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Flash Course 1: Intro to Flash

I know things have been lacking around here, but there's a good reason. Equal to my passion for typography is my passion for Flash. I've been meaning to write about it for a while, but I wanted to make sure that what I had to say was worth while. In constantly contemplating exactly what to write about, the ideas began to categorize themselves, and, eventually, started to fall well into a series format. Inspired by Mark Boulton's great Five Simple Steps series, my own will attempt to teach you all you need to know about Flash to be well informed. This is not a set of tutorials designed to teach you Flash. There will be tutorials; however, they will be specific to the point o' the day. The goal is to examine some practical and appropriate applications of the software. Let's get on with it.

In the Beginning…

…there was FutureSplash. The predecessor to Flash, FutureSplash was a tool designed to create animation. It's important to remember that, although the current version of Flash is capable of creating robust applications, animation has been there from the beginning. It was and remains to be one of the strongest features of Flash.

Today, Flash is one of the most widely spread technologies on the web. According to Macromedia, 91.7% of users sampled around the world had Flash player 7 or later as of September 2005. Why so popular?

Bandwidth limitations played into Flash's favor early on. Because of its well-written compression scheme and ability to handle vectors, Flash's export format (SWF) became a competitor to older standard image formats like GIF and JPEG.

The format of Flash also appealed to multiple audiences. Traditional animators were drawn to it because of its proximity to traditional animation; comfortable features such as keyframing and tweening were evident. Video editors were ahead of the learning curve, since Flash's timeline model so closely replicated what they were used to working with. Illustrators and designers also gravitated towards Flash because of the promise of easily animated, well-design vectors graphics on the web.

Because it appealed to the professional, Flash's popularity took off. However, it also appealed to the amateur, and its ease of use spurned so much interest that the web quickly became bloated with overanimated, bandwidth hogging sites. It was so bad that many wrote it off as a lost technology with no merit. So why start a whole series about it?

I'm Glad You Asked

Just because some abuse technology doesn't mean that the technology itself is the problem. Education and moderation are the key to using Flash successfully and appropriately. The target audience for the articles that follow are designers and developers that have (wrongly) condemned Flash as useless. It's a powerful tool, when used well.

What Comes Next?

Now that you know the history, we can start diving into some practical applications. The next installment will deal with animation, how to keep it surprising and entertaining without being over-the-top. Unlike this post—which was informational—all other articles will deal with how to apply the technology by working directly in Flash, and mostly likely contain example files to work with.

The next one from there is purposely up in the air. What else should be on the list of upcoming topics?


bearskinrug said:

Excellent overview, Dan.

I'll keep my eyes peeled for the next installment.


Posted on February 7, 2006 04:33 AM

Ian said:

I'm personally interested in how one makes Flash more accessible. So interested that I'm beginning my education on the Internet now.Thanks for interesting me!

(ew. is this... eye skin?)

Posted on February 7, 2006 08:11 AM

Jared Christensen said:

I think it'd be great to discuss the benefits or losses of using Flash to build an entire site. Are there ways to do that and get your site indexed by search engines? Can Flash sites really be as easy to update as HTML sites? So many questions...

Posted on February 7, 2006 10:33 AM

Dave said:

Jared: definitely! Some good questions indeed. With XML, a little server-side scripting, a well-designed site could be just as easy since Flash can read certain HTML tags, iti's just a matter of formatting the content for web or Flash. Indexing is a touchy subject for sure though. Might be more work upfront though since you're essentially creating two sites...

Posted on February 7, 2006 12:13 PM

Dan Mall said:

Accessibility, content management, search engine indexing… All great topics that have barely been touched! Keep em comin!

Posted on February 8, 2006 07:24 AM

Pierce said:

This is a great idea.

My vote's with accessibility. Everyone keeps saying it can be done but there's very little out there. As in, practical examples and overviews.

Posted on February 8, 2006 03:29 PM

Todd said:

I can't pass on noting the cool irony of this discussion happening on a site devoid of any of the things associated with Flash, a site where Flash would seem to be the last thing on the designer's mind. Nice beginning, Dan. Hurry up with part two.

I'd like to see a write up of some Flash best uses, how it can do things an HTML- or PHP-driven, database-backed site can't do, methods of working with Flash and dynamic content, ways to incorporate Flash into your WordPress or Movable Type site. If I'm a designer, it's obvious how demonstrating my Flash skills on my site will be beneficial. If I'm a writer (or some other career), how can Flash help me? How can Flash be used without looking like a gratuitous use of bandwidth? The actual integration of Flash into an existing site, so that they flow seamlessly into each other, may be in order, too. The ways Flash can make our jobs as coders and designers easier, can improve our sites, basically a rationalization of why Flash is still a viable piece of software and how to easily avoid those pitfalls, would be interesting. And an examination of how AJAX and Flash can work together would keep the future in mind.

Posted on February 12, 2006 12:34 PM

Skaggivara said:

Yes please educate people that the software itself is not a problem, it is the lack of knowledge in it's proper use. There are so few flash developers who can really harnest it's power simply beacuse it requires a skillset that few have, a passion for design, expression and development. AS2 is great and AS3 even better but even fewer can master that.

Posted on February 12, 2006 03:49 PM

Kai Malloy said:


Nice overview on the history of Flash. What excites me more these days is not Macromedia's Flash itself persay, but the use of vector art on websites and the ability to embed it and make it standards compliant, SEO ready, etc. Hopefully more traditional Flash developers will begin to head this direction.

Posted on February 17, 2006 11:26 AM

CGShelf said:

Great overview.

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Posted on September 25, 2007 05:30 AM

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