Developing Web Pages
As in Web Site development, best practices exist with regard to the
individual pages that make up a web site. While there are no strict rules
about designing pages, there are some guidelines you can follow to create web
pages that work well and look good.
Web page design closely follows web site design. You must determine
your primary audience, choose which information to include in your message, and
then present that information in a meaningful way. Sounds simple
enough! Following are some guidelines to make the delivery of content as
easy as possible. This is not an exhaustive list but it is a good start.
Understand the Medium
Many times, developers forget that they have targeted a medium unlike any
other: the Web. Rather they choose to present information as if it were
appearing in a newspaper, magazine, brochure, or other printed form. As a
result, the pages they design look great - on paper. Unfortunately, they
don't live on paper - and far more people will view them on a computer screen
than will print them. Here are a few things to consider when targeting the
- Write Concisely
Just like the English teacher said! Well, that English teacher was
exactly right - concise writing is imperative on the web. If your
viewers can't find what hey are looking for in a very short amount of time
they will go elsewhere to find it. You should try to create pages that
can be scanned rather quickly. Clever use of color can help viewers
locate what they need in a timely manner.
- Design Standalone Pages
No matter how hard you try to establish an information path for your site,
you have no real control over how any given viewer will get to your
page. They may have followed a link from a search engine to a page
that's 3 levels deep in your directory structure. By creating pages
that can stand on their own, you can make any visit to your site meaningful.
- Use Emphasis Wisely
When you use emphasis on your pages, the viewer will be drawn to whatever is
emphasized. That makes sense! Strive to make the things that are
emphasized on the page be important to the primary audience or your message
will be lost. Also, be careful with underlining text. Most users
will expect any text to be a hyperlink and be puzzled when it isn't a link.
- Using HTML
HTML is a language that describes the structure of a document. It
really isn't a tool for determining the style of a document. Try to
use the HTML tags for what they were intended. Use the heading tags
for headings - not as a way to increase the font size, for example.
- Use a Consistent Layout
One of the attributes of the printed world that has carried over into the
online world is the concept of layouts - where do you put your stuff on the
screen? There are countless ways to answer this question and, quite
frankly, all of them are right in some context. The point is that once
you choose a layout for your pages, be consistent with it by using it on
Links are what made the Internet into the World Wide Web. They provide
a way for users to navigate to any document located anywhere on the
network. Unfortunately, links can be confusing to viewers if you are not
careful about how you use and design them.
- Use Descriptive Text
Always try to let the viewer know where they are going whenever they click
on a link. The easiest (and, coincidentally, best) way to do this is
to attach the link to the descriptive part of the message. Here's an
example: Click here to
see today's paper. See the New York
Times. Which one would you follow? In fact, the entire
"click here syndrome" is something to avoid at all costs.
When you attach a link to an image, you've created an icon on your
page. Try to make sure that anything that looks like a button acts
like a button. In other words, if one of your images looks like a
button, then the user expects something to happen when the button is
clicked. It's your job to make sure that something happens!
Linked text is a prime candidate for providing navigation for web
sites. It's fast, simple, and easy. What more could you ask
for? When using linked text for your navigation tools, try to group
related items together.
Images fall into the category of multimedia and therefore are a two edged
sword. Inventive use of images can set your site apart from others.
Images, however, can be large files. And if you base much of your site's
structure on complicated images, users will surf elsewhere instead of waiting
for your images to download.
- Use Images Only When Necessary
Many times, web developers overuse images on sites, bombarding the viewer
with eye candy that ultimately distracts them from the content of the
site. Images should contribute to the overall look and feel of the
site, not take away from it!
- Use Alternative Text
Believe it or not, some users don't have any interest in waiting for that
masterpiece you created to download. They turn off the images in their
browsers to increase the speed. If you have used your image as your
navigation tool, those viewers will not be able to navigate your site unless
you have provided alternate text to indicate what the picture is.
- Be Careful with Backgrounds
Unless you have your heart set on a particular background, my advice is to
stop using them. They only serve to distract the viewer from the
message and are sometimes difficult to match with. Not only do you
have to match the text color, but also the link color, visited link color,
and the active link color. Solid color backgrounds load faster and
usually look cleaner. White backgrounds with dark text are as
professional as it gets on the web (yes, I know, this site has a dark
background with light text!).
- Keep Your Images Small
This one sounds like a no brainer but it can be tricky. Try to achieve
a balance between file size and image quality. Obviously, the higher
the quality, the larger the file - but there are times when nothing but a
large file will do. The trick is to warn the user that a large
download is coming, don't force it on them. You can also use
thumbnailed images - small images that link to larger images.
Other Good Habits
Here is a short list of things that are somewhat self explanatory. They
make sense and you should try to get in the habit of making them part of your
- Link back to your home page from every page in your site
- Include a way for viewers to contact you on every page
- Sign your pages
- Provide alternate pages when targeting a specific technology
- Don't split topics across pages
- Use color and text effects to your advantage
- Update your pages frequently and tell the users they've been updated
Well that's a short introduction to some of the things to consider before you
design your pages. Take them to heart - or discard them - it's entirely up
to you when you design your home on the web. As Bob Ross used to say:
"It's your world, you make the decisions."