In a rapidly expanding market, Friends of Ed has become a well-recognized publisher of books on Flash. One of their more recent offerings is "The Flash Usability Guide: Interacting with Flash MX". The main author of this 450 page long exploration of human-Flash interaction is Chris MacGregor. Anyone familiar with, or the whitepaper on usability available at, will know that Chris is a vocal advocate for abused end-users exposed to the many self-indulgent Flash sites which populate the web. Here, supported by a team of experts, he explains why we need to make Flash sites usable and accessible, and provides guidelines on achieving this essential goal. Real-life examples of both good and bad information design are provided and analyzed throughout the book. There is also a running example, which takes us from initial discussions with the client through to final testing with users, explaining how the architecture and design of the fictional Future Fridge Conference web site affect it's usability. With the mythical client requesting that their pages be accessible to the disabled, and a kiosk, CD-ROM and PDA compatible session planner also a prerequisite, the team cover all the bases in terms of user requirements, while providing plenty of usability bones to chew on. If you're looking for the standard Flash cookbook of neatly programmed examples, then this is not the book for you. You're not going to find explanations of how to format text objects, or lines of heady code outlining the details of parsing an XML document. There's no CD-ROM with ActionScript waiting to be dissected and amended. What you will find, however, is the information that every person involved in the creation of Flash interfaces should have tattooed on their cerebral cortex before they ever attach ActionScript to movie clip.

The introductory chapters deal briefly with the history and abuse of Flash, and the resulting fall from grace that it has experienced in the past couple of years. For those whose interest in the program arose after those heady days of massive intro animations and mystery meat navigation, these chapters provide a succinct explanation of why we are now faced with much of the apparent resistance to Flash from within the corporate world.

From here, the book progresses into the realms of psychology, salesmanship, and communication, as it deals with the issues of meeting client and designer expectations while looking after the needs of the one group our work must really serve — the user. For those who are familiar with the problems of usability, and already have a good grasp of why these issues are important, this part of the book may seem a little repetitive, even though it is peppered with useful nuggets of information. It is, however, no easy task to explain why usability is such an important principal, and Chris has chosen tried and tested teaching methodology to reinforce the messages he puts forward, as he gradually expands on and then summarizes concepts.

The switch to more practical aspects of designing and developing a site abruptly changes the tone of the book. The reader is immersed in issues of text size and contrast, the use of sound, animation and meaningful interaction, as the criticisms so often leveled at Flash sites are aired within a framework of design decisions made on other's sites, as well as in the process of developing the fictional conference site. In the chapter "showing users respect", Chris then explains why these issues are of importance, and how they can decide the success or failure of a site.

Anyone who has worked with government or non-governmental organizations will be familiar with the requirements for accessibility to disabled users. Chris and company provide some useful examples of the problems disabled users face, the types of assist tools they have available, and how Flash content can be made available to such users in real terms and in the fictional setting of their conference website.

The book touches briefly on the "do's and don'ts" of offline Flash production for CD_ROM, kiosks and PDAs, then rounds out by examining the dynamics of usability testing, and the successes and failures of their final product in user testing. The book closes with an extensive list of links to sites, reports, articles on usability and accessibility.

Anyone who has been a user advocate to clients, designers and other decision makers will know how frustrating it can be to see this group's needs ignored. Warnings about confusing interfaces, superfluous animations, and bloated sound files are often met with incomprehension, as it is assumed that others will understand and interact with our work in the way we intended. This book clearly communicates all the questions and answers about why usability should be our first consideration when architecting, designing and building interactive media. It provides the arguments, in black and white, about why concern for end-user experience is a sound business and design decision.

Who should read this book? Anyone and everyone who is involved in creating interactive interfaces in Flash. All those who are concerned about how they can successfully communicate using this most powerful tool. And perhaps we should take Chris MacGregor's advice to heart, and place pictures of users around our computer screens, so that we never forget for whom we are doing this.

This review was written by Lesley Thiel, for