Background to Web Design
"Good Web design means good content, well organized and speed over everything else." (Sotherland, F. CNET as cited by DiNucci et al, 1998.)
Website design is both an art and a science, calling for compromise and discretion. A client may wish for a multimedia-rich website, incorporating animated logos and other stunning visual effects as well as dynamically generated sound and video footage all to appear instantly when the web page is requested. In reality the designer knows the limitations of the technology. Conversely, if website creators purely used text for their content; black upon white backgrounds for maximum usability, they would be no different to newspaper, magazine or book publications, except for the fact that they would lack the visual relief that images provide and the ease of use that paper provides.
The electronic environment offers technical capabilities which paper-based publications do not posses. We should exploit these capabilities and accept that despite being slower to access at present, they will, with advances in technology, particularly those regarding broadband wireless technologies and electronic-paper technologies, come to surpass their paper-based counterparts.
For a website to compete effectively on the Web, it must firstly possess the visual criteria required to warrant initial investigation and secondly be useful enough for users to make return visits. In an attempt to differentiate themselves from competitors, companies are incorporating an increasing number of graphics and multimedia to enhance their sites.
Usability engineers such as Nielsen, however, advise against the gratuitous use of graphics and bandwidth-intensive applications such as streaming video and sound unless absolutely necessary. The guidelines for good usability state that web pages must be as fast as possible to download. If a page takes too long, the user becomes restless and visits somewhere else.
There is a growing tension in Web design between creativity and usability. However, Nielsen claims this tension is only apparent and that there is ample scope for creativity once usability considerations have been carefully addressed within the design. (van Schaik & Ling, 2001b).
Veen (1997) likened the Internet to both a library and a gallery. Some websites are functional; they require information to be systematically categorized and filed away for reference. Others require information to be artistically displayed for aesthetic appeal. "The goal", according to Veen, "is to balance pure information with an aesthetic that not only complements the message but also becomes part of the voice". "Since the Web as a design medium is an ever-changing matrix of possibility and limitation, the point is to determine where on the continuum between library and gallery your content sits and then to create a clear, bold and well-designed solution to your set of problems."