Kevin Lynch, president of Macromedia Products, offered a status report on the company’s Flash technology and aimed a few barbs at poorly designed Flash-based Web sites during the opening keynote of flashfoward2001, a conference for Flash developers that runs through Wednesday in San Francisco. Speaking to 2,000 attendees at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, Lynch also announced a Flash design contest, a PocketPC version of the Flash Player and a maintenance update for the Mac version of Macromedia’s Flash 5 authoring software. He was joined on stage by several third-party developers, one of whom showed a Star Wars game for the Sony PlayStation2 that uses a Flash-based navigation system.
Macromedia posted the free Flash 5.0a update this weekend. It fixes a variety of bugs that caused system crashes in the Mac version, including one that appears on some systems when the Sound Panel is open, and one that causes a crash when you export to Animated GIF format. There is no update for Windows users.
Lynch began the keynote by touting Flash’s reach, claiming that 330 million users have downloaded some version of the Flash player worldwide, and that it sees almost 3 million downloads per day. Eight of the top ten Web sites use Flash content, he said, two of them on their front pages.
However, in keeping with Macromedia’s recent push for better Flash design, Lynch showed examples of sites that use Flash effectively — and those that don’t. The latter category includes
Giorgio Armani, whose site forces users to sit through multiple intros. “It’s important to let people through quickly,” he said. He also noted that the site made it difficult to locate information. “You can’t figure out what’s happening, and the content is obscured. It’s an interesting use of Flash design, but it’s not effective.”
Bringing up the home page for a well known actor, Lynch said, “I like Michael Douglas, but I don’t like his
Web site.” Douglas, he noted, uses film reels as navigation elements, but the design does not make their function clear.
He pointed to
General Motors as examples of well-designed Flash sites. The MTV2 site uses “a funky design, but you can see what things do,” he said. “It’s extreme, but not in a way that’s really confusing.”
He described GM’s site as “very elegant,” using Flash to steer navigation through hundreds of sections. “It’s clever, but it’s not confusing,” he said. “It’s easy to understand what’s going on here.”
Lynch also criticized much of the banner advertising on Web sites. “Advertising is horrible on the Web today,” he said, showing a few examples of poorly designed ads. “I’m certain everybody in this room can do better than this,” Lynch said. “I encourage you to.” He then showed three examples of what he considers to be effective Flash-based ads from IBM, Visa and Macromedia. Macromedia’s spot, which ran on
WebMonkey and included interactive elements that spilled outside the ad, proved to be 10 times more effective than Macromedia’s banner ads, Lynch said.
As part of its effort to promote better Flash design, Macromedia is sponsoring a Web site
design contest that will recognize both creativity and usability. Awards will be given in two categories, one for experienced Flash authors, and the other for “emerging” users. Winners will receive a Titanium PowerBook G4 from Apple, and winning designs will be featured in Publish and Macworld magazines. Deadline for entries is March 30. Winners will be announced April 10 at the Macromedia User Conference in New York. Macromedia is also offering
$100 rebates off the price of Flash 5 until March 31.
Five for Five
Flash product manager Eric Wittman then discussed five major features in Flash 5: The animation timeline; the Actions panel; the ability to create Flash 4 content; the ability to seamlessly edit graphics in an external editor; and SmartClips, which provides a method for exchanging interactive elements in Flash content. He noted that when you’re producing content for Flash 4, Flash 5 would disable ActionScript commands not compatible with the earlier version. He also showed a new SmartClip, available through Macromedia Exchange for Flash, that lets you add a “movie loading” clip to Flash presentations.
Erin Rosenthal of excite@home demonstrated Flash capabilities in the company’s forthcoming set-top box, which allows viewers to surf the Web — using Flash navigation elements — as they’re watching TV. She got laughs from the audience as she brought up a broadcast of Teletubbies as she searched for headline news and stock quotes.
Flashing the PlayStation
Following Rosenthal, Fred Sharples of Orange Design showed Starfighter, a new Star Wars game for Sony’s Playstation2 that uses a Flash-based user interface. LucasArts’ Reeve Thompson told the audience that with most games, the game developers create the interface at the end of the project, sometimes as an afterthought. By hiring out Flash development to interface-design specialists, LucasArts could focus its developers’ efforts on the actual game and get a better UI as part of the bargain. As a side benefit, using Flash also made it easier to localize the game for different languages, he said.
The event also featured a look at Shockwave 3D, a forthcoming version of the Shockwave Player that supports a 3D Web graphics format developed by Intel. In the demo, viewers could watch a soccer game from different angles, with movements translated from the motions of real soccer players.
The keynote got off to a rousing start as Zachia Hooker, a Dreamweaver developer who is also the daughter of blues legend John Lee Hooker, gave a stirring a capella rendition of what sounded like a classic blues tune, until she sang, “I built a Web site for my baby, just to make our love life last/He said it was too dull, I had to rewrite it in Flash.”