It’s time to sweat the small stuff again

I can remember when I was working with a small Interactive Agency; back in the day; the thing that really set us apart from others – besides the fact that no one was doing what we were at the time – was the fact that the smallest details were always a big deal and didn’t get over looked because of the lack of enormity of it. There was an enormous pride in ownership, accomplishment and the fact that details were important; so important in fact I would literally at time lose sleep over some mundane little thing that I forgot to finish or put in at the end of the day, even though I could still add it tomorrow. I am finding more and more that this trait amongst developers is a trait with one foot in the grave.

It’s easy to spot. Take a look around and see how many sites don’t have a site map, or buttons with no rollover effect or buttons where the mouse doesn’t change and you have literally no visual clues that the thing you are currently about to click is a button at all. This particular offense is commonly a co-conspirator in Mystery Meat Navigation, and has become so pervasive that there is an entry in Wikipedia dedicated to it. More tragically, it is simply another symptom in the growing infection of poor design, and inadequate development tactics employed by those who would be called professionals. This disease isn’t limited to one-man shows, big firms, little guys, corporate design teams or students – it’s all inclusive and strikes without warning afflicting unsuspecting clients. Look at the Flash site for the new Movie Fred Claus, this is a decently designed site typically thin on content and lacking any impressive Flash work, but I want to illustrate here is that when I searched for it in Google, the description text I was immediately shown was horrid.

Please upgrade to Flash Player 8 or higher.

The team which developed the site had the good sense to use SWF Object, but unfortunately they implemented it poorly. By its very nature SWF Object was designed to allow the developer(s) to be able to introduce alternate content for viewers who didn’t have Flash, the correct version or disabled Flash altogether, so they could still experience the site. To have only a single line of text stating to please upgrade is so… 5 years ago. Why even bother to use anything but the good ol’ embed tag if you’re not going to provide alternate content? Other sites are just as bad if not worse; another site went so far as to place the text requires Macromedia Flash in the title of the page. You have to design and develop for the client and the visitors.

I focus on Flash here simply because for whatever reason, Flash is still the whipping boy for what people perceive to be wrong with the web. There are several higher profile experts, who still like to take potshots at Flash whenever they seem to find time to pop up onto their soap box, and quite honestly it has nothing to do with Flash as a tool, instead these deficiencies fall plainly in the lap of the developer. In fact, developers and designers have been creating poorly designed and shoddily developed websites since day one – but it doesn’t make for good SEO, or higher page views to pick on that.

I still reside firmly planted in the if it’s worth doing; it’s worth doing right camp, and take pride in trying to cover the details which other folks won’t likely consciously recognize; and honestly, that’s the way it should be. The design and development should just – seem right. Believing this, and achieving this are two entirely different things however, and I recognize that nothing is ever perfect, and there are many out there who believe done is better than perfect. There are times when this is true, and others when it is not, but the point remains that having no alternate content at all for your flash site simply means that it is neither done, nor perfect.

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