Most of you will go to today's site and wait for a fairly long time while the entire Flash animation downloads. I have DSL so I got it pretty quick. However, the wait time is not my concern today, it's the growing trend of creating, or more likely having someone else create, a super-duper Flash intro for an otherwise static site.
Many of my favorite sites do this. It's neat. I'm impressed with the programming ability, but I don't know that I like the effect all that much.
For one, I am not a fan of firewall pages. Those are the pages that stop you for a moment, show you a logo, and ask you to click to enter the site. I don't think they're needed. Some will certainly write me and tell me that the firewall page is there for my benefit. It gains information about my browser and directs me to a page that's optimized for my system.
Flash introductions are basically firewall pages that offer you a show instead of a logo. I admit that the show is often very cool and impressive, but what good does it serve to the over-sell a site?
Let's take today's site for example. The Flash intro fired and immediately said things about the site. This is a hip site. This is a flashy (no pun intended) site. There is a lot going on in this site. The site moves. The site is going to be a party.
When the animation and the music stops, and way too abruptly I might add, I am sent to a static site. Yes, I see the quotes coming in and going out, but that's nowhere near the power and impact the intro suggested would be inside.
Be honest with me - after a stunning, whiz-bang introduction, do you feel let down after the show?
Also, today's intro stopped suddenly. It was as if the film broke and then the page changed. Does that happen when you surf? It was as if the animation programmer put all of his or her time and energy into starting the piece, but finishing it was accomplished be simply shutting off the machine. Would you rather a Flash introduction come to an end as cleanly as it started? I would.
As a matter of fact, I would like the intro to simply not end. I have always felt the best method of using Flash was to allow the intro to simply "become" the homepage. When I said that to a group of programmers during a lecture, they hated the idea because that means a great deal more work. They would have had to, as they put it, "build the entire site out of Flash".
It is my opinion that's the way to go. As it stands now, the Flash intro is nothing more than a fancy bow on an otherwise traditional site, right? You put that intro on the front of the site to make it stand out, to make it different, right? Well, after the intro runs, you're right back to being the same as any other HTML-based site.
But a Flash-based site...that's different.
So, that's my rant. If I were to quantify my thoughts, I would say:
1. Avoid a Flash intro unless it is something that it fully needed.
2. If you use a Flash intro, make it very quick (3-5 seconds) simply for load time, but moreover, for your user's sake.
3. Make your Back navigation avoid the Flash page altogether. It was an intro page. There's no need to go back to it a second time.
4. If you start the Flash intro smoothly, end it smoothly.
5. If at all possible, have the Flash intro simply "meld" right into the homepage.
I have no doubt that some will praise these thoughts and some will tell me I'm full of it. I'll make you a bet where the line between the two groups will be drawn, those who just surf, and those who have Flash intros.
Joe Burns, Ph.D.
Always Remember: When it comes to designing your Web site, the most important person is not you, but your user.