In recent years the web appears to have become trendier and more multimedia oriented than in its early days. While in some domains the new technologies work and prove successful in most cases they don't add to the user experience, on the contrary, they just make browsing the Internet more difficult and time consuming.
This article means to point out the drawbacks of using Flash as well as give some pointers on how to better use it and make sure it affects less the accessibility and usability of websites.
Flash is probably the newest and trendiest technology currently used in web design. Nearly everyone ranging from beginners to experienced web designers learn how to create and implement Flash in their websites. Flash, unlike HTML is not open source. Flash is a trademark of Macromedia. Some predict that when the web will become more of a WebTV and multimedia show, Flash will replace almost completely the HyperText Markup Language (HTML).
Flash has been the "releaser of energy" for all the trendy web designers on the Internet because it allowed them to express more of what they wanted to say. Soon, Flash had literally taken over thousands of websites. While Flash can be successfully used in web sites with profiles in music, multimedia, online games, interactive activities etc, on most sites Flash is used for the sake of using it and raises serious issues for users.
It is not fair to exclude these users from using a website for the sake of design. Design (and all the technologies employed in creating it) should aid users in finding the information they seek not slow them down in doing so.
There are mixed opinions when it comes to Flash web sites. However, the diversity of opinions does not lie in what Flash is or what it can do but rather in the circumstances people happen to encounter it.
If in the first instance people like and appreciate the visual appeal of Flash, in the second instance they would rather not encounter it. This is a very important point that Flash designers should take account of.
The answer is simpler than it may seem. They want Flash websites because they've seen their competitors, friends or family have Flash websites and want to have good looking sites like them too. However, they overlook the fact that when searching for information on the web they would probably skip a Flash website. Flash is a trend. If the neighbour's got it I've got to have it too. It's safe to say Flash is the biggest Internet trend to date.
Designers feel that by employing Flash and showing their skills to the world they will be appreciated to their true value. The Internet is filled with Flashy portfolio sites with splash pages and animations all over but with minimum content that is unlikely to make users want to come back. This raises another question.
Even with the current popularity of Flash, most content-oriented sites are very unlikely to use it. It is in fact the sites that do not have real content that employ Flash in the attempt to fill the content gap. Content is what makes users come to websites and what makes them come back. If a website has no real useful content then it is unsuccessful despite its good looks.
However, if Flash is the content (such as online games, jokes, maps, graphs etc) then it's as useful as any other unique content on the web.
It wouldn't be fair to generalise. There are many content rich sites that use Flash with moderation. It is often the designer that uses the tool that makes a web site successful or unsuccessful and not the tool.
Because of the way Flash is used by many designers, Flash based web sites cannot accommodate large amounts of text. Flash is ultimately inflexible and unnecessarily adds to the weight of the page. Most Flash designers end up putting the content in a small box in the corner of the screen in order to accommodate the Flash design of the page.
Unfortunately, alternate browsers have not reached the point where they can properly read Flash files. Flash files often do not contain just images in motion but also text. Screen readers, voice browsers and other alternate browsers cannot retrieve such information.
Flash is often used because it's visually compelling. Visually disabled users are unable to enjoy or appreciate the visuals and the animation like average people do. Special care must be taken when designing with Flash and considering accessibility issues.