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Users Of Web Documents don't just look at information, they interact with it in novel ways that have no precedents in paper document design. The graphic user interface (GUI) of a computer system comprises the interaction metaphors, images, and concepts used to convey function and meaning on the computer screen. It also includes the detailed visual characteristics of every component of the graphic interface and the functional sequence of interactions over time that produce the characteristic look and feel of Web pages and hypertext linked relations. Graphic design and visual 41 signature" graphics" are not used simply to enliven Web pages graphics are integral to the user's experience with your site. In interactive documents graphic design cannot be separated from issues of interface design.
WEB PAGE DESIGN VERSUS CONVENTIONAL DOCUMENT DESIGN
Concepts about structuring information today stem largely from the organization of printed books and periodicals and the library indexing and catalog systems that developed around printed information. The "interface standards" of books in the English-speaking world are well established and widely agreed-upon, and detailed instructions for creating books may be found in such guides as The Chicago Manual of Style. Every feature of the book, from the contents page to the index, has evolved over the centuries, and readers of early books faced some of the same organizational problems that users of hypermedia documents confront today. Gutenberg's Bible of 1456 is often cited as the first modem book, yet even after the explosive growth of publishing that followed Gutenberg's invention of printing with movable type, it was more than a century before page numbering, indexes, tables of contents, and even title pages became expected and necessary features of books. Web documents will undergo a similar evolution and standardization.
Design precedents in print Although networked interactive hypermedia documents pose novel challenges to information designers, most of the guidance needed to design, create, assemble, edit, and organize multiple forms of media does not differ radically from current practice in print media. Most Web documents can be made to conform to The Chicago Manual of Style conventions for editorial style and text organization. Much of what an organization needs to know about creating clear, comprehensive, and consistent internal publishing standards is already available in such publishing guides as the Xerox Publishing Standards: A Manual of Style and Design. Don't get so lost in the novelty of Web pages that basic standards of editorial and graphic design are tossed aside.
MAKE YOUR WEB PAGES FREESTANDING
World Wide Web pages differ from books and other documents in one crucial respect: hypertext links allow users to access a single Web page with no preamble. For this reason Web pages need to be more independent than pages in a book. For example, the headers and footers of Web pages should be more informative and elaborate than those on printed pages. It would be absurd to repeat the copyright information, author, and date of a book at the bottom of every printed page, but individual Web pages often need to provide such information because a single Web page may be the only part of a site that some users will see. This problem of making documents freestanding is not unique to Web pages. journals, magazines, and most newspapers repeat the date, volume number, and issue number at the top or bottom of each printed page because they know that readers often rip out articles or photocopy pages and will need that information to be able to trace the source of the material.
Given the difficulties inherent in creating Web sites that are both easy to use and full of complex content, the best design strategy is to apply a few fundamental document design principles consistently in every Web page you create. The basic elements of a document aren't complicated and have almost nothing to do with Internet technology. It's like a high school journalism class: who, what, when, and where.
Who Who is speaking? This question is so basic, and the information is so often taken for granted, that authors frequently overlook the most funda, mental piece of information a reader needs to assess the provenance of a Web document. Whether the page originates from an individual author or an institution, always tell the reader who created it. The flood of Web sites propagating incorrect or intentionally misleading material on the crash of TWA Flight 8oo in 1996 offers a vivid example of how "information" of no known origin and of dubious authenticity can quickly dominate legitimate inquiry and discussion.
What All documents need clear titles to capture the reader's attention, but for several reasons peculiar to the Web this basic editorial element is especially crucial. The document title is often the first thing browsers of World Wide Web documents see as the page comes up. In pages with lots of graphics the title may be the only thing the user sees for several seconds as the graphics download onto the page. In addition, the page title will become the text of a browser "bookmark" if the user chooses to add your page to his or her list Of URLs. A misleading or ambiguous title or one that contains more technical gibberish than English will not help users remember why they bookmarked your page.
When Timeliness is an important element in evaluating the worth of a document. We take information about the age of most paper documents for granted: newspapers, magazines, and virtually all office correspondence is dated. Date every Web page, and change the date whenever the document is updated. This is especially important in long or complex online documents that are updated regularly but may not look different enough to signal a change in content to occasional readers. Corporate information, personnel manuals, product information, and other technical documents delivered as Web pages should always carry version numbers or revision dates. Remember that many readers prefer to print long documents from the Web. If you don't include revision dates your audience may not be able to assess whether the version they have in hand is current.
Where The Web is an odd "place" that has huge informational dimensions but few explicit cues to the place of origin of a document. Click on a Web link, and you could be connected to a Web server in Sydney, Australia, Chicago, or Rome - anywhere, in fact, with an Internet connection. Unless you are well versed in parsing URLS it can be hard to tell where a page originates. This is the World Wide Web, after all, and the question of where a document comes from is sometimes inseparable from whom the document comes from. Always tell the reader where you are from, with (if relevant) your corporate or institutional affiliations.
Incorporating the "home" URL on at least the main pages of your site is an easy way to maintain the connection to where a page originated. Once the reader has saved the page as a text file or printed the page onto paper, this connection may be lost. Although newer versions of the most common Web browsers allow users to include the URL automatically in anything they print, many people never take advantage of this optional feature. Too many of us have stacks of printed Web pages with no easy way of locating the Web sites where they originated.
Every Web page needs:
Include these basic elements and you will have traveled go percent of the way toward providing your readers with an understandable Web user interface....