Life after Flash part 1: a developer perspective

“…but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Dr Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

Aside from the fact I wanted to get a film quote into this blog, I think this one actually fits the subject matter nicely…

The internet as we know it is changing, all the time. It’s evolving and growing up at an alarming rate — faster than we could have imagined. The birth of the mobile internet (and especially the iPhone) signalled the end for Flash; mobile browsers and OS stopped supporting it, and even Adobe themselves eventually stopped making a mobile Flash player.

Responsive and adaptive design has gone from being the young cocky upstart, to the de facto standard. The designers’ and developers’ mind concentrating on performance — and rightly so — to ensure that mobile users aren’t punished with crippling downloads.

With all this going on, we’ve found ourselves at a point down the road where the sites we’re producing are fully capable of spanning multiple devices, multiple platforms, built for any user, in any situation.

The problem as I see it is that, whilst they look great, are extremely functional and really easy to navigate and use, these kind of sites can sometimes feel a little same-y (and even dull) without the bells and whistles that Flash used to provide. We’ve become so super obsessed with shaving milliseconds off load times or a few KBs of an image that we’ve taken a lot of the fun out of sites.

So, now that Flash is long gone, developers and designers face the challenge of finding other ways to create websites that are packed full of interactive goodness which add the extra elements of surprise and delight to the users.

This essentially means we have to re-learn some of our ‘old skool’ skills — look back at the successful Flash sites of yesteryear, analyse what works well, and then get an understanding of what elements can still be used nowadays, without Flash to back them up.

Modern designers need to understand what is achievable and not just get stuck in a Photoshop world. The need to understand the web (as it is now) and what technologies are actually out there is as fundamental a skill as picking the right font, or the right colour sets.

We need to prototype more — both on pen and paper and in the browser. Even a small idea can spark something that gets you excited to build, and puts a smile on the user’s face. And I’m not talking totally over the top, elaborate animations here, but something more subtle; the kind of thing that, half the time you could use and not even notice (but if it wasn’t there then you’d be thinking that something wasn’t quite right).

After all, we’re ultimately after delivering results for our clients, and these subtleties can help us provoke the user engagement we’re striving for.