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How not to look like you are worth what you charge

This collection of screenshots is a perfect demonstration of how not to present yourself well on the net. Many of these sites are completely inaccessible on iPhone and iPad (as of 7.10.10) and most often this is because they were built with total dependence on Flash.

I wish I had taken the time to gather these myself. I will be citing specific examples in the future but this survey of sites is as enlightening as it is amusing.

First of  these utter failure screenshots is of TBWA\Chiat\Day‘s home page. TBWA is Apple’s agency. The same Apple on whose products, iPhone and iPad, their home page breaks completely.

Ironically, Nick Jones, who captured and presents these examples markets himself as a Flash developer and his work, despite being Flash-centric is elegant and approachable when Flash is installed and working. Based on the work he shows, I’d probably hire him as a Flash developer. I’d hire somebody else to build the rest of the site. His site is far smarter than most of the expensive agency sites pictured at the link because his site still offers screenshots and basic descriptions of his work when visited from an iPhone or with a browser not running Flash. (several of the linked images do lead to 404 errors however).

Flash is a powerful and useful tool. It can allow you to present content, offer interactivity and even provide rich gameplay experiences on the web but it is not, and should never be, the navigational spine of your primary internet presence.

The web works as it does for some very good reasons and while Flash has a useful place, if you  allow a desire for the relative ease of building swoopy interactivity or cinematic presentation afforded by Flash to trump your basic priorities, you will end up undermining yourself as laughably as some of those screenshots.

Standards compliant HTML must always be the foundation of any site you expect to be accessible and useful to the whole of the internet. Of course, for content elements that demand a level of interactivity beyond that possible with HTML and JavaScript, Flash will often be a good solution.

When you, and really a better way to think about it is, when your users need this level of interactivity; consider the probability that Flash is necessary for a portion, not the whole, of your site. Consider the probability that your desire for your navigation to beep on click, to slide across the screen, for video to be an ‘introduction’, that your site is either a very rare case, or, perhaps, that you are putting presentation ahead of more important goals.

If you rely on Flash for the basic functionality of your site, you will, especially with so many iPhones and iPads in the world, need to build a second ‘no-flash’ instance of your site to reach the most users in the most contexts.

Particularly amusing is that because of the way Safari for iOS works, unless, you rely on Flash, your site will usually work reasonably well on iPhone and iPad negating the need for some of the WAPP-like ‘mobile’ versions you see in at least two of those screenshots.

With HTML done to an even basic level of competence, you can easily achieve:

  • Accessibility for users with visual impairment
  • Exposure to search
  • A working Back Button
  • Deep Linkability
  • Printability
  • Web UI conventions like ‘followed link’ coloring.

Yes, many of these things can be, at least partially, implemented in Flash, these are either things you must build in yourself or bolt-on using the Adobe-created print and accessibility functionality possible, though more difficult, in Flash.

If you are looking to work with an Agency or ‘web designer’, be sure to have somebody available to you to help you define an architecture that won’t undermine your purpose. If you see a demo of something beautiful, animated and almost cinematic in its stagecraft, ask a lot of questions about how it was made and how it fails gracefully. Telling your users “You need the latest Flash Plug-in to use this site” is a golden opportunity for your users to tell you “no thank you”.

Oh, and if you think the solution is to hammer Apple for not allowing Flash on iOS devices, do a little more research. Go to those URLS with a Flash-enabled browser , really explore and try to imagine navigating them with a touch user interface. HTML and most JavaScript works very well unmodified with a touch interface. Those Flash sites won’t.

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