So, what’s in a website design anyway? And, how do you get a design that is appealing to the broad and varied tastes of all those Internet surfers out there?
This is critical. Your website design is the first impression you make on your customers and visitors. There are a few sites in my favorites and bookmarks that I consider poorly designed. I still have them, because they have information I want. Lucky for the site owner that their content was that good! But one day I will find another site with the same information and a better design. Then guess who will be in my favorites and who will be left out? Maybe your content is great too, but don’t take chances on a poor design. Think how much more repeat traffic and referred traffic you will get if you have both great content and great design.
Design Taste Varies – OK, design is a matter of taste and target audience to some degree. What looks good to one visitor may not be so great to another. Here we have the old adage of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. But there are solid basics that go into good site design. Creating a distinctive visual style and applying it consistently is the best way to bind a series of subjects and web pages together.
Layouts – The layout of your site is an important design element. A webpage is a document, plain and simple. It is like formatting a letter, an outline, a report, or an advertisement. Establish a layout grid and a style for handling your text and graphics, then stick with it to build a consistent rhythm and unity across all the pages of your site. Make it easy to follow, pleasing to the eye. Learn to use tables and nested tables, lists, and even well designed frames for controlling layouts.
Color – Color has a lot to do with target audience as well. What appeals to a teenager may not work with a target audience of baby-boomers, and so forth. But anybody can appreciate color coordination. Color coordination can be learned. Yes, it’s a lot easier if you have a natural “knack” for these things, but you can learn basic color coordination techniques that make the difference between “tacky, yuk!!!” and “soothing to the eye”.
Safe Colors – Everyone does NOT have 16 million colors on their computer. Learn to use the websafe 216 colors. Notice that’s 216 colors, not 256 colors. This is a matter of video card capability and you are at the mercy of the viewer’s personal computer system. Your best bet is to stick to 6 x 6 x 6 bit color resolution (216 colors) to cover the majority of Internet users. The 216 color palette gives you plenty for design options. Sure, not as many as 256 colors or 16 million, but still plenty to accomplish what you want or need to do with color.
Page Load Time – Now I’ll be the first person to admit that I have made *personal* web pages which have large graphics or music .wav files and other things that take awhile to load. The point here is, they are my personal websites, *not* my professional or commercial websites. I may use these long loading pages for demo-ing several techniques, or chatting with friends and other developers, but never never never for professional site design (unless my client insists, in which case I do not use their site as a demo to other potential clients!). This doesn’t mean you have to give up everything on professional sites. It just means take it easy, use only one high-load-time element or two, learn to compress your graphics properly, and if you’ve got that much “stuff” then break it up into more than one page.
Don’t Overdo IT – A typical mistake among developers is to overdo it when putting together a website. Try to use extras in moderation. Some common things that get overused are:
- background images
- bevels and other graphic tricks
- excessive frames
- text scrolling, animated .gif’s, page fade-ins
Too much of something just comes off as being “cutsie”, tacky, or unoriginal…but used properly it can add just the right touch. Learn to use things that compliment your site’s content, and not to overdo it with extra techniques and tricks.
Readability – Make your pages as easy to read as possible. Black text on a white or off-white background is the easiest to read. There are plenty of hard-to-read pages that use backgrounds the same shade as the text (dark text on a dark background and light on light), or what I call the “neon” look with bright color on bright color.
Learn to use the tag and give your readers a font that’s easy on the eye. I always think it’s such a shame to see a site full of great content and then left in the default Times New Roman font. Use a sans-serif font – arial and verdana are good choices, then put “sans-serif” generic font in your last html tag attribute to cover anyone that may not have a specific font you listed as a first choice or second choice.
Browser and Monitor Compatibility -. Learn to make your web pages compatible with both Microsoft Internet Explorer(IE) and Netscape Navigator. After preparing a site, test it in both browsers and ondifferent screen sizes or resolutions. Typical figures are 80% of Internet users are on the IE browser, 80% using 800 x 600 resolution, and most on a 15″ or 17″ screen….but, can you really afford for your site to look poor to 20% of the market? The answer is NO. Make your site compatible with both browsers and take that silly “best viewed with…” graphic off the site! Furthermore, use alt tags in your graphics for people who surf with images turned off, or on smaller browsers which don’t support them.
Using Java – Personally, I like Java and use it in site design. However, you have to remember many people turn it off for one reason or another. Or they may be using a browser that doesn’t support it.Therefore, if you use a java driven menu (quite popular nowadays), you better have some alternate navigation.