10 Reasons Flash Scrollbars Are the Work of the Devil

I have a fundamental problem with websites that use Flash for their scrollbars. This is wrong on so many levels. In this post I’m going to reel off a list of reasons why you should avoid this practice. While they won’t be true in all situations where Flash is used, it will be for a significant amount.

Let’s look at the example below. Click on the image to try out the Flash scrollbars.

Flash scrollbar examples

The scrollbars don't scroll with the mouse wheel, you can't click in the space below the bar to jump down the content and the smaller one has a strange easing effect, giving you less control.

So here are a bunch of common issues you might experience when playing with a page that uses a Flash scrollbar:

1. The scroll wheel doesn’t work

For those of you that use the scroll wheel on your mouse to move down a page (ie most of us), this doesn’t always work with content that is controlled by a Flash scrollbar. It will simply do nowt, leaving you rolling your wheel back and forth in anger. Maybe not always anger. For me….always anger.

2. Scroll speed is different from what you expect

If your scroll wheel does happen to work on the selected area, most of the time the speed at which it scrolls is completely different to how the scrollbar works in your browser window, forcing you to continually over and under-scroll. This can make it feel as though you don’t have total control. That’s not nice.

3. Scroll rate is different from what you expect

Following on from the previous point, the rate at which the content is revealed and the amount you have to scroll to reveal it can be completely different to what you would think. In a browser window you have a pretty solid idea of how far you need to scroll to get a certain amount down the page. Flash scrollbars remove that dependency. And dependencies are vital in providing a good all-round experience for the visitor.

4. Text is not selectable

In many situatins that a Flash scrollbar is used, the text contained within it will not be selectable with your mouse, which makes copying it impossible. You might think that’s a good thing for the people that own the website because of copyright infringement and stuff. But it’s not if the text you want to select is helpful, like a phone number or address would be. This is more of a general point on Flash, but it’s valid nonetheless.

5. You can’t jump down the page

You know how you can click in the blank area beneath a vertical scrollbar to jump down the page? That doesn’t always happen with Flash ones. You have to click the bar and drag it. Just make sure you judge it right, because it won’t necessarily go at the same speed that most other non-Flash scrollbars do.

6. It is not instantly recognisable

If it doesn’t look identical or very similar to your browser’s scrollbar, not everyone will instantly recognise it as a scroll bar. Those few seconds spent scanning the area for a way to find the text which is clearly cut off can prove very frustrating.

7. It won’t keep your place

If you refresh this page in your browser right now, it will remember your place. The scrollbar will stay in the same position and it’ll remember how far down the page you were. Now go ahead an try that on a Flash site. Again, this is a general Flash issue, but it still stands.

8. It interferes with your browser scrollbar

If you over-scroll on the Flash scrollbar you browser window can also scroll, forcing you down the page. Then you enter this irritating cycle of trying only to scroll in either your browser or the Flash content area.

9. It doesn’t dynamically resize

Because not all Flash scrollbars resize to fit the browser window, if you are viewing a site on a small screen, for example, you’ll have to scroll in the browser….just to get to the top or bottom of the Flash scrollbar….just so you can scroll in that. This is silly. Very silly.

10. It just doesn’t feel right

Scrolling in the browser ain’t broke. Don’t try to fix it.

Conclusion

This is not meant to be a rant aimed at Flash. There’s enough of them around…and I’m sure I’ll get round to one of those soon enough anyway :) And I’m not necessarily against Flash being used in websites. Used in the right way, it can really enhance a website’s appeal and even extend it’s usability. But there is no excuse for using Flash to control something which is globally catered for already and that we have spent the internet’s lifetime learning to use. Why change it and put people out of their comfort zones? Scrolling in the browser, as with mouse clicks, is a fundamental action. Everybody knows how to do it. Everybody know how it works. Unless you can recreate it and all of it’s functionality exactly using Flash, please leave it alone!


4 comments


  1. Ok, i actually love this post.

    it was good to read.

    and at the end it inspired me to reply!!

    i know its an old post now. but it just shows how far we go in such a short period of time.

    so, this post basically explains everybody is used to a normal browser scrollbar, ok well the majority. HOWEVER.

    the whole point of our civilisation…….

    is to adapt and overcome. lol yes we hate getting out of our old ways, but we strive to make things easier and simpler for ourselves.

    this would include the launch of flash websites.

    this is to make things more eye catching, rather then let the public get confused.

    all of the problems listed in the post about what problems there are with flash scrollbars have all been fixed.

    which brings me to my point.

    But there is no excuse for using Flash to control something which is globally catered for already and that we have spent the internet’s lifetime learning to use. Why change it and put people out of their comfort zones?

    because, the idea is to develop the current comfort zone and bring it up to date with everything else.

    there is so much more flash content out there now, its become our norm… it is now our comfort zone, we ALL know how to use it now :)

    so my question is….

    why do you feel, going forward is a bad thing ???

    when making a rant, suggest a solution… :)

    Reply

    • Hi Michael,

      My point isn’t that going forward is a bad thing. It’s that poor use of Flash results in a poor user experience. I agree you see fewer and fewer cases of poorly designed scrollbars (and Flash in general) now than a few years ago. But you still see them. And they still annoy the hell out of me!

      I can’t actually say I’ve seen that many Flash scrollbars recently. Whether that’s because they’ve been designed well enough to be undetectable as Flash, or whether people have just stopped using them, I couldn’t say. But you can definitely see when one has been made poorly as it really affects how you interact with a site.

      I just think that something as fundamental as scrolling doesn’t need adjustment. Especially if the adjustment is used because the designer of the site/Flash component isn’t sure how else to achieve a frame-type efect in a page, and therefore makes the entire thing out of Flash.

      I guess my solution is a simple one. Don’t make bad Flash scrollbars. Can we agree on that?

      Thanks for your comment.

      Reply

  2. I completely agree with that,

    but we both know they have to be made first to be able to find the solution to it. so they’re gonna linger lol

    I understand your frustration I do see them a lot still, especially when you see people trying to learn. as they are the simplest to explain.

    but thats the best thing about diversity!

    i see it as, the best product wins.

    so eventually most products will use that product to gain the most audience.

    shame about the idevices such as ipad and iphone with flash at the moment. but then again. brings up about your frustration about the scrollbars, it was really bad with actionscript1 and flash 4 etc. but now…….

    so im seeing it as flash will get simplified and become more popular where it found a certain scrollbar that everyone is happy using and it gets used everywhere, because its easy customisable and as a product is better then the present day scrollbar! lol

    ill let you in on a secret.

    i am actually really frustrated at the moment about scrollbars though. lol

    where i’m designing this flash site, i’ve got 3 scrollbars, which are all scrolling with the mouse at the same time, which naturally i don’t want either.

    lol but the reason i posted here contradicting myself, its due to my attitude because i know theres that answer out there that will sort that problem out!

    i just got to find it!!!!!! lol

    hence why i’m on a website thats talking about flash scrollbars!! lol

    Reply

    • I can’t imagine they will ever get to a point where they become the defacto standard ahead of browser scrollbars. I think the best product has probably already won judging by the fact that browsers use the built in scrollbar system rather than Flash ones. I’m sure they will get better with age though. Whether they are necessary and contribute positively to the user experience is another question however. It would help if Flash was pre-installed on browsers to begin with. But until that happens, any components of Flash are a potential usability issue.

      Interestingly, with Webkit browsers you can actually control the styles of scrollbars using CSS, as Chris Coyier shows in his post.. Not all browsers support it of course. At least not yet. I just hope the world doesn’t go mad with restyling and recolouring bits of the browser chrome when they finally have the power.

      I’d love to help you with your Flash issue, but I’m no expert with Flash I’m afraid. Good luck finding a solution!

      Reply

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