When I was in college from 2004 to 2008, Flash was arguably at its prime. It was an amazing, eye-candy-filled cesspool of terribleness. At the time, it was hard to see all of its shortcomings. It was a blank canvas where you could create whatever you wanted — and that was the problem. Flash lacked the structure that’s so necessary for solid UI/UX design.
Flash’s biggest contribution to the world was not its flashiness (pun intended) but the valuable lessons it taught us.
Content Must Be Findable
The prevalence of search was a major downfall for Flash. None of the text in a Flash website was, well, text. The words were just shapes. Search engines had no way to crawl a Flash site, index its content, or deliver it to a person after a search.
“Pages” didn’t exist either; they were just frames in a slide show. So it was impossible to link from one place in a website to another.
For these reasons alone, even the nicest and prettiest Flash websites would eventually become obsolete.
People Want Rich Interactions
Flash brought slick, interactive media to a web that otherwise lacked it. It gave us the ability to provide micro-interactions like subtle (and not-so-subtle) animations on button hovers.
Flash sites sought to be immersive experiences, and people really began to latch onto them. The web was no longer boring and static. It wasn’t necessarily “good” with Flash, but it was different. Without it, we would not have had such a demand for HTML 5, CSS 3, and JQuery.
People Need Structure
What Flash lacked the most was universal structure. It was a sandbox where nearly anything was possible. There were no “rules” for navigation structures, font sizes were incredibly tiny, and the whitespace was nearly nonexistent.
Flash sites were stand-alone experiences that had no commonality between them. Each time a person visited a new Flash site, they had to learn how to use it. How did the navigation work? Why was all of the content shoved into this tiny, self-scrolling frame? Why did it take forever to load?!
Bringing the web back to true web technologies allowed us to also bring back the inherent structure. It emphasized why predictability is so important on the web.
The Rise of Mobile Gaming
One thing that might be overlooked was how influential Flash was in creating the mobile gaming ecosystem we have today. People loved playing quick, independently-made Flash games. They were quirky and easily accessible.
Now we have a booming industry on Google and Apple app stores filled with games like Candy Crush, all of which have roots back to Flash games.
Goodbye, Old Friend
My first portfolio site was built in Flash. Some of my favorite inspirational design sites were built in Flash (I’m looking at you, 2advanced.com). And while it’s great that Flash is done, and I won’t have to keep updating it, it was definitely a part of my early design career and will still have a place in my heart.