On web page design - Jay Maynard

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Tuesday, 26 October 2004


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1956 - On web page design

I don't have much in the way of web page design skills. I've always done HTML in a simple, straightforward manner, leaving choices such as font and color to the reader. If he's picked a suitable set of browser defaults, I don't think it's my place to override them without a good reason. This leads to a look that's been described as "1994 Mosaic". I haven't felt that to be a bug, personally.

Now that I've got a web site that I expect people to visit repeatedly, though, the idea of making it more attractive has soaked into my 1994-standard brain. Unfortunately, this leaves me without any real experience in doing something that looks good. (Heard this from me before?)

I'm not a graphical designer, or much of an artist. I do have firm ideas on web pages, though.

First and foremost, they should be small in size and fast to load. No matter what the trendiest web designers seem to think, not everyone is reading over a broadband connection, and even those who are don't like waiting for lots of stuff to load. I often find myself reading over a 40KBPS dialup connection - and not infrequently, slower if the hotel's phone system is particularly antiquated. I've suffered through reading stuff at 14.4 in the not too distant past, and it was extremely painful. Images should be small and in a format that allows the browser to render the page as quickly as possible. This goes for backgrounds as well, and those should be unobtrusive if used at all.

Second, they should not depend on third-party software extensions. The browser should be able to handle them completely using its native facilities. This means no Java and no Flash. Those tend to be big and slow, as well. Sometimes, the content can't help but be big and bloated - video, for example - but there's no reason the rest of the site should be.

Third, no visual or aural annoyances. No background music, no animated graphics, and, as Eric Raymond said in his page about web design, "if you're using the <blink> tag, you're misusing it". No replacing the target URL display at the bottom of the browser window with a scrolling marquee, either. That trick went out in 1998, and it should have never been invented.

Fourth, no security holes, actual or perceived. People who have cookies or Javascript disabled should be able to use the site with no loss of function. I visited a site yesterday (URL withheld to protect the idiotic) whose only navigation was from a Javascript popup that slid upward and downward as you scrolled the page, cutely taking its time to return to the position about a fourth of the way down the left hand side that its designer intended for it to occupy. WIth Javascript turned off, that site is unusable.

Finally, have something worth reading. Too many sites out there are nice and pretty and flashy, but once one gets past the glitz, there's nothing to reward the effort. This isn't so much a design issue as it is an issue of the purpose of the site, but it's still worth keeping in mind.

I'll happily accept design help for the tronguy.net site. I intend to maintain it myself once the basic design has been established, so what I'm looking for is, most of all, a template that I can plug content into. I do plan to keep the basic layout (a simple frameset, with navigation on the left and content on the right), and the fundamental concept of a black background (with, possibly, a graphic background image suggesting the TRON world) and blue text (for the good guys, of course). If a font is specified, it will be something simple and easy to read, rather than fancy looking.

With that in mind, anyone who would like to give me a hand is welcome to drop me an email.

current mood: [mood icon] artistic

(7 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:grumpydragon
Date: - 0000
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I'd personally recommend not using frames, as they don't work in the older browsers very well.

I utilize PHP on the websites that I run, and have had great luck with it.

It would serve the same purpose of not having to 'alter' the left hand menu, as you can create one heading and use it on every page.

I would suggest modifying your forums to have the same overall appeal as the main site as well, so that the transition between the two is not obvious.

If you have any questions or want to see my websites, feel free to ask.
[User Picture]
From:foolscap001
Date: - 0000
(Link)
Not sure if I can give a hand, but I have a couple or so observations and/or anecdotes.

First: I agree wholeheartedly with your notions of web page design.

Second: I know a nice guy who runs a DJ/karaoke business. He has a web site for it that has some very good features--most notably, the ability to search the song list online, so that you don't have to contend for the printed song list and try to read it in what is usually a semi-lit room at best.

Unfortunately, he has Microsoft Front Page and presumably a bunch of templates. And his web site is a ghastly mess of incoherent graphics, multicolored text, marquees, and massive gratuitous use of Java to make graphics for links "glow" when you move the mouse over them. Perversely, not only does it use Java, it also uses IE-only features! Oh, yes... speaking of graphics, all the links are images of text rendered as graphics--it's the only way that you can be sure of displaying "text" in a particular font. All those graphics are utterly bereft of useful ALT attributes, so that blind people are SOL; all those graphics are of fixed size, so that, unless you use Opera, which has the useful facility of scaling graphics as well as text, if your eyesight is not hawklike or your monitor's resolution is cranked up, you're SOL, too. I have recommended this guy's web site to http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/, and it has appeared on the "Daily Sucker." When I've brought up these issues with the guy, he blows it off...

...and now, he's selling his services as a web site designer. He gives links to three of his customers' sites, which are every bit as horrid as his own.

So... if someone does volunteer, demand to see examples of his or her work.
[User Picture]
From:foolscap001
Date: - 0000

Oops...

(Link)
Forgot some things, though you as a programmer will know about the second one.

CSS is your friend. CSS lets you separate style from content, and lets you easily keep a consistent style across an entire site.

Standard conformance is good. Make use of online HTML validation sites.
[User Picture]
From:jmaynard
Date: - 0000

Re: Oops...

(Link)
I agree about standards conformance, and the usefulness of validation sites.

Where can I find out about CSS? An overview is sufficient,
[User Picture]
From:foolscap001
Date: - 0000

Re: Oops...

(Link)
[User Picture]
From:xstabthisheartx
Date: - 0000
(Link)
Hey, like I said, my friend (web coder) and I (graphic designer) would love to help you with that.
[User Picture]
From:jmaynard
Date: - 0000
(Link)
Sure. Drop me an email at jmaynard at conmicro.cx and let me know what you're thinking of doing.

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