Web Design is a multifaceted field that people often define incorrectly. Many individuals will center their focus on the over all graphic design or programming of the site as well as the content organization or the value and function of the web site. Rarely will an individual actually cover all of the complex details required to properly identify the complexity of this field. While the content, or information architecture, is important this particular aspect is only one of the details necessary to define web design. (Powell 4)
To accurately offer a definition of this field one must look at five facets of this process. The first facet is to look at the content, which includes the over all form and organization of the web site. Content can be define as the way the text is written, organized and structured with the various mark up languages – the most popular being HTML. The second facet that should be considered is the over all Visual experience the end-user experiences when using the site. This can be described as the over all layout that is created with such mark up languages as HTML, CSS as well as Flash. The visual experience can also include graphic elements, which are used for decoration as well as navigation throughout the sites various web pages. (Powell 4)
The fourth aspect of web design addresses the manner in which the site is delivered – for example speed and reliability over the Internet or the Corporate Network. This aspect has a lot to do with what server hardware or software is used as well as the network architecture that is employed. (Powell 4) The fifth and final aspect to consider is the overall purpose of the web site. Many argue that this is the most important facet of web design, what is the purpose behind the creation of the web site. Most often this purpose is economic driven such as, a site built for ecommerce or other sites are simply to allow a company a web presence where funds are acquired merely through the presence on the World Wide Web. (Powell 4)
The success or failure of many websites is determined by the number of visitors landing on the page. Many businesses create an online presence that their customers can use to save time. For example, a visit to a business’ web site can save a customer from having to pick up the phone and make a telephone call or, if the site offers some type of area where online payments can be made this will save the customer postage and the time it would normally take for their account to be credited. (Addison 27) Because of this fact, web site developers must consider the HCI, or Human-Computer-Interaction, when designing a web site, or in simpler terms – “the way in which people interact with computer systems.” (Proctor and Vu 28) This interaction can be something direct like interacting with the computer through a mouse or keyboard or even indirectly when a customer calls into a business and the customer service representative enters information into a computer while they talk. (Proctor and vu 28) No matter the type of HCI developers must look at all areas of interaction prior to constructing the site. Designers must look at the following:
In short “good web site design implies good communication design.” (Geest 11) Experienced web site designers must take into consideration the manner in which the over all design of the web page communicates its message to the user. (Geest 11)
Hyptertext Markup Language, otherwise known as HTML, is “at the heart of the World Wide Web.” When web designers create a Web site they use HTML to add text pictures animations and even video on occasion. Web Servers and Web Browsers use the HTML to communicate with the millions of computers connected to the Internet so the user’s over all experience depends upon how their Web browser interprets the language. Not all Web browsers interpret Web sites the same way; therefore designers must take into account that not all users have the same software or the latest technology. (Anderson, Jamsa, and King 1)
Microsoft and Netscape have created versions of their web browsers available for all computer platforms and operations systems, however other browsers continue to surface. The visual interpretation of various Web pages depends upon the brand and version of your web browser; therefore the latest design technology may not be viewed correctly if the computer’s web browser is not the latest version. Some features of HTML will not work with older versions of browsers such as Internet Explorer or NetScape. (Anderson, Jamsa, and King 3)
The user interface and its capabilities are often determined by the platform used during the web design. Platforms such as Apple Macintosh or MS Windows as well as other platforms often interpret things differently. The platform itself determines the “scope of possibilities for user interface design.” (Forsythe, Grose, and Ratner 11) Most often the designer will find that the platform constraints when designing a web site or application will be more rather than less important to the final outcome. Internet user’s platforms will differ in various ways such as screen size and resolution, modem speed, browser capability, browser interpreters and installed helper applications or plug ins. (Forsythe, Grose, and Ratner 11) Designers must take into consideration the various platforms available to Internet users.
Good web design can be accomplished by paying close attention to the site’s usability, the appearance, navigation and graphics. Designers meet this criteria by spending time during the pre-production stage selecting the appropriate tools that determine who and what the site is to be used for as well as how the site will be developed. One example would be to consider that a chair sitting in the room may look as if it’s an attractive piece of furniture one can consider reliable, however if the over all make up of the chair isn’t sturdy you may not be able to sit in it for any length of time. (Whittaker 68)
Meeting the criteria for a well-designed web page’s appearance can be accomplished by selecting the appropriate colors. For instance many professional developers state that dark text on a light color background works best. This criterion can also be met by simply choosing the best graphics for the site. Using graphics in a web page often compromising between the over all appearance of the web site as opposed to the time it takes to download the images. Most designers create web sites with the assumption that the users have a modem capable of downloading 3 – 4 Kb per second. This means that the typical download time for a 30Kb image may take approximately 7 seconds. (Whittaker 71)
The rule most often followed is “compression, compression, compression.” (Whittaker 71) Often this causes some type of trade-off between the file size and the image quality. Specialized graphics applications are often used to obtain the highest quality of image with the lowest file size such as Fireworks or ImageReady. These two applications can compress entire graphics files as well as different sections in the image so that it loads faster when visitors arrive on the web page. Common image file types used on web sites are JPEG, GIF, and PNG. (Whittaker 71)
Another criterion to take into consideration is the ease of navigation users experience when clicking from page to page. For example if a user accesses the internet with a slow internet connection the individual may browse the page with “images toggled off so that text-only alternatives are a necessity.” (Whittaker 68) In this particular case the designer must use a separate set of links or the ALT tag that includes a line of text beside the image. Another consideration for designers is to take into account that many visitors may have a disability that will nto allow them to distinguish certain colors or even use a mouse that will allow them to navigate a site easily. In this particular case the site would be best accessed using keystrokes. (Whittaker 68)
Navigation must be consistent between web pages for example, if you create the same link between each web page within the web site and the link appears in a different place on each page then it is quite possible that the browser will become confused and not display the page properly. Visually consistent navigation tools play an important part in the over all image of your site to its visitors. Some simple and common techniques used when designing the navigation process are including a greyed-out version of a particular graphic which will become visible when the link is not available or simply highlighting it so that it indicates when a link can be followed. (Whittaker 69)
Many criterion can be expanded; therefore offering visitors a different experience when viewing the web site. For example, Macromedia created several programs that allow designers to create web pages and graphics that are far more extensive than most. Flash is a program that creates animated text and images that are high quality. This application creates objects that have the .swf extension and this application has been seen as of that helped shaped the Internet as we know it today. The .swf files are read by a free application called Flash Player and this is often bundled with most browsers and computers. (Hunley 119)
Another application created by Macromedia that offers designers a variety of choices and options when creating web sites is the HTML editor Dreamweather. This particular application is a great tool when building various types of web sites. It allows designers the ability to move various graphics between pages without causing any type of confusion to the visitors once the site is uploaded. When altering various web sites and making changes to the pages designers often create extensive applications that can not handle the changes without a high quality HTML editor and Dreamweaver provides designers the capability to go beyond simple design. (Hunley 119)
The original mark up language for all web sites is HTML, as discussed earlier; however, other mark up languages have been created for various functions. On mark up language in particular is called XHTML and is defined as being the “future of HTML.” (Duckett 39) This particular language incorporates the original HTML into the syntax of a language called XML and this language “aims to separate style from content.” (Duckett 39)
Technology continues to progress and it is becoming more and more important that certain applications interface with the web. No longer does it matter which applications are universal and which aren’t – programmers must create applications for an online world and Java is the language that many programmers use to accomplish this. (Schildt xxv) This particular computer programming language has changed the course of computer language development and is currently used when playing online video games or some applications with certain animations. Many common programming languages have incorporated Java into their over all function. (Schildt xxv) Users can download a free application online that will allow users to view these web pages and many computers and browsers already have this installed into the system. (Schildt xxv)
Web Design is a very complex field of study and just as technologies continue to create computers that are far more powerful than others the same goes for the area of Web Design. Designers and programmers must continue to create and evolve; therefore, they must pay close attention to the capabilities of the user, keeping in mind that not everyone will possess the latest technology when accessing their web site or application.
Addison, Doug. Small Websites, Great Results: the Blueprint for Creating Websites That Reall Work. Scottsdale, AZ: Paraplyph Incorporated, 2004.
Duckett, Jon. Accessible XHTML and CSS Web Sites Problem, Design, Solution. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley, 2005.
Forsythe, Chris, Eric Grose, and Julie Ratner. Human Factors and Web Development. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998.
Geest, Thea Van Der. Web Site Design is Communication Design / Thea M. Van Der Geest. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Pub. Co., 2001.
Hunley, Eric. Web Design with Macromedia Studio MX 2004. 1st Ed. ed. Hingham, Mass: Charles River Media, 2004.
Jamsa, Kris A., Konrad King, and Andy Anderson. HTML & Web Design Tips & Techniques. New York: McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2002.
Powell, Thomas A. Web Design the Complete Reference. 2nd Ed. ed. New York: McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2002.
Proctor, Robert W., and Kim-Phuong L. Vu. Handbook of Human Factors in Web Design. Mahwah, N.J: L. Erlbaum Associates, 2005.
Schildt, Herbert. Java 2 the Complete Reference. 5th Ed. ed. New York: McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2002.
Whittaker, Jason. Producing for the Web. New York: Routledge, 2000.
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