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When Design Motivates

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In: Columns > DigiSect

By Stephen Van Doren

Published on January 22, 2002


e all know the story. A highly talented designer goes out on his own, hoping to strike it rich with some highly dynamic, ultra-slick, incredibly motion-focused website. He dumps countless hours into the music tracks. He spends hours in Illustrator putting together templates for his polygons. He moves his toothbrush and pants into Flash and puts in enough ActionScript to make his Aunt blush. He puts it all together with a highly interesting intro and embeds it into his newest domain name.

  1. Your users are inspired by speed: See rule #3.
  2. Your users are inspired by effective information architecture: See rule #3.
  3. Your users are not you.

I am biased. I spend thousands of dollars each year to purchase new and upgrade old computers to stock my home and office. My programming machine runs FreeBSD and I configured it completely. I know it inside and out. My laptop is MacOSX and I use it whenever I'm out and need to take care of something. My second desktop runs Windows 2000. They're all networked and talking to each other like family. I know and love my machines.

I hate my machines when they do things that I don't anticipate. I hate them like an annoying friend that follows you around thinking you're going to take a shine to him. I hate them like I hated doing homework.

Someone once said, "If I wanted my computer to make noise while I am on the Net, I'd put in a CD, or lick my thumb and rub it on the monitor. And if I wanted to see things move, I'd pop in a DVD or play a video game." We are stubborn users and we are set in our ways.

Several days ago, I deleted Flash. Gone. Kaput. Ix-nay the ash-Flay. But afterwards, I went out browsing, and several things amazed me: Blank areas in websites, sites that wouldn't load, sites that redirected to other sites telling me to download Flash and even sites that crashed.

I noted all the aforementioned sites, so I won't visit again. One of them was a potential employer. I am glad I never called them back. I don't think I'd like to work at a company that disregards usability.

Rule #3


our users are not you. This is the fulcrum on which the Internet balances so tediously. You are a designer or a developer. Your users are not. You know what http stands for, your users don't. You know the price of Adobe Photoshop. You know how to effectively use Google. You know regular expression. You know tween. You know what the dpi resolution is on your monitor.

I think you get the point. Since you're reading this, you're one of the professionals in the field of Internet design and development. This is not a typical Internet user's stop on the Net, so it's easy to infer that you're a minority of the populace. That speaks volumes about this audience.

The important thing to remember when dealing with motion design is where it motivates the users to go. If it convinces them to go deeper into the site and tells them that it is imperative that they go in and purchase your wares, then you're succeeding. But I've never seen a site like that built with Flash.

I will make some sweeping generalizations now, something that an English professor would say I shouldn't do. 99% of Flash-based sites out there motivate users to go as far away from that site as they possibly can. I think you'd agree that's motivation in the wrong direction.

A colleague of mine, Joe Mease from Xylem Interactive won a competition at Macromedia dealing with low load-time eCommerce sites developed completely in Flash. It's a great model. I think it might load more quickly than the average HTML site. But that's irrelevant. While Macromedia and Flash may have a large percentage of the market using their plug-in, they haven't convinced me to use it.

It all goes back to moving things on my screen when I don't want them to move. It's pretty archaic when you think about it. Your mother will struggle with the site. She wants a task bar. She wants a back button. She wants a highly interactive site in Flash that uses HTML rather than Flash. She doesn't know that she wants that, but that's the reality of the situation.

So where does that leave Flash developers? It means having to develop a new plug-in that is a touch more user-friendly, rather than changing the rules in order to accomplish goals. Put something simple in ActionScript that accepts commands from the back button that we all know. Put in an engine that will automatically convert Flash sites into HTML equivalents.

It's happened more than once that I went to a Flash site with an option for an HTML-only version and learned that the HTML version isn't as updated as the Flash site. What would happen if customers choose the HTML version? They are not empowered with the same information as those who enter the Flash-based site.

Or, convince web developers to start creating the aforementioned HTML-only sites on their own. It is a mere suggestion that would go a long way towards having a usable Internet.

Tying it All Together


hroughout the months that DigiSect has been featured here at Digital Web Magazine, we've talked about a lot of things, including usability and search-engine optimization. Those two are literally removed when creating a site solely in Flash. Designers may not know anyone that is blind, but I do. They can't use Flash sites. Designers may not know anyone that uses Lynx, but I do. And then there are the people that don't use Flash because of the principle of waiting longer for no extra information.

We may not appear to be the majority because we run in the circles of designers and developers, people living on the cutting edge of technology in the hopes of finding something new and interesting to throw onto the World Wide Web. But we still make up a significant market share.

Obviously, the mood of DigiSect this month is a rather negative one. I've admitted that I am biased against motion design. Have I ever sat down and created a Flash-based site?

Yes, I have. And I struggled every moment, save for one: The first time I loaded it and watched it unfold before my eyes. I'm sure you know the feeling. After dumping hours into Flash's timeline, staring at little dots and arrows, and finally seeing it all come together. It's a great moment.

Fortunately for me, I can get the same feeling seeing my database interact properly with PHP scripting. I feel that all the time and anyone can see its results.

There, I've vented and it's out of my system. It took me all of these words to get me to this point of relaxation, but I can now talk to you about motion design and be completely objective for you.

  1. Your users are not you. If you know this, go to #2.
  2. If you don't give your users the chance to forego Flash interaction, you've neglected a bulk of them. If you make an HTML site in tandem with your Flash site, go to #3.
  3. If you do not keep your HTML site updated, you've overlooked many users. If your HTML site is updated from the same database as your Flash site, go to #4.
  4. If your content is not fresh, you've shortchanged your users. If your content is fresh and engaging, you win.

It's a simple combination of steps. It's easy to forget some of those rules. They are universal. They encompass everything that we do on the Net. We're not even really concerned, these days, with v4 browser compatibility anymore. We just want our options. Please give us that.

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Related Topics: Motion Graphics, Web Design


Stephen Van Doren is a software developer and graphic designer from Denver, Colorado.

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