The web has grown since its earliest days of plain text and sparse graphics. Some of us still remember the days before HTTP, when technology like Gopher was new. Some of us remember even earlier times. And sometimes, remembering is a Very Good Thing To Do.
In these days of increased bandwidth, it seems that every designer is rushing to
embrace the most bloated content delivery methods available, for all the wrong reasons.
It's flashier. It's chic. It makes people go, "Wow!" And sometimes, they embrace
this technology for the worst reason one can do anything-
In this new paradigm of a world filled with sites dominated by Flash (both literally
and figuratively speaking), gratuitous audio, Java applets, and more graphics than
are even marginally reasonable, content has taken a back-
Unfortunately, the designers of this bright, shiny, multi-
This article hopes to reconvey that seemingly lost (and to some, arcane) knowledge, in the hope that it inspires a renaissance of rational web design.
Content, not Glitz
The primary rule of all web design should be to deliver content. It doesn't matter what that content is, so long as it has meaning, and so long as that meaning is not lost in the blur that so many web sites have become these days. Without solid content, your site is nothing; it may as well not even exist.
Nobody ever said content had to be dull. A picture can be worth 1000 words. Of course,
putting several hundred thousand words on one page is just a bit of sensory overload.
And yet, that is precisely what some designers are doing-
Nobody said that web sites have to be sterile, barren places, devoid of any fashion
or sense of identity. Even I would not go that far. However, past a certain point,
the intended effect is lost, and an unwanted effect is gained-
All of these problems are anethema to the singular goal of a web site, which is to
convey information to all those who seek it. Not just some. Not a few. Not the privileged
elite running 3mbit broadband to dual Xeon 2.8GHz systems with 6 Gigs of RAM. To
the masses. Yes, even to the lowly, impoverished, underprivileged masses that have
only average (or even outdated) systems, and who haven't adopted broadband yet. Much
as I personally begrudge AOL's very existence, if you take that single example, there
are over 30 million people right there in one lump sum who are largely on nothing
better than v.90 dialup service. And yet, designers forget reality almost completely
when designing a site-
This article was intentionally labeled Web Design 001 both because it focuses on
what should be the basics, and because it goes back further than any 101 course would-
In striving to deliver content, not glitz, the web designers of any calibre, from
novice to "expert" (I don't believe in experts, per se-
One of the primary annoyances when browsing the net today is the proliferation of
However, people take it to extremes; they take it to the extreme that you cannot
use a site at all without Flash. This locks out users that use any browser for which
Flash is not an option, and it completely locks out text-
Additionally, it just plain makes a site far slower loading, even on 1.5mbit broadband
connections. Many users find it tedious to wait, wait, and wait some more. And what's
more, they're perfectly right-
Anyone with a Flash-
Unsuitable for Framing
Frames, when they first appeared, were lauded by many. I personally used frames on
at least three sites, and regret having done so. For a start, frames are a navigation
nightmare for text-
The truth is, frames were poorly conceived from the start. There is nothing that you can do today with frames that can't be done equally well (or better) using CSS and/or DHTML.
Additionally, frames require special care-
What's in the Fine Print
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) have many virtues. When used correctly, one can design
pages that display decently in both text-
However, there is one facet of web design in which CSS has given rise to poor design;
CSS allows you to mandate a particular font family, or even specific font-
Remember, flexibility and inclusiveness are everything. Design your site so that
the person with average vision can read the display from 3 feet away on a 17" monitor
running at a resolution 1024x768 or higher. Better yet, allocate the font or font-
A common complaint regarding comments on people's choice of miniscule font sizes
is that they can fit more on a page that way. That is yet another design flaw, however,
and is no excuse for the practise. Instead, it is an indication that the design is
Less is More
A colleague and dear friend of mine recently loaded a web page. My friend happens to be blind, and his screen reader told him there were more than 250 links from the "front page" of the web site. Frankly, that is absurd.
The tendency to design multi-
An old rule is a very good rule in this case. K.I.S.S.-
It's Just a Menu!!!
Oh, the exquisite pain of seeing a sidebar or top-
Both are terrible.
Further, there are the menus that fade, slide, shimmer, light up like a Christmas
tree, and even ones that wash the dishes-
Folks, it's just a menu. It's meant to get you where you're going, not occupy your
attention for several days. It's nothing more, nothing less, and there's no reason
that it should consume the amount of resources that so many of today's menus do.
Again, keep it simple, and watch your link count. If you "need" to compact your menu
to the point that it expands, collapses, and basically plays like an accordian, you
have poorly laid out your site, and should investigate migration of many of those
links to sub-
PDF is Not Always Necessary
PDF, besides running neck and neck in competition with TIFF images for "Most Bloated
Format", is not always necessary. Yes, if you want to provide a document that prints
consistantly across all platforms and environments, it's a great technology. However,
putting the system requirements for a software package into a several-
Use PDF where appropriate, but make sure that its use is absolutely necessary. Don't
waste people's download (and plug-
Make Navigation Easy
Many sites are poorly laid out, in that they require you to go from point A to point F, and then require you to take a still lengthier route to get back to where you were to begin with. Navigation is cumbersome at best.
Any site should be able to be navigable from one major area to the next within one, maybe three clicks, no more. Pay close attention to ease of navigation, and don't rely on the browser's "Back" button. Make it polished wherever possible.
As many of the above points indicate, not enough attention is given to text-
Likewise, many in the technical community still use lynx and other text-
One of the oft-
Another thing to watch is your choice of colours, and the contrast between them.
Remember people that are colour-
Only Use SSL Where Necessary
Many sites use SSL site-
Be Easily Reachable
Almost nothing about web sites gets people more frustrated than the lack of easily accessible and accurate contact information. The contact information for a Responsible Party should be in plain sight, no less than one click inwards. You shouldn't make people have to waste time and effort hunting for it. If at all humanly possible, you should include a phone number where a Responsible Person may be contacted, especially if your site is an online business presence.
I fully realise that much of what I've just said runs counter to contemporary conventional wisdom in the area of web design. That's the whole point. Contemporary design theory (and practise) is wrong, and alienates far more users than necessary.
One can hope that the more web designers (or better yet, the people paying them) that read this, the more we'll see web design taking a few steps back and looking seriously at major accessibility and design issues that plague the current mindset and conventional wisdom.
Web Design 001 -