marketing and sales executives that are pushing flash as the next big thing on the web. They’d be right 2-3 years ago.

So how do we wake the dead? How do we take flash off of life support? Or should we just pull the plug?

Congrats on the new site Jared! I’m really impressed. I’ve seen you do some outstanding designs over the past 1.5 years – but this one takes home the Gold!

M.E.

Josh Dura » 4599 days ago #

First off, Jared, it’s been a while since I visited your site, and it looks GREAT. Congrats on the new site (g2e), it looks great too :)

I will be the first to agree that Flash has its place. You have to evaluate your needs, and decide whether you have the resources to develop a site/app that can be updated easily. Everything in HTML is possible in Flash, with enough time :)

Matt, unfortunately, Flash is far from dead, and in fact, is moving in the other direction. While I do believe that Flash has become more of an advanced users tool (mostly from the AS side), I also think that Flash 8 is going to be moving more towards a designers tool, and Flex, Central, and other tools will more fill the developers niche. MANY companies are buying Flash, and MANY students are learning Flash. To say that no one is buying is extremely short sited to say the least. I know of at least 10 companies off the top of my head (and I know there are hundreds more) that have paid the $12,000 server fee for Flex (which creates SWF files dynamically). So in short, Flash isn’t dying, and you can expect it to be around for a long long time.

Also, it isn’t fair to compare Director and Flash, as they are 2 totally different tools, with 2 totally different niches.

Matt » 4598 days ago #

I won’t say much cause i have my foot stuck in my mouth. Josh – thanks for for helping me rethink my personal feelings towards the future of flash.

Nice site by the way.

M.E.

Josh Dura » 4598 days ago #

For the record, I didn’t mean to bash you. I was just trying to make a point :) Sorry if my rant came across as mean.

Thanks for the comments on the site.

Jeff Croft » 4598 days ago #

I totally understand the appeal of Flash as a “showing off” tool. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I understand that a bit of “showing off” is important when trying to impress potential clients. I am first and foremost an HTML/CSS designer, with a few Flash shills here and there. For all of these reasons, I’d probably lean towards the “HTML with some Flash” concept for a design studio site. I’d put together an HTML/CSS site first, and then maybe go back and look at replacing some of the superfulous images (that is to say, ones that are there simply for visual enhancement) with subtle animations of the same image, maybe replace some text headers with Flash-based text (a la sIFR), etc. This way, you get all the goodies that a standards-compliant site offers you, but still have that little bit of “zing” to your site that Flash can offer and helps to impress clients.

The G-man » 4161 days ago #

“Flash is dead, flash is dead” is a big giant neon sign saying “I’m not a competent webdesigner!”

Some of these people, I suspect, have been working in the bowels of a terminally overweight beaurocracy that seldom understands how new technologies can benefit their productivity, nor care. So they mimic that self-destructive attitude.

In case anyone was unaware, advertising uses flash heavily. No, Javascript can’t do much to make those ads bounce around like that. No, it ain’t Java either, hahaha. That’s your first clue that anti-Flash flag wavers are a lot of empty steam. To kill Flash is to send marketing back into the stone age. That will never happen. Marketing is king.

Ever played a videogame online? Ever heard of a popular game NOT done in flash? What on earth are these people eating that makes them so dilerious? In the internet world, only Java is dead. Flash is the spawn of Satan that killed Java, remember? In fact, it was only when Flash came on the scene that online games were even feasible!

The only ones that can legitimately poopoo on Flash are the ones that have used it extensively, both graphically and programmatically to achieve real results. The catch-22 is that they won’t because they are too satisfied with it. But if you have a preconceived view that Flash is dumb, then you won’t be apt to learn it fully, will you?

Now evidently, if some of you are complaining that Flash makes it harder to maintain websites despite it’s ability to generate dynamic content with just a teensy bit of programming know-how, then I know you don’t have a shred of creativity or programming sense necessary to use it properly. Flash gives you everything to make your lives more efficient but it won’t automate on its own!

From my perspective, beaurocracies (the last place where you will find innovation) hold on to old technologies because they are afraid of anything that will rock the boat. Firing 19 HTML/CSS slobs for one Flash designer would be vastly more efficient but it would be bad for job creation.

As I speak, I just finished a simple HTML-reader that doesn’t just read “B” or “I” tags but reads TABLEs too. So I know from experience that you can create and maintain webpages easily while still having a site in Flash. You just need ingenuity.

The only semi-real anti-Flash argument left standing is this deceptive meme: “Google doesn’t register my Flash site”. Oh boohoo.

If your entire marketing plan is about search engine optimization, file for bankrupcy now. People from search engines aren’t coming in because of buzz. They are coming in randomly after searching keywords. They may not even be looking for your website, no matter how glitzy it is. What makes you think they are? In marketing you don’t rely on random results, you create buzz. Visitors who directly heard about your website, company, product, etc are the ones you want, not surfer monkeys from Google.

It’s up to you guys to keep up. Wishing a technology away because you can’t find the time to get your heads around it will be what puts you in the soup lineup in ten years time.

Jared Christensen » 4161 days ago #

You completely missed the point. Flash is great for many sites, but to do an entire site in Flash “just because it’s cool and stuff” is stupid. The fact that Flash can’t be indexed by search engines is not a point to “boohoo” about; it can ruin a business.

The G-man » 4161 days ago #

Jared, you missed my point completely all just to troll my comments. I never said anything about “cool” in my post. You’re the one stuck on “cool”.

Instead, I was talking only about functionality and the benefits of modularized programming using actionscript, xml, cgi programming, etc to make sites easier to maintain. Forget about the stunning graphics. Just actionscript alone can make life easier.

You on the other hand are still living in 1999 and think Flash is only a graphics tool. That limits you severely.

And I honestly never heard of a business being “ruined” by search engine rankings. I’d love to see the statistics on that. Hehe. On the other hand, I have heard of businesses ruined by poor management and faulty marketing plans. The real-world importance of search engine optimization is a drop in the bucket to proper business planning. Sorry, Jared, your arguments are weak.

Jared Christensen » 4161 days ago #

G-man,

I say you totally missed the point because of everyone who commented about this article (including me, in the article itself), only one said “Flash is dead”, and he was quickly convinced that his statement was untrue. I don’t think anyone here thinks Flash is dead. The whole point of this topic and discussion was to point out that Flash is not the right tool for every project. You took one person’s offhand, uninformed comment and turned it into a crusade.

As for the comment stating “You on the other hand are still living in 1999 and think Flash is only a graphics tool”, I think that if you actually knew me, looked at the Flash sites in my portfolio or read what I wrote, you’d come to a far different conclusion.

Additionally, I never said a business could be ruined by SEO. However, I can tell you from personal experience that bad SEO can hurt a business, and Flash can and does contribute to bad SEO. It may not be important for big, commercial companies that have millions of marketing dollars pointing traffic to a Flash site, but it is important for small businesses who count on their products and services pages to be indexed, searchable and highly ranked.

Flash is capable of amazing things that can’t be achieved with any other tool. I still hold firm that it’s just wrong for certain projects and businesses.

The G-man » 4160 days ago #

There’s the “Flash is dead” guy, and then there’s you: the “I can’t see passed Flash’s razzle-dazzle graphics and the book that came with it is just too thick to read through” guy.

You forgot what you wrote. Let’s go over your 24-karat quotes that didn’t pan out:

Quote: “HTML pages can be indexed by search engines. The typical Flash site ends the crawling at Page 1.”

Nonsense. “Typical Flash sites” are made by “typical jugheads”. Know your craft. With the proper piece of code and methodology, there is a work-around, even here. Still a weak excuse, all dependent on the 1999 fad that SEO is really all that important.

Quote: “HTML doesn’t need a preloader. Flash does.”

Nonsense. Some HTML/CSS sites still take forever to upload. The fact that these HTML sites don’t have a preloader just makes it even worse.

Many “vanilla” websites are plagued with buggy JS, screwed-up DIV tags or show some arcane and unintended browser-specific “hiccup”. HTML is now nothing but a blackhole of mishmash scripting languages and pull-your-hair-out redundancies. Between fixing bugs in the entrails of a swiss-cheese HTML/CSS/JS/Ham-and-pineapple page and fixing bugs in Actionscript, only corporations nowdays really have the money and manpower to blow on the former.

But hey, jobs for America.

A “preloader” isn’t synonymous with “6000 Megabytes”, either. Idiots who blow uber-bandwidth will be executed once I become emperor. Try an experiment: Stuff a 60K jpeg into a swf. Now check its Kb. What did you notice? Did the size go up or down further? If it went up, read Chapter 2. Small and medium-sized business will only benefit from this smaller bandwidth and quicker development time.

Quote: “With a properly-employed CMS or template structure, updating an HTML page can take minutes compared to hours in Flash.”

Nonsense again. If you’re taking “hours” to update pages in Flash, you should be flipping to the section on XML and dynamic text! Who said you can’t make a reusable template structure in Flash?

It actually should take a few seconds if you’re doing it correctly in Flash. Even if you’re changing the text manually, it wouldn’t take hours. For the love of my dear aunt Betsy, is your computer made by Nintendo? Chuck the Commodore 64 out!

Quote: “I can tell you from personal experience that bad SEO can hurt a business”

I was speaking outside of the porn industry. Bad SEOs at best only hurt the psychology of a business that lacks a competent marketer that knows that the internet is still only ever a part of a larger marketing plan. The rest involves other very important media strategies in print ad, radio, television or even the oldest medium of all: a human handshake.

A good marketing plan doesn’t revolve around a single website anymore than it revolves around a single commercial or a single flyer.

Anyways, it’s rather silly to blame Macromedia for what amounts to your clear limitations with Flash programming and sensible marketing. You should have the decency to post an Erratum or something.

Jared Christensen » 4160 days ago #

You make some good points, but I think we’re done here. I've really had quite enough of your insulting and antagonistic approach.

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