Web Design QuickStart

ne of the keys to a good Web site is simplicity. You’ve heard of the “KISS” principle? Keep It Simple Silly. This applies doubly for Web sites.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of using every possible feature on a Web page. It is nice to be able to create frames and tables and font sizes and animated GIFs, but if you have every possible HTML feature on every page, it’s highly likely that your readers are going to be overwhelmed rather than impressed.

Remember, just because you can create an effect, doesn’t mean you should. Ask yourself: what value am I adding with this technique? Is this the best way to communicate what I want to say?

Simple Doesn’t Equal Boring
Simple doesn’t necessarily mean dull and boring. Lots of people confuse fancy effects with effective communication.

What keeping it simple really means is this: think about how people will be using your pages and present your information to them in a way that matches their needs and expectations. Use technology and effects where appropriate and where they make for more effective communication.

Clean design + Good use of technology = A Good Web site

Know Your Audience
You aren’t creating your Web work in a vacuum or just for yourself! If you were, you’d keep it on your own computer. You’re publishing a Web page because you expect someone to stop by and visit it. That someone is your audience.

The more you understand your audience, the more effective you can make your site. Are your readers on slow modems? Then you’d better be extra careful about page size. Are they expecting to hear your band’s music clips? Then you’d better think about an audio format. Are they quilters? Then blood red and black might not be your best color choices. Are they hard core gamers? Then you might want to avoid pastels and soft-edged graphics.

Definition of a good Web site:

A site that delivers quality content
for its intended audience
and does so with elegance and style.

Five Fingers
Making your site easy to navigate is critical. Lots of small factors add up to create easy paths through your site. For example, one thing you can do is keep the number of “next step” choices small so that people don’t become lost in a long list of options.

Did you know that the average human mind sees five or fewer items as one group, but when it encounters more than five items it has to divide them into smaller sub-groups to process them? It makes sense, then, to try to keep your selections arranged in groups of five or less. That makes it easier for your readers to quickly see the options and select one.

Three Clicks
Another way to help your Web site be a good experience for your readers is to make information no more than three clicks away. One of the fastest ways to frustrate readers is to make them click … and click … and click… and click .. and click … and … to find the information they want.

Additionally, when you make readers burrow deep into your site to find content they often become lost and never make it back to your home page. When people get lost, they tend to surf off someplace else instead of fighting their way around a site.

30 Second Attention Spans
When someone comes into a Web page they should be able to easily see what options they have and select one quickly. As a rule of thumb, it should take less than 30 seconds for a reader to load your page and be able to decide what to do next. If it takes longer than that, you’ll start to lose your audience.

  • Make sure your pages are a reasonable size and don’t take forever to download. If many of your readers are on modems, try to keep the total page size (that means all graphics plus HTML file added together) under 30 to 45K.
  • Make sure your page layout is clear enough that with a quick glance your readers can grasp your navigation scheme and understand how to select a “next step” option.

Words Matter
Remember your fifth grade English teacher? Remember how she told you that good spelling and grammar were important? She was right.

The Web has far too many pages whose creators forgot the basics. Just because your Web page is online doesn’t mean you can toss out all those rules that govern written communication. Just because it is online doesn’t mean you can forget to proofread it. Take a deep breath and spend a few extra minutes with your text. Your readers will thank you for it.

Balance, Balance
Balance is a big part of good Web design.

  • Balance between text and graphics. Unless the content dictates an all-text or an all-graphics site, use common sense and aesthetic judgement so that one doesn’t overwhelm the other.
  • Balance between download time and page content. Of course you want beautiful pages, but you need to balance the content of the page with the reality that your readers are out there logging on through a modem. Is that photo of your wedding trip really worth a 120 second wait?
  • Balance between background and foreground. Most of us print things on white or another solid color paper. On the Web, it’s pretty exciting to be able to create textures and backgrounds, but it’s also easy to let the background overwhelm the content in front.

Frames in Moderation
Frames can be a great addition to your site. Like all Web features, however, be sure you don’t overuse them!

If you want to create a navigational structure that will always be visible, such as a table of contents, frames are the way to go.

But frames aren’t for every use. For example, if you are looking to display information in columns or rows, then tables are the better match.

Keep Learning
Creating Web pages is a continual learning process. Getting up a first version of your site is just the beginning! The technology and tools are constantly evolving and our understanding of how people use the online medium is changing. To create good Web sites you can’t just rest on your laurels.

  • Look at other sites. If you want to be a great novelist you read great novels. If you want to be a great screenwriter you watch great movies. By the same token, if you want to design a great Web site you need to look at other Web sites. Project Cool’s Sightings is a good place to see examples of great sites. As you look at sites, notice what does and doesn’t seems to work. You can even get the Sightings delivered to you once a week via e-mail.
  • View the source. When you see something you like, use your view source function in your browser to see how the effect was done. It’s amazing what you can learn by looking behind the scenes.
  • Read and study. Learn all you can about both design and technology.

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