From Text Effects to Canned Goods:
Identity Construction and Visual Codes in the Flash Development Community


- Megan Sapnar


As the Net evolves from a static textual medium to an animated visual medium, the visual language of interface design takes its shape through the industry-standard content development products used by Web developers. With the increasing use of Macromedia's Web animation software, Flash, to generate Web content, the shape of the Web interface is becoming not only animated, but also highly constructed by the software designers, the development community and graphic artists that are largely responsible for developing "the look and feel" of cyberspace. The proliferation of Flash content online, and the bricolage effects shared, reconstructed and adapted by the Flash development community helps inform our visual language and aesthetical perception on the screen-shaping user expectations and methods of interacting with electronic symbols.

This paper examines the development community that has formed around Macromedia's Flash software. By shaping the interface, Flash designers and developers are informing a digital visual language that becomes part of our cultural imagination, dictating the way we see and the language we use to talk about information space. Specifically, this paper explores how interface design is used to establish identity and status in the Flash community, and how community members use the software to transform their own visual identity and circulate preferred aesthetics.

When William Gibson defined cyberspace as a ‘consensual hallucination,' he described windows that opened into graphical representations of unthinkably complex fields of data.  Scholars and commentators have applied this often quoted description to the World Wide Web since its inception, but only now is the mainly text-based Internet being eclipsed by a truly graphical representation of cyberspace.  Today, through the visual language of interface design, we are presented with a vastly interactive, richly animated Web shaped through the industry standard content development products used by Web developers.  Using Macromedia’s Web animation software, Flash, to generate Web content, the community of Web developers, designers, and graphic artists are largely responsible for developing “the look and feel” of cyberspace.   In the process of constructing cyberspace, Flash designers construct and perform their own graphical identities, embedding themselves in a complex matrix of discourse and social structures that circulate preferred Web aesthetics and reinforce visual codes.

Unlike HTML, the official markup language of the Web that can be authored entirely in a simple text editor, Flash is a software product made by a company called Macromedia to support animated vector graphics on the Web.  Computer graphics fall into two basic categories:  bitmap images and vector graphics. Bitmaps, like the GIF and JPEG images embedded in HTML pages, are pixel-based formats—they define colored pixels on the screen.  When a bitmap image is enlarged, the jagged pixels that compose the picture become evident. Vector graphic formats, however, because they are mathematical algorithms instead of mapped pixels, are an ideal way to achieve real-time scalable, interactive, high-frame rate images and animations with small enough file sizes to be suitable for Web delivery (McClosky, 1999).  To view Flash content online, users must download a plug-in, and to create Flash content, Web authors must purchase Macromedia’s Flash software.  But unlike HTML, Flash is virtually independent of browsers, which means that everyone with a version 3 browser or better can see a nearly identical version to that seen by every other user, and version 4 browsers and higher come with the plug-in bundled. [1]   

Flash has its own scripting language, called Actionscript, which developers use to create advanced interactivity and special effects that mimic the physics of the real world.   ActionScript can be used to generate user agency, such as the ability to drag an object on the screen, or to create visual effects, such as programming an image to change as the mouse gets near it, or to make the image fade when the mouse moves away.  One significant difference between Flash and HTML pages is that users cannot use their browser to view the ActionScript source code of a Flash file. This is not to say that the source code can’t be found.  Flash developers share files and techniques with each other through other channels, such as online Flash development communities, where motion graphics, text effects and open source ActionScript code are deconstructed and circulated through development community resource Web sites and the Flash interfaces of community members.  Many developer sites provide open source code, tutorials, and downloadable files for use in one’s own Flash work.  The circulation, deconstruction, and fetishism of these cultural materials work to establish visual codes that shape the way we use and imagine cyberspace.

The Flash Community

To begin with, there must be some distinction among the greater Flash Community, the Flash Development Community, and the smaller Flash sub-communities that have surfaced around the software product.  Broadly speaking, the entire Flash Community is a global network of Flash awareness and promotion, the industry circulators of Flash technologies, corporate sponsors, third party supporters, technology journalists, the fans of Shockwave Flash animation [2] , as well as the Flash Development Community, a vast network of Macromedia support engineers, Web and graphic designers, programmers, artists, illustrators and animators. 

Composed of a broad mix of individuals, from amateur teenage ‘newbies’ to dot-com design hot-shots called ‘masters,’ the Flash Development Community is tightly cohered through countless Flash sub-communities:  bulletin boards, developer Web sites, newsgroups and IRC channels dedicated to providing social outlets, community resources, and technical advice for the Flash designer.  It is within these sub-communities that Flash enthusiasts, known to each other as ‘Flashers,’ meet, establish and propagate visual identities, and compete for status and recognition from the larger Flash Community.  For many Web designers who use this product, Flash is not simply a file format or another piece of computer software. [3]    It is a bridge to community, a means for establishing a visual identity, and a method to communicate and circulate preferred aesthetics.


I will examine how members of the Flash Development Community construct their visual identities, establish status and recognition in the community, and influence the visual aesthetics and emerging codes of the Web interface.  I have relied on bulletin threads from two different sub-community environments: and, a popular community resource site offering members enticing goodies such as free tutorials, downloadable source code, royalty free sound loops, bulletin board forums, and collections of inspiring links, is populated by Flashers of all skill levels and generates much of its enthusiasm from the bevy of contests and challenges in which members compete for community recognition.  FlashKit was established in October 1999 by Web developer Mark Fennell of Sydney, Australia, and as of December 2001 is still very active.  The Web site was a community forum created by Flash master Joshua Davis in the spring of 2000, and consisted entirely of bulletin threads on a plain gray background with topics from design and scripting advice to freewheeling time-killing ponderings on non-Flash related topics.  The Dreamless community was a significant force in the Flash Development community, and although Davis officially closed the site down on July 15, 2001, it stands as a very relevant example of how community discourse influences the circulation of visual codes.

Although these are distinctly “branded” environments within the greater Flash community, many of the behavioral norms of interacting with fellow community members carry over from one community to another.  Indeed, members frequently consider themselves members of the Macromedia community, or members of the design community, who “hang out” at certain Web sites.  However, the differences between each community’s affiliations are reflected in the type of community members each attracts.  Dreamless, for example, as the only community site of its kind run by a Flash master, tended to draw a much more design-savvy crowd who carefully followed the work of established masters and as a group, tended to be higher up and more embedded in the design community.  FlashKit, by comparison, has its fair share of seasoned designers, but because it is a general Flash resource site, it draws a much broader audience of Flash enthusiasts.

I have altered or omitted the screen names of community members to preserve users privacy, with the exception of the Flash masters, who have already gained recognition and status in the field.  The original spelling and grammar have been preserved.  The threads that were included in this study were selected over an eight-week period of time, from October 20th to December 18th, 2000, and were chosen as particular illustrations of the topics raised.  Specifically, this paper will address the following questions:  First, how do community members adapt shared and reconstructed visual signs in order to establish identity and gain recognition within the community?  Second, how does community discourse influence the circulation of a preferred Web aesthetics and visual codes?  And third, how do community interactions contribute to the emerging language of the Web interface?

Performing Identities through the Interface

Although an extensive amount of work was done in the nineties concerning identity formation in virtual communities and MUD’s, [4] text-based virtual worlds that were popular in the early days of the Web, little work has been done on the construction of identity through the visual interfaces of Web design communities. In text-based virtual worlds, identity is established through language—the textual description of the character’s persona.  Although some conversational and identity establishing cues can be represented in textual spaces, specifically through the use of language signs such as emoticons, fully interactional multimedia spaces like Flash Web sites offer a multitude of identity-defining signals that offer alternative modes of representation not always available in physical spaces. 

As the means by which we interact with the system, the study of interface design has been the subject of considerable research.  Beth Kolko’s examination of race and interface design explores the implications of the absent @race prompt in multi-user-domains, underlining the significance of how architectural decisions in the system design affect users methods of interacting with one another. Kolko cites the work of Brenda Laurel, whose Computers as Theater advanced the discourse surrounding interface design by arguing that a user’s interaction with a computer was a theatrical moment and that human-computer interaction is performative.  This growing line of inquiry, Kolko points out, seems to represent a growing awareness that technology interfaces carry the power to prescribe representative norms and patterns (220).

For the Flash Development community, norms and patterns are exchanged in the performance of one’s identity through the interface, and interactions with the interface identities of fellow community members.  As a community that largely defines itself in visual terms, the Flash interface becomes the most important identity-defining object, an illustration of creative design, programming artistry and software mastery.  For many community members, one’s personal Flash interface does not just serve as an example of taste; rather one’s interface is one’s identity.   Many personal Flash sites follow a typical formula that includes a weblog chronicling interactions with other community members, a portfolio of past work and/or design experiments, contact information, and selected links to the top sites of other designers.  Linking to other designers’ sites serves as a method to demonstrate one’s awareness of the work of Flash masters, suggesting through the loose connections of hypertext one’s desire to be included in the tight and competitive design community structure.  Established designers operate exclusive design-inspiration sites, collectively recognized by the community as master lists of the best design on the Web.  To have one’s personal site linked to from a top inspiration site is the ultimate form of flattery, a recognition that sometimes manifests in bloated egos.  A Dreamless community member, noticing the increased arrogance of fellow designers who have recently been initiated into the elite link circles comments:

...getting linked on threeoh, or k10k, or designiskinky does not make you a better person than someone just starting out...having a nice site doesn't give you a license to be a dickhead to kids who might be visually challenged... [5]

These links are a deliberate method to engage one’s performance with the already established identities of the community’s respected designers. 

For new members of the Flash community, the development of an interface and hence one’s identity is so anticipated and integral to one’s interactions in cyberspace, that community members frequently neglect other elements, such as site content, in order to begin circulating the URL of their visual identity.  It is not uncommon to visit a Flasher’s personal site and find an elaborate animated introduction with a fully developed interface, yet little if any content.  Visitors are greeted with a control panel of generically labeled buttons that illustrate how design elements interact within graphical space, yet textual content is limited to little more than a message saying “Come back again when this section is completed.”  These interface-only Web sites emphasize the container over content, style over substance.  Such sites are common among newbies and younger designers who wish to construct a Web site but have little reason for doing so other than to demonstrate their development skills.  To more seasoned designers, these novice attempts are viewed as shallow and extraneous.  A member comments to a newbie who has asked for opinions on the look of his latest interface:

I am so sick of "layouts" and "makeovers." I'm not trying to be harsh, but I wish someone had been this straight with me from the get-go. Please, don't waste precious time making links that don't go anywhere and hypertext without TEXT.
The Web itself is a graphical interface to the Internet, and the individual design of every site on the Web is the interface by which we access the network of files that make up cyberspace.  Technically, a hyperlink can connect one file to any other file on the Web, reflecting the decentralized nonlinear nature of the network.  But the Web interfaces of the Flash design community literally link only among themselves, establishing exclusive associations with preferred designers in a highly selective status-oriented circle of intertextualities and shared aesthetics.

Constructing a Visual Brand of Identity

It has become a common neologism to refer to our society as a visual culture.  Through the digital signals of pop culture-- video games, motion graphics, music videos, Web sites-- the proliferation of ads, logos, and brands circulate through our culture at a dizzying speed.  Everything, it seems, has a crafted image.  For many Web and graphic designers, especially those involved in the production of cultural products, ubiquitous branding techniques become infused with an online visual identity centered in the Flash interface of personal sites.

In his work on the construction of identities through personal home pages, Daniel Chandler describes the use of bricolage, a concept based on Claude Levi-Strauss’s notion of the bricoleur who appropriates ready-made materials.  Bricolage is the adopting and adapting of borrowed materials from the cultural sphere, a process that is made quite easy given the virtual and digital nature of the Web—graphics, sounds, text and code can be copied or borrowed from other people’s sites and infused into the fashioning of one’s own interface design (Chandler, 1998).  For Flash designers lurking within the graphical representation of the Web, the process of bricolage involves appropriating free music loops, text effects, background images, ActionScript code, and movie clips from downloadable collections offered both by fellow community members and the resource archives of community sites like FlashKit.  But to completely establish one’s identity as an accomplished Flash designer, community members use bricolage material to coordinate the production of a polished self-promotion identity package.

For example, a FlashKit community member that goes by the screen name “ninjapixel” has a Flash signature [6] that is a grainy black and white high contrast profile of a man’s head that shakes side to side when rolled over with the mouse. A tagline above it reads, “Your kung-fu is strong, but I shall defeat you with my gaussian blur...” [7] Clicking on the image launches a pop-up window to ninjapixel’s matching URL where motion graphic design is used to communicate this individual’s identity, which takes on a brand-like permeation that knits the screen name, visual signature or logo, tagline, URL address, style, and interface into one matching package.  In this case, the identity of ninjapixel is communicated visually and aurally as a hybrid of martial arts influenced graphics and heavily pixilated duotoned jumpy close-angle shots and heavily processed photographs set to an electric guitar loop of hard rock music.  Elaborate constructions of identity like this one illustrate how visual elements are appropriated from the cultural sphere and combined to produce a branded identity package that is marketed to other Flashers in sub-communities. But perhaps more importantly, the circulation deconstruction, and fetishism of these bricolage materials also work to establish visual codes—semiotic systems or conventions that carry meaning in a visual representation, such as ways of organizing space, positioning the spectator, moving graphical elements and navigating the site contents. 

Visual Codes and Representational Technologies

The semiotic study of codes involved in the process of representation reveals the ways in which meanings are constructed through sign systems. Chandler describes a code as “a set of practices familiar to users of the medium operating within a broad cultural framework.” (Chandler, 1994.)  He points out that the convention of codes represents a social dimension, as codes are interpretive frameworks used by both producers and interpreters of texts.  Because codes, in time, tend to “naturalize” established conventions, making them seem less like codes and more like “obvious” representational practices, they are greatly implicated in the processes of positioning spectators and shaping and upholding dominant ideologies.

The use of the vanishing point in linear perspective is just one example of a visual code that has been the subject of extensive research.  Panofsky famously argued in “Perspective as Symbolic Form” that linear perspective was a 'symbolic form' - a historically situated system of conventions for representing pictorial space, which reflected the dominant cultural worldview of the Italian Renaissance (Edgerton 1975, cited in Chandler, 1994).  Often cited as a semiotic system that contributed to a profound shift in the Western culture worldview, the vanishing point created the illusion of anteriority—what was depicted appeared independent of its pictorial representation, as if the mathematically-based formal technique was a dependable code that could faithfully represent unmediated reality, if applied with the proper artistry (Yoshimoto, 109.) 

In Ways of Seeing, John Berger argues that perspective does not point to multiple viewpoints, but to only one, the privileged eye of the beholder.  “Perspective makes the single eye the center of the visible world.  Everything converges on to the eye as to the vanishing point of infinity (Berger, 16).  Looking at the represented world in this way confirmed a narcissistic view of the unique self.  As Bill Nichols points out, this unique self corresponded with new economic models: “the centering of and upon the subject or ego in Renaissance painting coincides with the first signs of a growing emphasis upon the individual rather than a chain of being, an emphasis that flourished with the emergence of entrepreneurial capitalism”(Nichols, 83).  In this way, the apparent “technical innovation” of linear perspective is revealed as a visual code that had subtle but profound ideological implications.

In film, visual codes perform similar ideological functions of “positioning the subject,” and rely on techniques such as camera shots, editing, montage, lighting, color, sound, graphics, and narrative style. (Chandler, 1994)  Film theorists refer to “suturing”—the “invisible editing” between shots, which foreground the narrative while masking the ideological processes that shape viewer subjectivity by “stitching” the spectator into the world of the film. The use of shot/reverse shot editing, a technique of switching back and forth between shots to establish continuity, and the eye-line match, in which two characters in different shots appear to look at each other because of the direction of their glances, are classic cinematic codes that appear “transparent” to viewers familiar with the conventions.(ibid)

New representational technologies, it has been argued, both rely on and transgress earlier media codes. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grussin contend that new media achieve their cultural significance by honoring, rivaling and revising earlier media such as perspective painting, photography, film and television. This process of refashioning, they refer to as ‘remediation’ and note that earlier media have also rearticulated the content and logic of one another: photography remediated painting, film remediated stage production and photography, and television remediated film, vaudeville and radio.  Accessing audiovisual, news, education and entertainment shows on the same medium even from different sources blurs the distinctions between the contexts in which each originated (Bolter and Grussin, 2000).

Lev Manovich uses the term “cultural interfaces” to describe the way we are increasingly “interfacing” not to a computer, but to culture encoded in digital form.  He argues that interfaces are cultural objects that we can understand because they are built on the language and metaphors of former cultural objects, like cinema, the printed word, and general-purpose human-computer interfaces.  His use of these terms refers to a set of conventions associated with each cultural form. “Cinema,” he explains, “includes mobile camera, representation of space, editing techniques, narrative conventions, activity of spectator—in short different elements of cinematic, perception, language, and reception” (Manovich, 1997).

Circulating Preferred Web Aesthetics

Community discourse influences the circulation of what I have referred to here as “preferred Web aesthetics,” the privileging of certain visual codes in a Flash representation.  Flashkit is just one of dozens of community development sites organized into downloadable resources and tutorials, contests and competitions, and a collection of community forums divided into categorized topics dedicated to very specific applications of Flash.  There is a separate forum for numerous sub-topics, including Actionscripting, gaming, text effects, sound, character animation, 3-D, design, and a community lounge for general socializing, which is by far the most active forum on the site.  The availability of source files and tutorials and the organization of threads into carefully monitored topics, shapes the way discourse emerges.  For example, a forum devoted to “site checks,” in which Flashers submit their URL for review and critique, helps initiate newbies into understanding the appropriate uses of visual codes in the Flash text.   The “Flash Intro,” an introductory animation usually lasting between 10 and 30 seconds that played before entering a Flash site, was a popular code used to introduce a Flash interface.  The purpose of the Flash intro was both to demonstrate the “bells and whistles” of multimedia, and to set the stage for a “new kind of Web experience,” one that was more engaging than a static HTML site.   However, in time the Flash intro as an established convention began to crumble when it came under the attack of usability experts like Jakob Nielson, who complained about the forced submission of the cinematic experience:  unless the site included a “skip intro” button, a viewer could do nothing but wait for the sequence to finish, an act that removed spectator control.  As a result, the intro became one of the prime reasons why some critics announced, “Flash is Evil,” [8] and according to Jakob Nielson, “Flash:  99% Bad.” [9]

In order to save the reputation of the beloved software, designers became more vocal in expressing their desire to promote new ways of experiencing the Web.  The designer Hillman Curtis’ public response to Nielson acknowledges “irresponsible design” in many Flash interfaces, a consequence of the desktop publishing phenomena where virtually anyone can buy the software and call herself or himself a designer.  Forums like FlashKit’s “Site Check” enables community members already familiar with established conventions to guide new users in constructing Flash texts that successfully incorporate acceptable visual codes. 

The Dreamless community reinforced visual codes that demonstrate high ActionScript proficiency by pressuring members to include a URL in their user profile, so other members could assess each others visual interfaces.  Without a URL to demonstrate skills and familiarity with visual codes, members are less likely to be taken seriously, and are often severely criticized, especially those who post design criticisms of other members work:

the one thing that annoys the fuck out of me is when people say some dumb ass arrogant shit, like they are the dopest designer/programmer etc..and you go to check their profile and they don't have a url in that shit...i's just something that makes me look at the person as a total punk ass herb, even if they are good at what they do...if you are gonna talk shit and be negative about someone elses least have the balls to show yours.
Furthermore, having an established and recognized visual identity frequently corresponds with levels of involvement in community discourse, as this member notes:
i've watched the community of dreamless unconsiously[sp?] split the members into three groups. the people who have a shitload of posts and a decent url; the people who have lots of posts and a url; and the people who have very little posts and no url. i've heard more times than i care to count "i think you should have a url and/or more posts than that before you come post your opinions.
A “decent url” is frequently associated with a Flashers’ ability to successfully appropriate difficult code, an act that not only demonstrates ones skills, but also works to reinforce preferred aesthetics, and the visual codes in which they rely. 

            One example of the rapid circulation, fetishism and appropriation of borrowed material that emerged as a visual code comes from a presentation delivered by Davis at the Flash Forward 2000 conference in New York City, entitled “Creating Complexity from Simplicity,” where he used the metaphor of a fern to illustrate how complex designs can emerge from a simple set of rules.  He then demonstrated a navigation system that arranged content outside the visible screen area and gave the illusion of elegant motion that slows gracefully into the frame before stopping inside the viewing area [Figure 1].  Davis made the source code and a step-by-step tutorial of this process as a free download on his Praystation Web site, where thousands of Flashers downloaded the files to help learn how ActionScript can be used.  As a result, the code was deconstructed and fetishized and incorporated into the Flash interfaces as a way of elevating the “quality” of the motion design—incorporating the code served as a way to be taken more seriously by the Flash community and a way to impress potential clients.   Ultimately, Davis’ interactive motion navigation technique became an established way of organizing and accessing site content, and is used repeatedly by interactive design companies responsible for building corporate cultural products in Flash from tennis shoes to Jaguar cars. [10]   [Figure 2]

Figure 1,Detail from Davis’ presentation, “Creating Complexity From Simplicity”

Figure 2, The Jaguar Web site

            Despite the widespread practice of appropriation of code and design components, there is a very fine line between bricolage and the blatant copying or stealing of another Flash interface design, a process referred to in the Flash community as “ripping.”  Whereas bricolage involves appropriating ready-made materials—a Photoshop filter, a method of navigation, or a text effect—it is still up to the designer to combine these materials in new ways.  Because the community is built on the circulation of design components, ripping is seen as an attempt to steal another’s identity and is frequently the subject of community discourse.  This Dreamless member explains:

there is a difference between taking an element from something, adding flavor to it, and freaking it in your own way....and straight up ripping...of course you will be influenced by stuff you like...but there's a line between being infuenced and straight up copying..that you should try not to cross...
Because a considerable amount of time and energy goes into establishing one’s Flash identity, community members are particularly careful not to tarnish their reputation, or ruin their chances of establishing status and recognition in the community social structure.

From Text Effects to Canned Goods

Because of its emphasis as a community resource site, Flashkit maintains its popularity by growing its archive of free downloads and tutorials as well as constantly advertising new additions to keep community members coming back for more.  How does Flashkit keep their databases full of thousands of valuable source files without employing hundreds of full time Flash developers and content editors?  By offering status incentives to the Flashkit community in the form of contests and membership levels, Flashkit encourages its members to climb to higher membership levels through a carefully mediated point system that rewards tutorial and source code submissions and community interaction.   In FlashKit, URL’s are much less important than in Dreamless, as the community point system bears the most weight in determining community status levels.  What these power systems ultimately reflect is the significant effects community architecture has on the larger cultural formations regarding Web aesthetics. 

As I have mentioned above, the most direct route to status and recognition in the Flash community is to illustrate one’s skills by building an exemplary and cutting edge Web site—an interface that reflects design sophistication and mastery of the software.  The experimental design projects published by recognized Flash masters push the limits of Web design in extremely contemporary ways.  Elements within these projects, a specific design technique for presenting a calendar in the case of Praystation, and a Nakamura’s user-controlled animated menu at Monocrafts, are then picked up by other designers and circulated throughout the community. 

An earlier example of how these elements can be circulated is illustrated by the rise to popularity of the “Dennis Interactive Text Effect.”  This was a widely circulated tutorial demonstrating how the design company Dennis Interactive achieved an effect that looked like stabbing text flipping onto the screen.  Once the method for reproducing this effect was deconstructed by the community, the effect began popping up all over the Web, as users began incorporating this technique in interface animations.  Naturally, over use devalues the effect and it ceases to serve as a status indicator or communicate the same meaning.  The final absorption of a design effect is its addition to an array of pre-packaged filters or effects within the software product itself.  Adobe Photoshop, the industry standard image editing software offers a vast collection of filters that use algorithms to simulate image distortion, such as “motion blur,” and “charcoal cut out.”  Third-party software, such as a product called Swish, automates the process of creating kinetic typography.  These effects, when hand created, were time consuming and complicated to carry out, but once they become automated, they connote a different signal all together—an algorithm effect is a canned good. 

New Flash users, striving to establish an interface identity, download source code and tutorials like the Dennis Interactive Text Effect which have been created and adapted by other community members, who in turn absorb the elements from other designers and Flash masters. These tutorials, and the effects demonstrated within them, then become part of the new users design toolbox.  As users master Actionscripting, members become even more involved in the community, seeking advice for complex solutions to technical problems and perhaps even contributing source code and answers for new users.  The result is a continuous self-feeding community, where certain design elements become preferred visual aesthetics, a process that ultimately filters design and interface decisions out of the sub-communities, and into the interfaces of corporations and other Web sites within the larger cultural sphere.  This presents a quandary for some designers, who recognize the discrepancies between the community’s collective values of establishing a unique visual identity and the permeation of preferred aesthetics, as this Dreamless member asks:

i wonder how much being around eachother effects our creativity and style?
we all have similar taste in music and culture for the most part, does it hurt us more to be enclosed in a community like dreamless? i know we are all inspired by eachother but after awhile we all tend to think on the same path...we all goto the same sites, get the same links from the same places....are we truly underground as we think we are? or are we the same as the masses that buy pop culture?
On Flashkit, a similar idea is expressed in a thread called ‘What is mainstream?  Who decides?:'
I have had enough with keeping up on the mainstream world! Who decides what is in fashion for Flash things? Who's to say the mouse trails are out? chaotic intros out? Dragable windows in? Who is the deciding factor? Why do you we always follow mainstream things? How or who decides something is "in" right now? At what point do we reach the same old repeditive style? When does something become cliche? What is in style? Why am I, and you, and every other Flasher I know going to stick with the current trend?
As the personal techniques of recognized Flash masters become part of a designer’s repertoire of influence on the larger community, celebrated techniques are embraced, mimicked, and circulated around the entire Web, from an elite network of established designers into the community at large.  These fetishized design elements frequently re-surface in the interface of the authoring software itself, ultimately impacting the decisions designers make when choosing which visual elements are used to communicate a message.  As a new representational technology still in the nascent stages of development, the visual codes that emerge in Flash interfaces inform perceptions of cyberspace, impact subjectivity, and initiate new relationships between spectator and image—with far reaching implications of ideological significance.


Berger, John. (1977). Ways of Seeing. London:  British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books.

Chandler, Daniel (1994). Semiotics for Beginners [WWW document] URL <20 December 2001>

Chandler, Daniel (1998). Personal Home Pages and the Construction of Identities on the Web” [WWW document] URL <26 November 2001>

Crary, Jonathan. (1992).  Techniques of the Observor.  Cambridge:  MIT Press.

Kolko, Beth. (2000). Erasing @race:  Going White in the (Inter) Face. Race in Cyberspace.  New York: Routledge. 213-232.

Lunenfeld, Peter. (2000).  Snap to Grid:  A User’s Guide to Digital Arts, Media, and Cultures.  Cambridge:  MIT Press.

Manovich, Lev (1993). Cinema as Cultural Interface [WWW document] URL <23 November 2001>

McCloskey, Bill. (1999). The History and Mystery of Vector Graphics” [WWW document] URL <14 Dec. 2001>

Nichols, Bill.  (1981).  Ideology and the Image : Social Representation in the Cinema and Other Media. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Panofsky, Erwin. (1997).  Perspective as Symbolic Form.  New York:  Zone Books.

Yoshimoto, Mitsuhiro.  (1996). “Real Virtuality.” Global/Local:  Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary.  (Eds). Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake.  London:  Duke University Press. 107-118.

[1] Macromedia claims that 96% of online users have a Macromedia Flash Player, but this figure does not acknowledge the specific version of Flash required to view certain content.  Most browsers come with version 4 bundled, but users must download the Flash 5 player in order to view content created with the newest version of the software.

[2] “Shockwave” is the term many fans of Flash animation use to refer to the content viewed with Macromedia’s plug-in.  There is a difference between ‘Shockwave’ and ‘Shockwave Flash’ file formats.  The former is the file format developed to port Macromedia Director files onto the Web, whereas the latter is the optimized file format of Macromedia Flash files for the Web.

[3] The term “Flash” is loosely used to refer both to Macromedia’s vector file format (also called SWF, pronounced SWIFF) and the Web authoring software product that creates files in this format.

[4] A MUD is a multi-user-domain where community members engage in role playing games, acting out their character’s identity in text-based virtual spaces.

[5] The sites mentioned here:, and are three of the most established design inspiration sites in the community, and serve as a career benchmark for aspiring designers.

[6] Signatures, or “footers” accompany a member’s post to discussion boards.  These footers are small Flash movies that can include motion and interactivity and are frequently used to demonstrate a Flasher’s skills, identity, and an “embeddedness” in community discourse and social structures.

[7] The gaussian blur is a reference to a favorite Photoshop filter which blurs the image, giving the effect of appearing off in the distance.  Attempts like this to incorporate shared language into one’s identity further establishes one as a legitimate member of the design community.

[8], “Flash Is Evil” [WWW Document] originally published September 1999, URL <12 Dec 2001>

[9] Nielson, Jakob, “Flash: 99% Bad,” [WWW Document] originally published October 2000, URL <26 Dec 2001>

About | Issues
© NMEDIAC & individual NMEDIAC authors, editors, and programmers.


About Issues Index