Life after Flash part 2: a design perspective

My first introduction to Flash was way back during my Art and Design Foundation course, nearly 15 years ago (blimey). HTML was all tables, and to get any motion on screen you had to use either Flash or Director — the very thought of coding in Director Lingo still gives me shivers…

As Chris mentioned in Life after Flash part 1: “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.”

This was the beginning of the end… But we didn’t just lose the player, oh no — we lost a whole suite of interaction tools too.

As a designer I spend hours pushing pixels, carefully selecting the right font and tweaking buttons, but the one thing that so often gets overlooked is how it all comes together. You click on the next carousels item and it… appears? You tap a button and… nothing?

Static designs in Photoshop don’t provide context between states; adding notes is a great start, but it doesn’t always convey the creative idea that’s been crystallising inside our minds to the developer who then goes on to build the pages and interactions. There are still questions to be asked: ‘How fast does it move?’, ‘How does it ease?’, ‘How does it transition?’, and so on.

A motionless interface is a lifeless one that won’t excite and engage users. Animation and interaction is not all about adding ‘delight’; it can also be functional, too. A page animating right to left, and vice-versa, helps our brains understand progression through an interface.

Prototyping is a great way to begin to communicate that idea that’s been bubbling away in your head for days and get your team and the client excited and inspired. Bret Victor Human, Interface Inventor at Apple, once wrote:

“I would then design and prototype apps to demo these ideas. These concept apps were shown around internally, presumably to inspire the people who did the real work.”

So back to the point of this post, ‘Life after Flash’… There was a big void left behind when flash died — and currently, there’s no one replacement tool that fulfils all the needs of a modern designer (in fact, I don’t think there ever will be). Still, we need to take back some ownership of interactions and animations once allowed to us with Flash.

How do we do this? There are a number of great tools and resources to aid us in articulating ideas. Keynote is fantastic for rapid UX+UI prototyping, especially for screen transitions and asset animations. After Effects is also good (albeit not as quick as Keynote). Flinto and Marvel are great for mocking up simple interaction on mobile and tablet devices, and Axure is a brilliant tool when it comes to prototyping user flows and high level wireframes interactions.

These tools can all help us to communicate our ideas better when it comes to handing our work over to the developers; seeing it in motion (no matter how rudimentary) can provide them with so much more information…