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Web Site Design Goodies starts by asking, "Who is your site for?" and "Why should someone come to your site?" Once readers have answered those questions, the author takes them through essential web site creation issues, including:
- Deciding on a Server
- Planning your site ahead of time
- Text and Navigation
- Images and visual issues
- Communicating with visitors
The final chapters cover advanced concepts including site promotion and adding the latest web tricks - in ways that make sense.
Throughout the book, Joe critiques actual, published web sites, demonstrating the techniques that worked -- and the ones that didn't. Many of these sites will be pictured in a special 4-color section of the book.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from Chapter 1:
Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged
...What Sites Should You Critique?To begin with, critique sites that deal with topics you understand. Remember that design is dependent upon a lot of different factors-that's why templates don't work very well. They don't take into account what the site is trying to accomplish. Stick with sites that deal with topics you know and understand. At first you may only want to stick with sites that are dedicated to topics similar to the site you want to create.
The reason is so that you have some footing from which to make your judgments. When you critique, you state that this element is good and this element is not so good. If you don't really understand the topic of the site you're critiquing then your opinions can be easily brushed aside by those who do.
When you critique a Web site, you must first take the time to look at the entire site and get a feel for it. Ask yourself what the site is attempting to do. Get a general feel for the purpose of the site.
Once you understand what is going on, or at least what should be going on, get out of the site and clear your cache. It's time to critique.
The StepsWhy leave the site? Why clear the cache? Besides ...what's a cache?
A cache is a section of the hard drive where copies are kept of every page your browser displays. Have you ever noticed how the second time you enter a site it comes in very quickly? That's because the images and text are not actually being read from the Web, but are actually being read from your hard drive, from the cache.
If you clear the cache, you start fresh with no cached images.
Load time is very, very important to a Web site. By leaving the site and clearing your cache, you re-enter with the slate wiped clean and can then get a feel for the site as might a firsttime visitor.
In Internet Explorer, clear your cache by clicking Tools and choosing Internet Options. Click Delete files. You are asked if you want to delete all the files in your Temporary Internet Folder. Click OK. The hard drive will buzz a bit. You're done. If you haven't cleared your cache in a while, or ever, there may be a lot of files to delete so don't be alarmed if this takes a little while. Close the box. In Netscape Navigator, click Edit and choose Preferences. Click the little plus sign next to the header Advanced. It's along the left side of the box that opened. After you click the little plus sign a menu drops down, click the word Cache-it is the first element listed. Finally, click the Clear Memory Cache button. You're done. Close the box.
After each step of this critiquing process, you need to take the time to stop, look at what you've found, and ask yourself, "How can this help me?" or "How can I avoid doing this?"
That's the real purpose of these critiques. I am not asking you to help someone else's site. I want you to help yourself create a better site and avoid pitfalls before one of your users has to deal with them.
1. Time ItLook at a sweep second hand and log in at the top of the next minute. Stay with the homepage until it loads completely. You know it's done loading when it reads, "Document Done" down in the lower-left section of the browser's status bar.
Jot down the time. Did the site load quickly? If so, why? Was it a lack of images, or were the images small enough to load quickly?
How long was it until you could actually begin reading and navigating the site? Were you allowed to begin reading and clicking before all the images had come in? If so, jot that down. That's a positive comment. Remember: You're looking for positives as well as negatives.
Ask yourself, "How long would I have waited for this site to load before leaving the site?" If the site loaded fast enough for you then jot that down. If not, make a note of that, too.
Now, how can you use what you've found to make a better page for yourself? How can you avoid the pitfalls you ran into?
2. DisplayHow does the page look on your screen? Does it fit? If not, is it too big or too small? Do the elements on the page line up nicely or has your screen setting appeared to do bad things to the design?
Make a note of what you found and how you can use or avoid what you saw.
3. Try Another BrowserThis is all too often overlooked when designing a Web site. The site looks great in Internet Explorer, but in Netscape Navigator, it's the pits.
Open the page in that other browser. Do all the elements display? If not, make a note of which do not and try to figure out why they don't display.
How can you use this information on your site?
4. Write Down the ConceptWrite down what the site is trying to accomplish in one sentence. Then, ask yourself if that accomplishment is being met or if the site is falling short. If you cannot denote what the site is trying to do in one sentence then the site is not meeting its goals.
5. Offer Praise to the SiteAt this point, you should be moving through the site and looking for general ideas and elements.
Because it is so easy to be negative, start with praise. Make a point of writing down at least one thing you feel the site is doing well. Ask yourself how you can possibly incorporate that into your own site.
6. Offer ConcernsNext, begin writing down the concerns you have about the site. Spell out the concerns as clearly as you can. Make a point of explaining why you have these concerns, not only that you have them. If you feel something is wrong, just don't say that it is a concern; tell why it is a concern.
Does the concern inhibit users on the page? Does it confuse users? Is it something that crashes the browser? Tell the concern and why it is a concern.
7. Offer a SuggestionIt is one thing to find fault, it is truly another to find fault and then offer a suggestion on how to better the page.
Do that. For every concern you find, offer a suggestion on how that negative can be turned into a positive.
8. Write an Overall EvaluationWhen you have finished the critique, write a two-paragraph evaluation of the site. Give an overall grade to the site and discuss what should happen to make the site better.
There's no set number of sites that you should critique. Do as many as you feel comfortable doing. Do as many as you need to in order to get a better feel for your own work.
Speaking of your own work, once your site is up and running, you should make a point of critiquing your own site. Be honest. Be truthful. Be your own worst critic. It can only help you.
Maybe you could get someone else to critique your site. It's a process called beta testing.
Now, that I've gone over the format I suggest you follow when critiquing sites, I'd like to offer some critiques of my own. I follow the previously outlined format.
Each chapter in this book ends with the critique of three sites. Those who have read my critiques before have stated that it's the critiques that taught them the most about Web site design. I hope they help you, too.
Just remember, my critiques are only the beginning of the process. Once you understand what should be done, you need to make a point of critiquing some sites yourself. You'll build better Web sites because of it.
Web Page Versus Web SiteOne More Thing... Don't you hate when a teacher or professor says that? You're sure he or she was done and then they say, "one more thing."
Here's a hint. That "one more thing" the teacher or professor discusses ...it will be on the test. I guarantee it. Before I get into my first critiques, here's "my one more thing." If there were to be a test, this would be on it.
You may have noticed that I am making a point of writing that you are designing a Web site rather than a Web page. I do that on purpose, because it's true. You are not designing individual Web pages; rather you are designing a Web site. It's very important that you keep that in mind throughout this process.
It's fairly easy to tell when a person has designed Web pages rather than a Web site. The resulting site usually looks like one of the following two examples.
The Great HomepageThe Great Homepage site is just as it states: The site is blessed with a fantastic homepage. The colors are well thought out, the images are placed nicely, the links are up high, and the look is warm and inviting. The problem comes when you start to venture into the site. Every link goes to a page that often pales in comparison to the homepage. Maybe the author has made a point of carrying the background color or an image across the pages, but for the most part, that's about all. The subpages are usually just text, or contain the dreaded "Coming Soon!" line. Worse yet, the page isn't there at all and the user is greeted by a nasty "Page Not Found" error.
The Great Homepage site also manifests itself when the author fails to rely on his or her subpages. This occurs when the author attempts to put the entire site on just that one homepage. The result is often a very long page with multiple sections requiring the visitor to scroll down from portion to portion. I find that homepages that fall into this trap often put the few links that they do have toward the bottom of the long page. That way the author believes they can force the user to scroll through the information. Once the links do arrive, they are usually the basics, a list of favorite links, a Guestbook, and a photo album. The subpages usually aren't very interesting because they aren't needed. The homepage has done it all. There really wasn't any need for the subpages.
Both of these problems arise when the author sets his or her sights on building a page rather than building a site. All the effort went into the homepage because, logically, that's the most important page. What little creative effort that was left over went to the subpages and they suffered.
I am as guilty of this as anyone else. My first Web site consisted of one page-the homepage. I had no subpages. Every link took the user right 9K site. It was just a page, but man, did that homepage look good.
Great page. Lousy site.
Many Pages-One SiteThe second major problem that pops up when an author sets his or her sights on designing a page rather than a site is the concept of "Many Pages-One Site." This is simply the problem mentioned in "The Great Homepage" taken to the extreme. In this case, the author has built a homepage and multiple subpages, each a work of art in and of itself. The problem is that the homepage and the subpages have nothing whatsoever to do with one another.
For example, the homepage is blue with black text and yellow links. The first subpage has an orange background with blue links. The second subpage now has an image background ...
Table of Contents
- Introduction ..... 1
- 1: Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged ..... 7
- 2: Before You Write a Word ..... 31
- 3: Begin the Design ..... 71
- 4: Your Site and Your Server ..... 111
- 5: Text and Color ..... 135
- 6: Links, Links, Links ..... 161
- 7: Images and the Visual ..... 201
- 8: Hello? Anybody Here? How Many? ..... 239
- 9: Outside HTML ..... 279
- 10: Promoting Your Site ..... 323
- Index ..... 363
- 1: Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged ..... 7
IntroductionSo, you've decided to buy a Web design book, huh?
Good for you. I'm glad to see that you're taking an interest in the overall design of your Web project. That's commendable. All too often, people, businesses, students, organizations, or the Weekend Silicon Warrior take to the Web without any manner of code and without once considering the overall plan, what my father calls "The Big Picture."
If you've already bought this book for one reason or another, this should be a good introduction regarding what's ahead. If you're standing in a bookstore trying to get a feel as to if you should plunk down a few bucks then hopefully I can sell you right here.
What Makes YOU Such an Expert?
By "You" I mean "Me," of course.
That's a good question. What does make me an expert? This is a big problem any time someone writes anything that sets him or herself up as a base of knowledge. I guess I could list the books I've written and the sites I've designed and all the times I've been brought in to consult for sites and the fact that I write a design newsletter, and blah, blah, blah.
Suffice to say, I've been doing Web design since 1995 and over those years, I've done a lot of it.
I needed some support for what I was saying. You can pretty easily wave off a single opinion. It's far more difficult to wave off the opinions of 500 people.
We Polled the Web for This Book
Well, we didn't poll the whole Web. No one can do that. What EarthWeb and I did do was set up a series of four questionnaires, each covering a different aspect of Web design. They were
- Overall Web Concerns
- Image and Color Questions
- Text and Link Questions
- New Technology Questions
The questionnaire was offered on the HTML Goodies Web site, which was, at that time, bringing in close to 500,000 unique visitors per month.
We chose to offer the questionnaire on HTML Goodies first because the audience would be a group of people who would not only be interested in Web design, but would have most likely performed some design themselves. HTML Goodies is a site dedicated to teaching Web page construction. We felt there was correlation.
Every seventh visitor was given the ability to take the questionnaire. That visitor could simply choose to not take the questionnaire and he or she would not be bothered with it again. The questionnaire remained posted until 500 visitors responded.
It normally took just under two days for the 500 visitors to offer their responses. The number of respondents that answered each question is noted in the book's text. Often the number was under 500 because not every respondent answered every question. The response rate usually fell between 480 and 495 respondents per question. Each new questionnaire was offered on the Monday following the completion of the last questionnaire. The four surveys were posted over four weeks during February and March of 2000.
I was the author of the questionnaire. Two editors read and commented on my wording. Each question was written to elicit as unbiased a response as possible. I asked questions in as specific a manner as I felt I could in order to use the results as part of the discussions I wanted to undertake in this text.
As you read through this book, there are numerous places where I make a point and then back it up with the results from the survey. And before you ask, yes, there were many times that I received poll results that differed from my own thoughts on Web design. You'll also get to read those results as you move through the book.
Please understand that this was not a random sample. It was purposive in nature and the results cannot statistically be said to represent the entire Web population. However, as are many purposive samples, the results are transferable to the population that gave the answers. That population was made up of those who not only surf the Web but also write for the Web.
I am confident that the result from this series of questionnaires has strong merit and can be used as support for the statements I make regarding Web design.
Where I'm Coming From...
If you're expecting that by reading this book you'll receive a set of templates that you can quickly alter and post to the Web, you won't. If you expect that within this book there are a set of hard and fast rules you can simply follow and, when finished, have a perfectly designed site, there aren't.
There are no such things as design templates that work for all sites. There are no such things as strict rules for design. If you pick up a book offering either of these quick fixes, put it down. In terms of design, the quick fix does not work. Design is performed mainly before the first piece of text is coded. Design is site specific. What works for one site may be death to another site. Design is topic specific and because of that, there are no right or wrong design choices as long as the design goes to helping the site's purpose for being.
Now wait, maybe I did just lie to you. There is one hard and fast rule to design. It's the most enjoyable work you'll ever do when building a Web site. I say that because design is wide open. You are limited only by what your brain can imagine. In addition, I'll bet for a lot of you, this is the first time you've ever sat down and, without any other help, created your own place, your own little comer of the Web. You're going to love it.
Within the pages of this book, you're going to see a few overriding design concepts coming up again and again. I hit them pretty hard because I feel they're the basis for designing good pages.
- #1. Your Web Site Is for Your Visitors, Not You
In all aspects of design, you must constantly think about the visitor. Just because you feel an element is pretty cool, doesn't mean it's right for the page. Yes, that includes personal pages. Even a personal page wants visitors, right? Then think of them when putting up your personal site.
#2. There Are No Incorrect Design Choices As Long As That Choice Goes to Help the Site's Specific Purpose That's part of the design process. What will be your site's specific purpose and how can you design elements on a page to all point to that purpose?
#3. Content Is the Single Most Important Part of Your Web Site
Design is personal. Design is specific. Design is done for your site, for your visitors.
At every step of the way, you need to make the decision whether to incorporate an element. I'm sorry to say, I can't offer a specific yes or no at any point of the process. That decision is up to you because you know your site, you know your visitors, and you know what you're trying to accomplish by posting the Web site. I'm telling you the truth when I say you'll enjoy designing a Web site so much more when it's you concerning yourself over a decision rather than relying on a template to make the decision for you. It is a much more gratifying and much more intelligent choice. Why? Well, for one, the template doesn't know you or your site from Santa Claus. You do.
You are the person who should make the decisions. My job, and thus this book's job, is to lay out the plan and the steps you need to follow in order to make those decisions.
A Word About URLs
It is the way of the Web for sites to change and to come and go quickly. Because of this speed, it is impossible to accurately portray a Web site in a static medium such as a printed book (written and printed, mind you, weeks, oftentimes months, before it arrives in your hands). However, this is not to say that even outdated Web sites can't be of use. It is the principles that matter, not the longevity of the actual site presence.
Therefore, figures within this book are simply snapshots of Web sites when I first saw them. I am using them to make a point more than to have you visit the site itself as an example. I offer the URLs to the sites for your reference and convenience. Some of these sites still exist but have been tweaked, updated, or completely overhauled. In these cases, study the critiques and determine for yourself if these sites have improved and in what ways. For those sites that may be gone completely, you can only learn from their everlasting images in these pages.
That's the Pitch
There is, or by now there was, a commercial that uses the tag line, "I'd never work this hard for anyone by myself."
Web design is like that. You're about to build something out of nothing. You're about to put something to the Web that is from you. The decisions are yours but they affect the people who visit you.
Okay. Let's make a site.