When he was the Guest of Honor at a World Science Fiction Convention in the early 60's, the late, great author Theodore Sturgeon promulgated what has come to be known as Sturgeon's Law:
An ugly Web site won't get much repeat business, unless what it offers is so compelling that users are willing to hold their noses, just to gain access to its content. Clashing color combinations may give the appearance of cutting-edge hipness..but they usually don't. Six or seven different sizes of font can seem bold and dynamic..but usually they won't. A colorful background image might enhance the esthetic effect of a site's text and graphics..but it usually doesn't.
There's a very good reason why print media generally confine themselves to black type on white paper, use no more than two fonts per page in no more than two sizes per font and confine background images to subtle watermarks (or, in the case of notepaper, light blue lines..) It works.
I constantly remind my clients to keep in mind that more than 70% of all Web surfers are connected to the Internet via 28.8Kbps or slower hoses. (In fact, a substantial minority are still dialing in at 14.4Kbps.) I urge them to reality check their work by bringing it up on a dial-up connection, especially when demonstrating it for executive types who insist on including more and bigger graphics. (In my view, that's the only way to give them an accurate feel for the way the site will perform for the vast majority of Internet users..and it's usually pretty convincing.)
I wanted to set a good example, so one of the primary considerations in redesigning my own site was to make sure that it performed well, even at 14.4Kbps. That meant keeping graphics files (including the background image) as small as possible, limiting their color palettes and reusing images from page to page, in order to maximize the performance benefits of cached graphics.
I stress that my clients' sites must be easy to use. I recommend fairly flat structures, so their users don't have to click through endless intermediate pages to find what they're looking for. I suggest they provide short, straightforward descriptions of each page's content at or near the top of the page. I tell them it's important to provide lots of easy shortcuts to the major features of a Website, and it's critical to offer their users every chance to give them feedback via email.
I also stress the importance of maintaining downward compatibility in any general-interest Web site design. Although it sometimes seems that the browser market is a two-horse race between Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, the fact is that there are quite a few other ponies in the field, and not all of them support HTML 3.x (or even HTML 2.0, for that matter,) or Netscape- or Microsoft-specific HTML extensions. Heck, there are people who are still using alpha releases of version 0.9 of the original NCSA Mosaic! Just as importantly, for performance reasons, a fair number of Web surfers who connect at 14.4 or 28.8Kbps choose not to autoload images, so I advise my clients to provide text-based alternatives to image maps and alternate text for clickable images.
I like things that work, that are attractive and that offer value to the folks that use them, so I kept all these principles in mind when designing the current incarnation of this Web site. However, translating my notebook concept into useful HTML code took some experimentation..
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(Copyright© 1995 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)