A wavering spirit

A wavering spirit

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In: Columns > Pro Dot Con

By Peter Fielding

Published on May 14, 2001

Last month, we closed amidst a torrid love affair with JavaScript, debating the sanity, or lack thereof, of the hapless web designer. This month, we contemplate the conundrum of becoming an… animation traitor!

A wavering spirit

I fancy myself to be a purist at times. In countless debates, I’ve espoused the merits of pure markup over the use of – gasp! – Flash. I’ve even gone so far as to partner myself with the CodeGod in creating Pixelflo, to demonstrate that Dynamic HTML isn’t just for useless cursor-following animations anymore.

In the meantime I’ve been exposed to Flash, and know how powerful it can be as a tool in the hand of proficient web designers. You don’t need to look any further than the tremendous respect I hold for a certain “Mr. Davis” to know that I can’t talk down about possibilities… but (isn’t there always an exception?) there’s a seamless beauty to putting “pure code” to work as a faithful servant. When you can create a universe of animation or layout with a tool as simple as Notepad (or BBEdit), pride and confidence come hand-in-hand with the ability.

Yes, I’m a purist…

…And I’ve just opened my Flash 5 work stage.

While I dodge and weave betwixt the rotten eggs and vegetables thrown by my fellow purists, let me explain!

Just like a good percentage of the web designers out there, I know that Flash motion-graphics and functionality… hmm… ActionScript…

…Can be implemented incredibly well. However, like that same group I know that a lot of the time, the implementations are really bad!

The ‘net is littered with deplorable Flash intros that have longer load-times (for the majority of users) than running-times. It’s saturated with bad drum loops and graceless vector graphics simpler than a gradiated sphere that changes color on mouseovers. My kneejerk reaction when I see a “loading” graphic pop up, is to scour the page with my darting, beady eyes to find the saving [Skip Intro] button. Even if I have high-speed access, why would I waste the precious few seconds that it takes to load a superfluous demo when I could spend that time lighting a smoke and reading genuine content?

Thus follow the unwritten rules of web design, in order:

  • Can you make it fast?
  • Can you make it functional?
  • Can you make it pretty?

Perhaps so many people break these rules precise because they are unwritten!

The fact of the matter is that I don’t like full Flash sites. That’s /files/includes/10.css0% (minus three people) true, because I’ve found so few designers who can follow the rules listed above… without using markup and JavaScript.

If that’s my attitude, it begs a question:

“Why in the hell are you opening that evil, evil program?”

I’m using it because the web is a dynamic medium. The ‘net was never really meant to exist on paper, and if we treat it as a dynamic medium, then we’re optimizing its usefulness.

I’ll be the first person to tell you that content is irreplacable, no matter what tricks or gimmicks are out there to make eye-candy attractive. However, I’m also the first one to say that the demon of my Attention Deficit Disorder wants a little eye candy while I absorb that great content. Did I say “wants?” I meant “needs…lusts… demands eye candy.”

Hold it! Drop that month-old tomato, Joe, and ponder this. I am definitely not one of those three designers that I mentioned previously, so I won’t be making intros, or full sites with this vector based baby.

I’ll be making accents.

I see your raised eyebrow. Even though I’m building a site that depends on markup and scripting, I want to use some smooth animations as accents to the design that suit the layout, the purpose, and the functionality of what I’m building. I’m opening a tool for web design that ultimately has as much – and as little – importance to the whole project as Photoshop.

The difference, of course, is that these accents will move, and play through… but not against the design, highlighted as a flashy trick (no pun intended). Rather it flows with the design, enhancing what’s around it subtly and purposefully.

At least, that’s my goal. I’m sure I’m as adept at making some gaudy piece of crap as the next boy with a new toy.

Of course, if I do, I’ll make sure that all the content is in 20-point Rage Italic, in bright orange on a black background… Muahahahaha!!!

Even as I duck the next wave of spoilt produce aimed at this virtual stage, I’m trying to figure out the great uses for Flash that have been demonstrated so far, and create at least one more. It’s far from the first time I’ve worked with this program, and it’ll be far from the last. Let’s just hope that it’s the best time that I’ve spent with it so far. I’ll finish making my widgets and accents, close this beast, open up Notepad, and smile.

After all, I’m a purist, so I’ll make it fast. I’ll make it functional. If you pray to your patron saints of design… I might even make it pretty!

Whether the result is triumph or tragedy, I’ll see you here next month. All the ‘net’s a virtual stage, and I am merely a player…

Related Topics: Flash, Scripting

Peter Fielding makes the pretty things for Pixelflo.com, while he hunkers down in the frozen tundra of western Canada. Receiving his email by data dog sled, he is most often found lighting miniature garbage can fires for the homeless baby seals that power his cpu, and lobbying for the inclusion of Full Contact Page Design in the next Winter Olympics.