Nielsen and Flash : LUSENET : Joel on Software : One Thread

Joel, I loved your Nielsen/singles bar analogy. I thought it was quite fitting and funny. Definately one for the quotations file!

I don't think that Nielsen understands that sometimes people are more interested in fun than words. As Philip Greenspun writes in What can we learn from Jakob Nielsen:

Personally, I think that Nielsen's advice only makes sense for the purely commercial sites that make up virtually all the examples in Designing Web Usability. Users come to get basic information, as quickly as possible, and leave.

Now, you won't catch me using Flash on *my* pages, but occassionally I like to head over to and shoot celebrities or club some baby seals. Animated comics (such as the famous "Metalli-cops" bit) are another area where Flash shines.

Where does flash suck? Just about everywhere else. For example, Scient is interviewing on my campus next week. I figured I'd check out their website before they got here. Good luck if you're on a Unix machine. Scient's website is Flash "enhanced". There is a non-Flash version, but if you're not Flash-enabled, you get a wonderful message about how much you suck. (There are additional annoyances on their page. They don't underline links, and graphics which look clickable don't do anything. I'm surprised Scient gets any business at all.)

-- Anonymous, November 03, 2000


If you want a web site that entertains, read David Siegel. (Maybe.) If you want a web site that informs, read Jakob Nielsen.

-- Anonymous, November 03, 2000

After reading Nielsen's piece on Flash, the main thought that came to mind was a companion piece, "Pompous Voices of Pseudo-Authority 99% Bad".

-- Anonymous, November 05, 2000

Actually, I'm a big fan of I think they've created a pretty strong argument that Flash can sometimes be good. I've been to plenty of websites that are using Flash poorly, but there are some definite applications... As a weird aside, has anyone else noticed that Flash seems to have some ungodly compression scheme? The same graphic incorporated into a Flash file seems to take much less space.

-- Anonymous, November 05, 2000

Does Flash suck? No. Why would anyone think so? Because up to this point, people have mostly done sucky things with Flash. Some of the very same people who are down on Flash can't wait for SVG. What's SVG? It's a W3C standard for Scaleable Vector Graphics, i.e. Flash. Having tried Adobe's SVG plug-in, I can attest (and you can too, by taking the trouble to test-drive 'em) that Flash is faster, tighter, better-behaved. Apart from that, SVG and SFI/SWF (Flash file formats) are *the same*, in every way that counts. Moreover (here's the kicker that made me a Flash fan) Macromedia has made Flash an open standard. Anyone can write their own Flash development tools, and a few people out there are doing just that. (Of course, M/media probably wouldn't have taken this step if they hadn't seen SVG coming up from behind & gotten alarmed; but hey, that's biznis.) The other kicker for me was discovering that Flash includes browser event hooks. Cool! It ain't just animations, it's interactive! Of course the very coolest thing about Flash is being able to (finally!) draw diagonal lines & curves in the browser, *without* Java. Excellent!! So like, just think what you might do with that (and check out ...)

-- Anonymous, November 05, 2000

Scient has more problems than just a sucky website.

I recommend you read the article "How Scient helped go from launch to bankruptcy in less than 60 days" to see exactly how they can "help" a business.

-- Anonymous, November 05, 2000

An earlier poster talks about why flash does not inherently suck. This is true, very few things are inherently bad, beyond anchovies. The point of Jakob's article is that Flash encourages unusable design. Not that it is impossible to do good with flash, but that if you observe it in the wild, it is almost always used for evil.

On the point of usability not being the most important thing, I disagree with Joel. To the extent that that the thing being studied is a tool, not a toy or a game, it's usability is paramount.

However two other things are certainly true. 1) Jakob is an undeniably grumpy guy. (He seems to take all usability problems personally.) 2) Other factors like fun and beauty can be maximized without affecting usability.

-- Anonymous, November 05, 2000

I just visited

Very nice use of Flash to create the feel of the Myst series and spur interest in the upcoming game. Unlike the QuickTime video on the same site, it is fast-to-load for those who don't have broadband connections.

Too many web site design "experts" are just too grumpy. "Do it my way or it sucks, pal!"

-- Anonymous, November 15, 2000

In the current conditions, of course Flash sucks. The only good thing about it is "skip the intro" button. Btw, to the's lover here: I've just visited and it blew me up as soon as I clicked on this breathing fat guy.

-- Anonymous, November 24, 2000

IMO, Flash should be used for "leaf" level applications and never navigation. It is wonderful at, for example, cool games for my kids to play or virtual makeovers for my wife to experiment with.

To use it for branch nodes (i.e., navigation) is a fundamental error, I think:

- How does content underneath the Flash navigation get spidered? (answer: it usually won't) - How do you internationalize the Flash? (answer: you usually can't) - How do you update the Flash on a frequent basis? (ditto) - How do you provide a delightful (read: incredibly snappy) user experience at the navigation level? (you know the answer)

If anyone can point out a high volume B2C or B2B site that uses Flash for navigation purposes, please let me know. I do love it for leaf- level content purposes, however.

-- Anonymous, December 02, 2000

Personally, I think Flash is a wonderful substitute to java applet and dhtml. Excluding some unix users, Flash is now included with both netscape and IE distributions. Also applications created in Flash looks the same if you are in mac or windows. There are some other really good benefits of using flash in your website or web applications.

However as a programmer, there are some drawbacks of using flash as user interface/interaction component. 1. Lack of good programming language in Flash. Flash 5 comes with a simple proprietary scripting language that's not standard. Why didn't they use javascript or perl??

2. Flash authoring environment is based on timeline method, if you are familiar with using Director you'll know what I'm talking about. Imagine trying to build sophisticated web based project management system in Flash, project will take you long time.

3. Not easy to debug flash based projects. Also Flash does not have a good scripting IDE.

Some good stuff I see in future: 1. Allaire and Macromedia has announced a project called Harpoon. From what I understand, Allaire and Macromedia will create java(or other languages) UI class based on flash(swf) format. It will be interesting.

2. More programmers will start developing projects using flash based UI. One of the reasons you don't see good web based Applications using flash is because lot of the web designers or web developers do not have programming skills (ok. I'll get flamed for this one.)

3. More companies are creating softwares that will compete with Macromedia Flash that uses outputs swf format. So better and cheaper authoring kits.

-- Anonymous, December 09, 2000

I feel that there is a time and place for everything.If I want info I don't go to a flash site and wait for the page to load. However,if I want to be entertained I go to a Flash or Game site. I have respect for Jacob Nielson and find him to be very informative.

-- Anonymous, May 10, 2001

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