Interface Design Considerations
Created by Amanda Kern
It's time to discuss the factors you should be thinking about before hitting the ground running in Flash. Take a moment to review these factors so that you are better prepared to develop an interactive interface in Flash.
- Intros. The days of the long drawn out Flash intro are over. Users are no longer interested in seeing a long intro with flying graphics and annoying sounds that consumes more of their time, instead they are ready to get straight to the point - that is using the site. Whether they are there to locate information or purchase something one thing is certain - they don't want to wait. A brief introductory animation can be suitable if it compliments the site and is not more than a few seconds. Regardless of the length of an intro always implement a skip intro button so the users can go straight to the home page if they choose to.
- File size. Flash files get big FAST so it's smart to think file size from the very beginning. Always optimize your images and reduce sizes without taking away from the quality. When sound or video are used be sure to take measures to optimze as needed. As your flash interfaces become more complex you will find that loading assets externally will enable you to divide up your Flash project into smaller segments. This does require more actionscript, however, it enables your user to only have to load what they need to load - rather than the entire project. (Note: You are NOT required to load files externally for the final project.)
- Preloaders. Keep in mind that as your file size grows that you should implement a preloader. If a file is over 100k it is recommended that a preloader be used. Remember for a preloader to be effective it should inform the user how long they have to wait (not just loading...) and entertain the user.
- Animation/Transitions. If you are creating a Flash interface you should keep in mind you are using Flash so animations and transitions play a big role in catching a user's attention. A Flash interface should not be as static as an html web site.
- Interactivity. A key part of a Flash project is the interactivity your user experiences. Think of all the ways a user can interact with your project: rolling over elements, releasing the mouse, pressing a key on the keyboard, etc. Depending upon the project your user could benefit from additional methods of interactivity.
- Compelling & Fresh Content. The biggest challenge with any web site is creating compelling and fresh content. With Flash you are able to create intriguing animations and interactivity that may convince users to return. With Flash it's more challenging to keep content continuously up to date due to the complexity of projects, however, as you are developing interactive projects it's wise to think of ways to keep your users returning to your web site so it doesn't become a thing of the past.
When we create interactive projects we have to be sure we know how to save files and understand all options we have in Flash's publish settings. Let's take a closer look, we'll start with how we access publish settings.
The first dialogue box you'll see is "formats". Let's see what options we have available in the "formats" menu.
NOTE: For stand alone applications where the Flash player is not needed you may choose a projector file for Mac or PC from the "formats" section.
We also have settings specifically for our Flash File. Here are the main options you will find useful.
A Flash project isn't much good if we don't have a way to place it in a web page. There are other tools such as Dreamweaver, however, we can do some of the same features directly from Flash. Let's look at how we can adjust html page properties for our Flash file.
NOTE: For the html properties to be used you must have chosen to export the "html" file from the "formats" section.
Active X causes havoc for Flash designers
So we've spent all this time learning how to use Flash and now is the time to tell you that without this knowledge I'm about to share that it's possible that your user may never see your Flash project. Why? It's about a feature called Active X used in Microsoft's internet explorer browser. Microsoft was found to have infringed on the copyright of a company named EOLAS who had a patent on how embedded interactive programs were displayed in an internet browser. Microsoft has been using the technology since the 90's and their fix to the situation was to change the way that Active X was displayed in an internet browser. What happens? Well, nothing. The user must interact with the flash element to "activate" it. Without activating the flash element nothing happens on the user's end. Why does this matter to us as flash designers? It's important we are aware of the issue so that when it comes time to work on Flash projects we can implement Flash so it is viewable. Active X only effects the <object> and <embed> tags. Many web developers have worked diligently on work arounds to this problem. It's worth taking some time to further educate your self about the issue with the following resources:
Full Screen Flash
Another nice feature you might be interested in for Flash projects are some of the full screen features. Many online resources provide great tutorials for you to learn more: