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Macromedia Flash Design Guidelines

 

Developing web-based multimedia poses a significant challenge for web designers as it requires an in-depth understanding of various aspects of Internet technologies, such as user requirements, hypertext navigation, bandwidth considerations, usability, and browser settings.

EMMUS, the European MultiMedia Usability Services, highlight that, designers often state that guidelines are too general to be useful in their specific environment... specific Web guidelines are still relatively rare because there has been insufficient expertise, experimentation and hypothesis testing carried out so far to clarify web specific design issues. Even the best of those who have attempted to offer guidance can provide only broad recommendations for web design that may leave designers with too many uncertainties. http://www.ucc.iel

Jakob Nielsen also cautions web designers on the perils of using multimedia on the web. He suggests: These new media provide more design options but also require design discipline. Unconstrained use of multimedia results in user interfaces that confuse users and make it harder for them to understand the information. Not every webpage needs to bombard the user with the equivalent of Times Square in impressions and movement. http://www.useit.com

Nonetheless, people now expect sophisticated websites with multimedia playing a central role in their online experience.

Macromedia Flash lets you design very stylish interfaces quite easily. However, the absence of guidelines referred to above, can lead to poorly designed presentations and confusing navigation systems.

Let's look at some areas that need consideration when developing multimedia, especially Macromedia Flash, for the web.

Users Goals

Users have very specific aims when they visit your site. They want to do things. Therefore, as a web designer, you need to:

  • Design your site with their goals foremost in mind.
  • Avoid forcing them to view Flash only websites. Maybe they just don't like Flash!
  • Ensure that each link, Flash and non-Flash, supports them in meeting their goals.
  • Keep the man navigation links visible at all times. Make sure the user doesn't get lost within your  creative' design.
  • Avoid locking the user out of the main site entirely.
  • Never leave them stranded in a pop-up window with no returning link to the main site.

Be careful using Flash just to show off that you can use it!

People don't like to be patronized or waste their time viewing  vanity pages', i.e. self-satisfied pages built merely to please the designers.

When to Use Flash

Flash is ideal for developing rich, eye-catching content, such as skyscraper adverts, banner ads, and promotions.

Use Flash sparingly or when it offers an advantage over other media. If you can achieve the same results with an animated GIF or style sheets, then use them and save the Flash for another section.

Remember that Flash creates obstacles, such as requiring plug-ins to be downloaded, which takes visitors away from your site and once they leave, there is no guarantee that they will return...

Remove Vanity Intros
Many sites force Flash upon viewers. Some even make you go back to Macromedia.com just to download the latest plug-in
before you can even enter their site!

Imagine this situation happening in the High Street.

This is like visiting Tower Records and being told that you have to walk five miles to get a special key before you can even enter most visitors will take their trade elsewhere and vow never to return.

Before you adopt such intros, consider what 'value added service' it really offers. If you insist on using a Flash-driven homepage, you might want to include the following on it as well:

Put a Skip button on all pages to skip past the intro. If you don't do this, you're guaranteed to lose business as you have successfully locked out your potential customers!

When users [potential customers] return to your site, automatically redirect them to the inside page so that they don't have to view the intro again.

Provide optional links to Flash Site' and  HTML Site'. This device can be interesting as it will record the number of users who choose to view/ignore the Flash-driven site.

Many developers, especially those who have not worked in a commercial environment, believe that kick-ass' intros impress viewers. I've seen thousands of  Flash Intro' screens over the past five years  and so have you.

Be honest! When you visit a new site and it says ¡°10% downloaded, please wait...¡± do you really wait for the next 90 percent?

Why should you? The people behind this website have little or no interest in your needs. And, if there is no option for a HTML site, you'll go elsewhere.

But, Flash does have its place. It's excellent for demonstrating how a product works or creating very exciting banner ads. However, consider your viewer at all times. Lengthy introductions with a  Loading¡­' message fail to impress even the most loyal fans.

Intuitive Navigation

There are several ways you can improve the navigation system:

  • Provide a consistent navigation menu. Avoid using different menu bars throughout the site if possible.
  • Include visuals cues and tips, where appropriate.
  • Provide Back buttons or links, except when it is a database-driven query as the session may not understand the go-back activity.
  • Use informative labels on all link destinations, e.g. Get 50% off at Template Shop here' is better than  Go Shop'.
  • Design your Flash files so the visitors can easily return to the start of the movie.
  • Avoid creating orphan pages and hiding submenu items until the user does a mouse-over'.
  • Avoid small buttons that are hard to read and select.
  • Avoid tiny text that are impossible to read and click on.

Use Consistent Layouts

A consistent user interface, with an intuitive navigation, keeps users on your site for longer. It's essential to use the same elements, labels, and menus for the visitor to achieve their goals. Using a consistent layout scheme will also help your developers update the site quicker and more accurately.

Use Animation Sparingly

Avoid superfluous animations. Animations that loop forever or scream for attention distract the visitor and will irritate them after a few minutes.

You should have a very solid justification for using heavy animation and sounds. When used incorrectly it will alienate the visitors and undermine the purpose of your site.

Use Sound Sparingly

As with animations, sound can enhance your site. Avoid using it as a gimmick. The correct use of sound is, for example, to indicate that the user has triggered an event.

Sound files increase the visitor's download time as he or she has to download every sound file even if they do not have speakers on the computer.

Bandwidth Considerations

Try to keep Flash files under 40k, which equates to about 40 seconds for many users. Anything more will try their patience; they will hit the Back button very quickly and go elsewhere. All your hard work will be gone in a click.

You can reduce the download time by creating small vector-based images. If a wait is required, display a loading sequence with a progress indicator this load can be no more than 5 seconds. Users always need to see something on the screen or they will go elsewhere.

Accessibility

Flash designs should not exclude visually impaired and other disabled users. Use Alt Tags to assist them in reading your content. This effort reminds visitors that they are not excluded from enjoying your site.

Usability

Before releasing your Flash site, ensure that it is correctly tested. Don't ask your child, wife, best friend or others whose opinions may be compromised.

Try to find individuals who are likely to use your site. Ask them to perform certain tasks and record their actions. Most web designers dislike the testing phase as it highlights flaws in their design. And this means they have to refine it, which takes some of the fun out of the design process.

Macromedia Flash is now an established part of the Internet landscape. If you choose it to develop your site, remember those for whom you are designing. Develop the multimedia sections with their interests and needs at the centre of your design process.

For large web design firms, or those who specialise in multimedia, establishing a set of multimedia design guidelines is money well spent; your sites are more likely to succeed and clients will appreciate the returns on their investment.



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