Flash v. AJAX* – Comparing Experiential Designs
Aug 5, 2010
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m always exploring what’s possible in web design and development. (It’s my job. It’s what I do.) But as of late, my search has focused on finding examples of deep, experiential websites built without Flash… because if the “Flash is dead” version of the future is the right one, I want to know what kind of world it will be. There’s no doubt that you can build a good looking, functional, goal achieving site without Flash. But those sites are (currently) “static.” And that means they aren’t necessarily taking full advantage of the immersive environment that sets the internet apart as a medium.
Now before some people get mad at me, let me expound on “static.” I don’t mean that the content of the site can’t be readily updated, or that the content can’t be commented on, shared, liked, bookmarked, borrowed and augmented. I mean that the content isn’t augmented by the design…they don’t play off of each other, one prompting exploration of the other. The navigation is usually laid out for all to see almost immediately, rather than becoming a piece of the content as well…rather than adding to the experience and layering additional context to the content you’ll find after the click.
I’ve found a good head-to-head comparison, though. There’s different sites for the new Nissan Leaf in the US and UK (both of which won an FWA). So while the secondary goals of the sites are varied, the ultimate goal is to sell the car—and therefore the content is ultimately the same. But the experiences are very different. Images of both sites and links are below, and so is my (abridged) opinion about both. I’m more interested in hearing your opinions. So take a look…
The US Nissan Leaf website is built is almost entirely sans-Flash. We’ll call it AJAX*. The stuff that is in Flash—an intro and the video player—could easily be done without. (It was built by Critical Mass, The Designery and TBWA Chiat Day – Los Angeles.)
The UK Nissan Leaf website is built entirely in Flash. (It was built by DNA and Digitas – France.)
My opinion? I’m torn. I’m partial to the clean simplicity of the US (non-Flash) site. The central navigation adds good context to the content, and is custom enough (i.e. not a traditional left-hand or banner navigation style) in terms of style and movement to make it both attractive and dynamic. But once you make a selection from that navigation, the content looks pasted in. There’s no organic feel to the opening or to the content itself. The video player is staid, and text/image content might as well be in PDF format as it looks more like a poorly laid-out print piece than part of the website.
On the other hand, i think the content from the UK (Flash-based) site is more “designed” and cohesive; one section’s style and content relates to the others. But it feels over done. I can’t get what I want as quickly. I feel like (pardon the pun) I’m being taken for a ride. I don’t want the long intro and I feel like some of the interactive models are done for cool factor rather than for a real point.
Frankly, the ideal site for me would be a bit of both. But more important is what you think. So…take some time with them. Then please help me achieve my goal for this post: Give me your opinion on which one you preferred and why. Looking forward to the debate.
I’m calling it AJAX, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Because AJAX alone can’t make the US site, while the UK site could be done completely in Flash. And what I discovered when starting to right this post is that there is no singular name that describes a non-Flash site. I polled Twitter, and we found that “traditional” and “classic” encompass the old, not-easily-updated sites built with HTML/CSS. (You can also call these “Web 1.0” or “static.”) But none of those terms encompass sites built with AJAX, HTML5 or even a PHP base like Workdpress. You can’t use “Web 2.0” because that doesn’t exclude the use of Flash. So what do you call a rich web experience that doesn’t leverage Flash?
Below you’ll see a few options that I came up, based entirely on acronyms. Please feel free to add to the list. Together we can come up with something. Because even though I’m not personally a Flash hater, I think it’s needed.
– WESP : Website Experience Sans Plugins
– SEW : Standards-oriented Experiential Website
– SOWE : Standards-oriented Web Experience
– OSWE : Open Standards Web Experience
– SBOE : Standards Based Online Experience
Thinking on a grander scale, I think part of the reason HTML5 is gaining ground as a Flash challenger is because it sounds/feels like a brand name rather than a technology. That’s huge. Because I think the brand “Flash” has a lock on the market for experiential web experiences more than “Flash” the technology does.
Watching TV as a kid, I used to run to the bathroom during the shows so I could make it back for the commercials. Those days launched me down a path that included layout and writing for the college paper; communications strategy for political campaigns; marketing strategy and graphic design for Gensler (a global design and architecture firm); and the implementation of new programming, animation and design techniques for Centerline. Today I specialize in content marketing strategy and building digital deliverables to execute those strategies. But it’s about more than just creating killer digital content. At Centerline, we help clients succeed in the digital marketplace using a three-pronged approach: strategic (message creation, brand strategy), tactical (design, development), and analytical (measurement and adaptation). This experience-tested approach allows me to build campaigns that are both well-designed and effective for clients like IBM, GE and National Instruments.