Thursday, November 8, 2007

Web Design for Authors: The Quick and Dirty Guide, Part 2 of 3

Last week, I listed a number of common mistakes that decrease web usability. This week I touch upon tips and tricks that will improve--naturally--usability and save you time, which can be better spent writing. As much as I would love to--and I do because I'm a geek--I don't get into the nitty gritty technical details because numerous websites already provide this service.

Tips and Tricks

from Ann Bruce

  • Like with any system design, sit down and write out the specs. Draw out what you want the site to look like. Don't start coding until you're completely happy with the design. This step will reduce rework.

  • White space is good. Really. It's not a waste of space. Long passages of edge-to-edge text look cramped and can tire eyes. Give your text breathing room.

  • Use the TITLE tags on ALL of the pages. It allows users to (1) know where they are by simply looking at the top of the browser instead of having to scan the page and (2) bookmark pages easily without having to rename the page.

  • Use the ALT attributes for images. Users may have images turned off on the browser, so the ALT attribute will let them know what those large blank spots on the web page should be.

  • Be consistent. Decide upon a design and apply it throughout the site. Consistent design makes it easier for users to navigate. The best way of maintaining design consistency is through the use of cascading style sheets.

  • Server-side includes are your friends. They allow you to include the contents of a page in another page. Don't want to have the code for your header, footer, and menu repeated on every page, which can make updating a nightmare? Create separate pages for each and pull them into the other pages using server-side includes!

  • Test, test, and test again. And test on different browsers and platforms. What works in Firefox and Opera might not work in Internet Explorer. What works on Windows might not work on a MacIntosh.

  • Update--and update often! This tip doesn't save you time, but it will bring users back to your site more frequently.

  • Learn from others. Any site’s HTML is easily accessible by viewing a page’s source code. See how others have done things and apply their methods to your own work.
Edited to add:
  • Write descriptive comments within the code. If other people have to edit your page, the comments will serve as a guide for them--and for you. Trust me, your memory is not as good as you think it is.

Helpful Sites

Next week, I will decode a tiny part of PC World's worst website winner: MySpace.


Sierra Dafoe said...

Ann, you left out a HUGE one, one which I often wish I'd had the sense to follow, although I kinda like my gargantuan site. (On the other hand, the redesign has been three months in the doing and I've still got unfinished pages): Keep it Simple, Stupid. Also know as, "Do you REALLY need a twenty page site?"

Every extra page is that much more code and update time. Now, I happen to really like my site and enjoy it, but is it time-versus-income efficient? Nope. Nyet. Nein.

So it's worth asking yourself, "Do I really need that extra page for (fill in the blank)?" Preferably during the design stage, lol!

-- Sierra

Anonymous said...

Ah, but, Sierra, more pages does not necessarily equal more work if you have the framework done properly. This is where server-side includes and cascading style sheets come into play. By changing something on a single page or two pages, I can update my entire site.

The initial work might be a lot, but in the long run it saves you time.

Karen McCullough said...

Using a content management system such as WordPress (it's not just for blogging anymore!) also pretty much solves the problem of having to update every page each time you want to make a change to the menu or some piece of the frame. I'm doing a lot of sites using WordPress these days.

-- Karen McCullough

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Karen.

I'll have to check WordPress out...but I'm pretty old school. I still do all my coding in Notepad. Of course, I'm also using Unix whenever I can. I can't believe I'm so set in my ways and I'm only 27!

Mechele Armstrong said...

Great suggestions. I'm thinking about a redo next year so will be looking at all this, mistakes and what works.