Flash technology has become one of the most popular mediums of web design in recent years. Unfortunately, however, many web designers go overboard with Flash and many websites that use the technology are frustrating to use due to complicated interfaces and slow download times. This is why it is very important to optimize the deployment of Flash while still being able to take advantage of its potentially great possibilities.
Flash can bring a new level of interactivity to any website along with making it look more attractive, colourful and can offer an all-round improved user experience. There are a number of techniques which make this possible which I will discuss in this article.
Firstly, you need to think about the type of people you are trying to attract to your website so that you can plan it accordingly. Once you have planned your website and decided on its basic layout, you can create a template for the site based on the notes and sketches that you have made. Using Flash in a way that is not going to dramatically slow down the website can be challenging as is avoiding a cumbersome interface which is just going to slow your viewer’s experience down and make them fed-up and turn to other websites.
You will need to have a website which has a sufficient amount of bandwidth to effectively support Flash, as it does tend to take up considerably more bandwidth than traditional HTML sites. To optimize your website with Flash technology, you will need to find the right compromise between image quality and file size. This means using vector graphics whenever possible, since vector graphics generally take up a lot less memory and still look good no matter what size they are or how far a viewer can zoom in on them.
There are also a number of graphics that you can user over and over without having to have separate images for each and every line or bullet point. This, of course, helps to keep file capacity low and load times faster, giving your website a less ‘clunky’ feel than a badly designed Flash interface might have.
It cannot be stressed enough that download speeds are crucial and something that needs to be paid a great deal of attention to while deploying Flash technology. You need to programme your website to load the data and graphics dynamically while minimizing the use (ideally eradicating) of loading screens. Remember that viewers want to find the information they seek quickly without waiting for frustrating download times to complete.
This can be achieved by sharing Flash objects across multiple movies. To do this, you need to right click on the applicable object in the library panel of your Flash editor, click linkage properties and select export for runtime sharing. This will define the Flash clip as a runtime shared object. You can also add a brief loading animation at the start of the download of the clip.
Keeping content updated is also important, especially if you want to get viewers returning to your website. This is best done by keeping content that is often updated in a simple text file or XML format. This data can then be loaded dynamically without having to republish the Flash file. The use of XML is strongly advisable for optimal handling of data.
Something that people often over look, is that you should try to keep your .SWF files in a slightly older version, especially if you are not using any features unique to the latest version. This will help to ensure that you will have more viewers on your website without people being turned away because they do not want to be bothered with downloading the latest version of the Flash player.
Finally, it is essential to test your website in all the popular browsers, especially Internet Explorer and Firefox, and make sure that everything is displayed correctly. Likewise, test the finished result in a number of different resolutions. Remember that you want to attract as many people as possible to view your website, and to do this, you need to realize that everyone has a different viewing configuration. Once everything is completed, then you should send your site to some of the main search engines.