Website Design Conventions

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The Internet is growing in leaps and bounds with swarms of websites teeming in its every nook and corner. With a number of web pages easily over 3 billion now, web hosting companies are singing merry with more and more websites coming up. Passing time has however led to the medium growing mature and the increasing number of websites have generated somewhat of a standardized web browsing pattern that users have been come to be used to.

Some of these standards are laid down by W3C (authority on website design and usability patterns) and some gathered due to psychological adaption on the part of the users. These are used by website design companies to design highly readable websites. Some of these website design patterns or features are listed below:

The next time you browse a website, you can check if its website design and content is in tune with popular website design mechanics highlighted below.

Website Design & Layout:

The most striking change in the website design area over the years has been more and more use of multimedia and graphics in websites. This generates all the more need to make sure the website design is "usable".

Consistency:

The website design has to be consistent throughout the pages. This refers to the position of certain elements in the website like the logo, navigation menus, search bar etc. The logo is the single most element that helps the user identify on which website he is on and hence this and other elements have to be in the same position through out the website and not in different places for different pages.

Design as per common usage

The website design of a site has to bear in mind the usage and basic functionality of the content. Some pages are better off being scanned by the readers in order to help them search more appropriate text, while others are meant for reading only. Also sound website design principles suggest that users like to be provided with feedback while surfing. Whether it is telling them that a file being downloaded will take N minutes more or that the page is being re-directed, it helps to keep the user informed.

Web Page content structuring:

When planning a website design, it pays to consider the user's viewing pattern. Understand that the users dont read any and all the pages that come their way. Instead they "scan" through the web page in specific areas and leave certain areas. This forms the top portions of the page so most of the important content should go there. Here too, while scanning a web surfer has an eye for some standard (read familiar) pieces of information that he will click if he will see them. Plus he or she is accustomed to see certain elements of a website in a certain fashion - otherwise his or her mind wont accept it and ignore it. For example, a website with links with commonly accepted words like "about us", "contact us" or "jobs" will have more hits to the pages than other uncommon, though precise alternatives. Also, it is assumed that the logo of the website will be more than not at the top left or right corner. Internal navigation links go on the top or the left and external navigation goes to the right panel or lower in the web page. Moral of the story - keep important text and links higher up in the page and less important below and have commonly used phrases for links.

Web page size & length:

The average waiting time tolerance on the Internet has increased over the past few years. This means that surfers are more likely to wait for a file to download than they used to a year back or so. This however does not mean that they will wait forever though. According to a research, from the initial 8 second wait limit, the bar has now been raised to 20 seconds. However, for waiting periods the users should ideally be given something to while away the time. There's a saying -
"a watched pot never boils" - if the user is going to stare at a blank screen while the page dowloads, the wait is going to seem like an eternity most of the time. Hence he can be made to read some textual content or like while he waits. Similarly the page length principles dictates that short pages of content should be used for: (a) home pages and all navigation pages, or (b) pages that need to be quickly browsed and/or read online. Similarly long pages are apt to (a) simplify page maintenance , (b) match the structure of a paper counterpart, and (c) make pages more convenient to download and print.

General web conventions

There are certain web conventions that are followed by website design companies to their benefit. For example:
  1. Universally accepted colors for links include blue for normal links, purple for visited links.
  2. The home link has to be omnipresent on the site - usually on the top left corner and bottom of the page.
  3. The text has to be presented in familiar fonts - and take care not to mix fonts in pages as that clashes with the consistent image of the website and makes it difficult for the read to read faster.
  4. WebSite Design companies usually spend a lot of time customizing a website for a particular only to discover later that a majority of the browse a different resolution. Till some time back 800 X 600 was the most popular resolution, however with larger monitors more computers have 1024 X 768 resolutions than 800 X 600.
  5. Though not a convention this, the surfer psychology is such that any text that has an underline is most probably a link. Most website design experts use this to their advantage and even provide to show used, internal & external links.
  6. No broken links in the site please. Users are known to leave the site at the sight of a single broken link. It would do good to website designers to at least have a custom error page that props up in such cases (a sitemap here would be a great help)
  7. For purposes of arranging the website's structure, it should have as much of the content accessible at the first level. Structures that have multiple levels should concentrate the information at the first level when possible, and at the level closest to the terminal nodeswhile not confusing the user by giving too many options during the middle levels as this has been known to cause confusion as to the selection of the right sub-category.

Content

Content is crucial! No visitor is give a second glance... or a click if he finds stale content. The principle that website design companies should follow for is update within reasonable time or remove the stale content. It has been mentioned that users scan or glance through the page instead of reading it - hence content is best written in short sentences and paragraphs - or bulleted if you must.

Some content it has to be remembered is more suitable for just scanning instead of a patient read and so will it have to structured.

For content that requires slow reading like reports or articles, printing options like separate printable pages present an added value to the users... and an opportunity to save on their printing ink from trying to print image heavy web pages.

Miscellaneous

For users with disabilities, Section 508 of the Federal Government states guidelines website design for users with disabilities. For websites that aim at this section of the population as their website audience it is necessary to follow these guidelines. Some examples of these are:
a) All non-text content that can be expressed in words has a text equivalent of the function or information that the non-text content was intended to convey.
b) Foreground content is easily differentiable from background for both auditory and visual default presentations.
c) All functionality is operable at a minimum through a keyboard or a keyboard interface.

For more information on these guidelines, please visit: http://www.section508.gov/

Understand that getting relevant information fast from a space constrained 15 inch monitor is not an easy task and hence often web pages are often looked at instead of being read. No matter how eye catching the center image or the animation of a website may be, the user is always going to click at something he identifies or is familiar with. Keeping the above simple principles in mind would do a lot good to the website design firms as well as their audience.


Publication Date: Tuesday 23rd March, 2004
Author: Kshitij Thakur View profile

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