Flash versus HTML

There has been a bit of recent talk about the benefits of Flash-based user-centered design versus designing a web application interface with web standards technology such as AJAX or DHTML. One great showdown and discussion-starter was at the 2005 SXSWi conference with the Flash vs HTML Game Show. It was a great panel where popular web apps like Flickr and Gmail were re-engineered in Flash or HTML. The panel even garnered a write-up by the great Zeldman on zeldman.com’s Daily Report.

The best result of the panel and other online discussion is the subsequent questioning of usability of the Flash interface for a web application. In this case it was Flickr that got some attention when they announced they were going to convert parts of their popular online photo gallery application to run with DHTML instead of Flash.

Recently this topic came up with a client here at simpledream web studio who wanted to know the benefits and drawbacks of presenting photos and content with Flash instead of HTML. Since the MO of simpledream web studio is web standards, the discussion was one-sided—it was pretty much a "Flash bash" from my perspective. The most important thing that came out of it, however, was the fact that Flash and HTML/CSS are both tools. How you choose to use them is up to you—I decided to pitch for using standards-based design with CSS because that is the tool I feel the best about on all levels of design and development. If a Flash developer were to have been in the meeting with us, he/she would probably have said the same thing about Flash and would have had the same thoughts as me about their way of doing things.

I think the panel at SWSX proved that for any given application you can use either tool effectively and achieve great results. Of course, in the case of the panel and Flickr's recent change, the comparison is between Flash and either DHTML or AJAX and not just CSS design versus a Flash rendering of content. Regardless, both camps have strengths and weaknesses. Since we have a choice as developers, my recommendation would be to use the tool that fits the project well and will use your skills to their maximum capability. If I have my druthers on every web project from now on then it will always be web standards for me: CSS, (X)HTML, and the DOM. But for the many great Flash developers out there, I say "more power to you." Make me a believer!