BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2005

  

 

BOOTLOG 005 04/10/05

BUILDING A WEBSITE, part 5

 

I make no claims to being a web page designer and I am impressed, and occasionally in awe of those who do it well and manage to make a living out of it. My credentials for writing on the topic of web page layout and design rest solely on the few fairly basic sites I have created over the years and this one. I can also draw upon my experiences as a long-time web user and almost three decades in electronic and on-line publishing. Yes, I know the web wasn’t around 30 years ago (at not least in the form we know it today) but I was involved in early days of Teletext (does anyone else remember the Texas Tifax decoder?), and I was a regular contributor to the Post Office’s (as was) pioneering Prestel on-line information service. I still have a ‘Tantel’ terminal used to enter text and lay out pages somewhere in my loft, but that’s another story for another day.

 

Essentially there are three ways to create a web site: pay someone to do for you, use a web editing authoring program (see part 4) with ready-made templates or create a site from scratch. Since you are reading this I’ll assume that you want to have a crack at designing and building your own web site and apart from being a lot cheaper than paying someone you have total control of what it looks like and it can be very satisfying.  

 

Templates are ideal if you want to get a site up and running quickly but the downside is that your site could end up looking like a squillion other template-based web sites. Designing a site from scratch is the best option if you want something really distinctive, and have the time to spare; it also helps if you have artistic tendencies and a good working knowledge of HTML coding though such skills are not essential (and might even be a hindrance) if you just want a simple functional site.

 

BootLog started out as a template and in retrospect this was a mistake because it rapidly outgrew the limitations of what an off-the-shelf website can do. This site will eventually have more than 2000 pages but for sites of 20 pages or less, say, a template is undoubtedly the best place to start. However, as was pointed out in part 1 planning and preparation are paramount and in order to make a template work you need to have a very good idea of how many pages your site will contain from the beginning.

 

One of the main advantages of a template-based site is that all of the page links are set up for you at a very early stage in the process. In most web page authoring programs once you have settled on the number of pages, and how they connect to each other -- usually by reference to a simple ‘tree’ type diagram -- all you have to do is choose the template style and things like colours and textures for the graphic design elements. After that you simply fill in or change the default wording in the boxes and buttons and insert or copy and paste your own words and pictures into the boxes and frames provided.

 

It is all very simple nowadays and a good part of automated or ‘Wizard’ driven site building involves ticking boxes but there is still plenty of opportunity for it to all go horribly wrong. The biggest problem is that web-authoring programs usually present users with far too many choices so it is easy to get bogged down in unnecessary detail or go overboard and end up with a site that at best looks messy, at worst could be completely unreadable.

 

Web page design is more of an art than a science and there are as many dos and don’ts and ‘rules’ as there are web page designers but the key points to remember is that the information on your web site should be easy to read or understand and easy to find.

 

My best advice, which I am ashamed to say I have ignored on far too many occasions, is KISS or ‘keep it simple stupid!  It’s mostly commonsense really, so as far as possible avoid using bright or dark colours and complex textures for backgrounds or anything that makes it harder to read. Blocks of text should be in a clean, light and simple black typeface on a white or very light grey background. Paragraphs should be short and punctuated with large or bold face subheadings. Try not to mix typefaces on a page and limit the use of fancy or old-fashioned fonts for body text and headings. Don’t forget to spell and grammar check your text, and before anyone writes in mentioning pots and kettles, yes I know there are one or two misspellings on this site, but my excuse is that there’s well over a million words in the archives, most of them are spelt correctly, the rest I will get around to… 

 

You can’t rely on visitors to your site’s home page venturing past the bottom of the screen so make sure that all of the important information and navigational links are at or near the top of the page.

 

Naturally enough there’s a huge amount of advice on web page design, on the web, most of it good, some of it bad but my recommendations for a solid no-nonsense approach to the basics of design and content can be found at:

 

www.tlc-systems.com/webtips.shtml

http://doghause.com/top15.asp

www.useit.com/alertbox/9605a.html

 

part 6 -- page design basics

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