When I was but a young lemming, I too entered the world of Flash to do the simplest things that would cause today’s modern digital designer to gasp. Whole Web sites. (Yikes!) Widgets. (Ugh.) Ads. (Haunting.) You name it. But then I learned about graphic manipulation. This whole piece of software was supposed to put the Web in motion and become a visual tool for story telling. Not, exactly, what it was intended for.
Luckily I never jumped off the cliff.
New software came along. The Web evolved. And Flash was exposed for what it was: clunky, bloated and easy. Flash is the instant mashed potatoes of graphics technology. But there is hope! Perhaps you’ve heard of this whole HTML5 thing? It’s neat. However, this post isn’t about that, because HTML6 will be here before some people let the Web pry their Tweens from their cold, dead hands. This post is about evolution. Without pontificating too much, of course.
Why I hate when people tweet “Interactive Graphics”
Web graphics are stories. Data stories. New ways to translate complex information in multiple spaces across multiple devices. RECORD SKIP! I know. Yet, many artists ignore this. The days of sitting in front of powerful Dell desktop computers that don’t mind cranking on fans for the smallest SWF that required 30 kb just to draw a purple circle the size of a quarter are as gone as Macromedia. Where people consume these stories is just as important as the content. That’s why I loathe not being able to see the content. And I’m really tired of the standard “You need to upgrade your Flash player” filler. At least be creative with that.
Why can’t I see the content? Because I am usually checking Twitter from my phone or iPad. I rarely go to the Web interface of Twitter. But when I am on my desktop I have Flash disabled in all of my browsers. Why? Because a bunch of digital ad “designers” decided they need to build everything in Flash. So, your interactive graphic that you spent two months working on? My browser thinks it’s trying to sell me Viagra.
Ask yourself questions before you open Flash
Before you click on that pretty little red icon on your desktop I want you to ask yourself the following questions. I’ll supply my answers but you should come up with them yourself.
Question 1: Do I even need Flash?
Answer: See flow chart below…
Source: The Google Cache
Answer: Really? With questions like this I tend to say “Go with what was first.” Did Google Maps start with a Flash plugin? No. So, maybe you shouldn’t either.
Question 3: Do I want a lot of people to see this graphic?
Answer: Well, yeah. So why are you cutting out a huge chunk of your audience by forcing users to install a plugin or ignoring the mobile space all together?
But I only know Flash
The amount of open source technology out there is ridiculous. Start tapping into it and figure out how you can build old projects without using Flash. My advice to anyone getting started is this: Build something. Books are great for reference. Classes are set to the middle of the road. And tutorial Web sites don’t give you the experience. Also, the barrier to entry is nonexistent. Flash = $. Open source code = Free. So how do you get started?
Google. Or whatever search engine you use. Google for what you need. Check forums like StackOverflow. You’ll be surprised how much guidance is out there. If you get stuck, well hey, you learned something. Your job requires research for data usually, correct? Well apply those same skills to your knowledge of Web development and design. We’ll all be the better for it. Not just you.
In defense of Flash
Of course, there needs to be a counterpoint. Flash obviously isn’t really dead. It’s going to live on for a long time even as HTML5 advances in SVG, Canvasing, and other dynamic spaces. My argument is mainly for the day-to-day graphic/data visualization designer. If you’re making an animated cartoon short. Flash is probably best. If you’re making a game. Again, Flash is probably your best bet. I’m still saying probably though. HTML5, especially in the browser compatibility area, still has a lot of growing to do. The best thing about it though is that as it grows, and as browsers become more compatible, you don’t need to rush out and drop hundreds of dollars on the latest version. There isn’t an HTML Creative Suite.
Here are some views from both sides (some posts are fairly outdated but still relevant):
HTML5 has a long way to go. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start now. Is HTML5 a Flash killer? Probably not. The same as Android is not the iPhone killer. HTML5 is merely an example here to inspire designers and developers to continue to learn. Don’t get stuck in comfort. Flash will stick around for the foreseeable future. But the concept of Flash, as we know it, is f*cking dead.