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Principles of Good Website Design

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Term or concept : Read about it in the KnowledgeBase
Resource : Available from the Webmasters Resources

There is so much to consider when developing a website, right from the outset. In fact, most of the effort needs to be applied at the beginning, at the design stage, which is true for most kinds of developments. This ensures that your site gets off on a firm footing and does not stray off down some strange path. Most importantly, when your site does go live, your visitors will be impressed and not want to leave in a hurry. Some of these considerations are important for pleasing the search engines as well.

This article highlights the main principles to consider when designing your site.

We have also assembled the following check list :

Is the content interesting?
Are the pages quick to load?
Are you providing added value?
Do you provide any free resources?
Is your site dynamic?
Is it easy to navigate?
How legible is it?

Clear Mission

You will need to make sure that your intended audience will be able to immediately grasp the purpose of your website. This may sound odd, but it is common for web designers not to have a clear understanding themselves! So, when starting out, define carefully what your intentions are, and how you are going to convey them to your audience. Are you sure you want a web site, at all? This is also not such a strange question, because there has been a tendency for businesses to jump on the Internet bandwagon on the basis that everyone else appears to be doing so. Here are four main reasons which justify organizations having web sites :
1) To build brand awareness.
2) To sell over the Internet.
3) To save money.
4) To provide customer service and support.
You are also advised to be aware of your competition and strive to find some unique selling points which will give you an advantage over them.

Audience Recognition

You will need to know what kind of audience you are trying to reach. What are their geographical boundaries? Perhaps you are only trying to target a local audience. If you are trying to reach a variety of people, your site will need to be subdivided so that different sections appeal to each category of person. To appeal to as wide a number of people as possible, use clear and precise messaging. Avoid use of jargon. Also make sure that you include minority groups e.g. you can build features into your site to ensure there is accessibility by vision-impaired people (such as features based on alt tags usage). When writing the actual textual content, consider it on its own merit and separate it from the web elements.
An excellent book on writing for all types of audience is William Zinsser's "On Writing Well". Zinnser's book contains practical advice for writing in different publication formats and for different audiences.

The right balance between content, design and features.

Websites can suffer from containing too many gimmicks or trying too hard to be aesthetically pleasing. Aesthetics are important, but in attempting to please your audience it is all too easy to include too much fanciness and distracting content. Imagine you are selling your house, home specialists would recommend depersonalizing the décor and removing the stamp of your personal style to broaden its appeal.

Quick Loading Pages

Another repercussion of feature-rich sites is that the pages fail to load quickly. Too many images will only slow it down in this respect, creating frustration and visitors leaving your site even before viewing any of its content. Images should be kept as small as possible both in terms of the physical size and file size. Keep the images to 256 colors, reducing them using an image compressor (our recommendation is UltraGifOptimizer), if necessary. Generally, pages should load in less than 10 seconds, otherwise there is an extreme risk of you losing the visitor. The recommended total size for a web page is 40-60K, though as close to 30K as possible is best for quick-loading pages.
Choose your server or hosting environment with performance in mind. Consult a performance expert if necessary. Complicated HTML Table structures (tables inside tables inside tables) and other complex HTML can also slow down the loading time.Good use of style sheets is an ideal way of simplifying the HTML e.g.font information can be self-contained in the style sheet and hence does not need to be repeated over and over throughout the site. It should be noted that the general consensus is that slow loading pages are even more of a turn off than bad looks.

Good and consistent navigation (and The "Three Click Rule")

Develop a simple and consistent navigation scheme. Links should be presented clearly and the words or images behind these links must be clear, concise and relevant to the information it leads to. For example the link "Photographs of Ferraris" is very descriptive while "car shots" is a little more vague. "Click here" is also to be avoided. Again, think of your audience. Blind people, for example, will often tab from link to link (their screen access software reads out the content to them), and therefore a link such as "click here" will be useless. Also, it is very important to be consistent with navigation. Always place the navigation links or buttons in the same place on all of the pages of your site. While sometimes there are exceptions to this rule, it's not very common and usually only occurs with more advanced sites or artistic sites. For functionality and consistency's sake, however, keep them all the same. Including a Site map and a site search (see our very own examples - sitemap, sitesearch) is highly recommended to further facilitate locating content. We recommend the ksearch site search script which is easy to implement. The three-click rule means that starting at your home page, your visitors should be able to navigate to anywhere else on your site (including completing a purchase), in three mouse clicks. Many sites, including those from leading authorities fail miserably. Keeping to the three-click rule is easily achievable, if you build it into your design.

Simple Elegance

There are no rules dictating what a website or its pages should look like, but there are certain things which are recommended to ensure good basic operational functionality, neatness, structure and good overall appearance. As pointed out earlier, this can be achieved without the need for fantastic graphic effects. There are times when simplicity and elegance work best. Remember that the primary function of the Internet is for access to information. Try not to detract from this and avoid the tendancy to produce a visual overkill.

Of course, this article has only scraped the surface as regards usability of web pages. Here is an excellent Website which will dig in deeper. It is - Jacob Nielsen's WebSite. Another authoritative web site owned by humanfactors (web usability experts) has several very good articles in their library.

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