Web Design     
Some Observations


 The most important feature of a web site is, of course, its content -- the 'message'. The rest is 'massage'. You are responsible for the content, naturally, although one of us once worked as a textbook editor and will help you with your spelling, punctuation, and syntax (not to be pedantic about it).

 Number two is obviously appearance: harmonious colors, layout, and graphics. A web site should not be cluttered (some of the popular news pages are incredibly stuffed with items). It should load quickly, although most people now have high-speed connections and more advanced web browsers. The important subjects should stand out, preferably right at the top of the page or on the first page of a multi-level site.

 One very important part of a good design is navigation, how to get around on your site. Not to criticize (well, actually, yes), look at something like AOL. Unless you are a frequent user familiar with all the quirks, this site is a nightmare, full of pop-up windows within windows, lots of distracting ads, buttons and captions that do not explain their function, poor indexing -- where is that particular thing you are looking for? You found something neat by accident once, but where the hell is it?

Here are some approaches to this subject:

  • One or more massive, linear pages, with forward, back, and skip-to buttons. Fine for basically text-oriented content.  (Example 1)  A variation has a main menu that you keep returning to to view additional pages.  (Example 2)
  • Short pages with a common 'navbar' at the top or side. Good for fairly small sites with easily distinguished subject groupings.  (Example 3)
  • Frames (i.e., windows within windows) with the top and/or side edge remaining the same while the viewing area changes. Can be very effective, especially when done seamlessly, no grid lines or scroll bars in inconvenient places. But a lot of people don't like frames; there are often browser problems with the 'back' and 'refresh' functions, and frequently the viewing window is too small to display its content effectively.  (Example 4)
  • Pop-up menus and windows. (The examples on this page demonstrate their use.) OK if you don't overdo it. There are some sites that fill up your task bar with active windows you have minimized -- to the point where your browser sometimes freezes up. Not good! But the technique is very effective for informational pages that do not themselves contain a lot of action events: buttons, paging, even more pop-up windows.
  • Java- and/or Javascript-driven navigation: tricky to implement*, but useful. The caveat is that many users do not have the browser resources for these programs to work effectively, if at all.  (Example 5)  Many Internet frequenters intentionally have these features blocked; they are afraid of viruses and 'cookies'. Note: There is a surcharge for most of these menu systems -- they often need to be licensed, even though they are 'Shareware'.
  • Clickable image maps (and similar things) -- areas of an image or web page that interact when you move or click the mouse over them. When this involves pop-up sections, color changes, etc. on the web page, DHTML and Javascript are being used. Nice, but confusing to people who are not Internet savvy, and inoperative in earlier browser versions.  (Example 6)  As far as using Shockwave, RealPlayer, and other web-page add-ons is concerned, we do not recommend doing it -- at least not until they become less hoggish of system resources.

--Grobius

I-Mint.Com has some very nice Java Menus that we have set up in a Sampler page. There are lots of others, but these are the best I've found.

* PS: Whoever designed the Joust scripts has a mind like a pretzel. Mess around with them to your peril!

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