Web-site designing Pillars


by Pavel Lenshin

It is a hot opinion that "it's the words that sell, not a design" and that "you should invest all your money into writing a good sales copy and what is left (if anything) into web-site". I can give you 99 out of 100 that authors of these claims are copywriters, web-designers usually don't write articles. It is like asking football player what game he enjoys more: football or hockey? :0)

I don't want to argue that statement about the importance of copywriting, on the contrary, I think that it is totally true, but under one condition - your Web-Site (WS hereafter) is already implied to make your visitors feel, at least, comfortable.

It could never be counted, how many times I closed down the browser without reading a single word, just because of the amateurish and clumsy look those WSs had.

No need to emphasize on importance of the professional WS. It is obvious, at the same time you won't read there, that web-design is everything and that professional sales letter or text message is nothing, because it is like answering the question - what is better to have skin or heart cancer? To my mind, it is better to be totally healthy.

Business WS usually plays the role of virtual office, shop, informational dep., marketing dep. and service dep. It is a main representative and the core of your business - the final proof, the image of your company is based on.

-----What it is all about-----

The target is set - to make your WS as good as it can possibly be. Here I pointed the crucial pillars of designing a professional looking WS. You will not find there basic HTML teaching or how to use particular web-editor. The knowledge of HTML will help, but is not compulsory, as WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors will make all HTML coding work "behind the scene" for you.

You require general understanding of what HTML is and ability to use one or several WYSIWYG web-editors, that is three hour learning process. The feeling of style and taste is also advisable; otherwise you will have to consult a designer.

The problem with design "How to.." is that WS design is 90% creative work, where is no two identical WS (unless copied), that is why there cannot be any step-by-step study, the same way there is no step-by-step study on how to paint a masterpiece paint.

What we can teach is how to "hold a brush", but it is you, who should paint "Mona Lisa" and become "Leonardo da Vinci".

-----What your WS should look like?-----

-----What programs you will need-----

First of all you will need to equip yourself with right "armament", that are mostly WYSISWG (What You See Is What You Get) web-editors. The download links and short description you can find below:

Macromedia Dreamveawer - http://www.macromedia.com/software/dreamweaver/ - considered to be the best WYSIWYG HTML editor. Ideal for beginners as well as professional users. Anything you can only imagine has already been included :0) 30 days trial version.

EzyPage - http://www.ezyware.com/ - very simple drag&drop web-page creator for beginners. Although it has several very interesting features build in like dropdown menu or scrolling table. Free distribution.

Stepzilla - http://www.stepzilla.com/ - the software's motto - step by step to the web - tells everything for itself.

1st page 2000 v.2 final - http://www.evrsoft.com/products/ - very pleasant HTML editor for beginners as well as advanced webmasters. Has ability to choose the interface that will be more suitable. Available HTML cleaning option, XML converter, build in FTP-client and preview function. A lot of ready to use Javasript, VBScript, DHTML, Perl applications. The software is being distributed for free.

Hot Dog Professional - http://sausage.com/products/index.html - three HTML editors - HotDog Junior for kids, PageWiz for beginners and Professional ver.6 for advanced users. Convenient interface with easy to access HTML functions. Includes CSS editor, checker for tag errors and many others. All three editors allow to download 30-days trial version.

CoffeCup HTML editors - http://www.coffeecup.com/software/ - another offer with several versions of softwares for beginners as well as advanced users. Pre-made JavaScript applications libraries, Flash effects, font creator, HTML code cleaner, FTP-client, and many more. Collection of web-pictures, backgrounds, icons. Available 30-days trial PRO or free version.

AceHTML 5.0 Pro - http://www.visicommedia.com/ - professional HTML editor. DHTML ? JavaScript libraries. Build in CSS editor, HTML, JavaScript, CSS checker, supports XHTML, XML, Perl and WML documents. HTML code optimizer, link checker. Available 30-days trial version.

-----PILLARS OF PROPER DESIGNING-----

TASKS DEFINING.

You next step after setting up the appropriate web-design program is to set the list of tasks your site should solve. You should answer the following questions:

  1. Are your WS a sales letter or a content rich project? Depending on your answer you have or don't have to pay attention to the structure and flexibility of navigational menu, as it may bring new challenges, as your content-rich WS will grow. Consider to reserve WS space to future informational blocks like announcements, exclusive offers, visitors voting, polls, that you may like to include sometime in future. Don't make the page layout look too tight, as you will require redesigning the whole page just to insert a small table for visitors' voting.
  2. What kind of integrated services you are planning to use? Whether it is going to be shopping cart, discussion board, chat or separate section totally devoted to the WS newsletter, it should fit overall site layout and design. Think in prospective, as it will take several hours now, but avoid several weeks of headache in the future. Make sure that the foundation of your online empire will bear all possible additional storeys, without need of demolishing the whole "building" and strengthening the foundation.
  3. What market sector your WS belongs to in general and what product/service you are going to offer in particular? If your WS is an entertainment portal, full of flash games, casino offers and reviews of upcoming PC games, it is obvious that design and layout plays extremely important role as a representative of more than 50% of all information. Be sure that boring graphics in that case would cut the roots of your WS growth. If, on the other hand, you are working at corporate business-to-business online sector (B2B), there is absolutely no need in complex graphics elements or flashy stars in the top-left corner. Online businesses always experience lack of time, therefore, they need quick answers of who you are, what you are and why are you, rather than waiting till your welcome 300Kb flash clip will load. The answer to efficient finding partners among businesses is textual and to the point information that is easy to access and that is, usually, represented in business white-gray-black color scheme.

VISUALLY FINISHED.

Anybody can do that, although the broader imagination you have, the simpler it will be. What you need is comfortable seat, paper and a pen. Put your feet on the table, close your eyes and imagine your WS.

Let me only tell you one of my favorite jokes concerning technique mentioned above.

"There was a group of foreign visitors coming to see a very prosperous and profitable company. At the end of their excursion one of the visitors asked their guide: You know, your company is really perfect, with the best technology I've ever seen, everybody is working very hard, but, tell me, who is that man in the biggest room on the top floor doing nothing but relaxing on the soft armchair with his feet crossed on the table, sipping Cola and listening to music? Oh, that man came up with the idea last year, that earned us $1.000.000, and, as far as I remember, during that time he was also sipping Cola with his feet on the table."

So follow this man and don't allow anybody disturb you during this work!

Don't make any mistakes about it. You may be surprised, but it is the most challenging and crucial part of your WS creation. The brighter efforts you put into your paper, the more beneficial result you will get. No need for degree in painting, just basic elements on paper as a background of your future WS building, the rest in mind.

Don't be afraid to experiment! It's a pleasant time spending anyway. Remember - all great works of all times are considered to be masterpieces, only because they, firstly, perfectly reflect the depth of their creators' souls and, secondly, they are unique in their nature. There is no masterpiece based on well-known standards. They are good in, let's say, decreasing production costs, but they are not welcomed in the art creation process, which the design surely is.

On the other hand, you should always keep in mind that the experiment ends exactly when the web-surfer disappointment starts.

ELEMENTS

The key point, while visualizing your full color WS, is to decide what and where will you place 3 basic elements: 1. Header. 2. Navigational menu. 3. Space for main text.

The following list represents possible WS elements that you consider to have as a result of previously conducted "Task Defining". Designer should also reserve a proper place and harmonically blend them with the rest of WS elements:

  1. Banner ads;
  2. Menu mirror at the bottom;
  3. Additional text for news column, announcements, testimonials etc.;
  4. Email forms, visitor polls, questionnaire etc.;
  5. Any other items you consider to include.

It must be stressed that all the main elements of the WS as well as any other WS items, which should be added at your sole discretion ought to be put in mind while visualizing, and therefore written down on paper to be sure there is no forgotten element left behind. If it occurs at the next stage you will have to start from the very beginning as there is no way to move further. So don't quadruple your work with your own hands. Make sure you have put every "present" into the box you want to receive on Christmas. ;0)

WS STRUCTURE AND LAYOUT

Draw the scheme of your WS structure. How you are planning to arrange, link and create logically relations between sections or stand alone web-pages. It is easy to navigate four-page sales letter WS, but everything changes when we are exploring 100 spontaneously linked WS. It is easier to get out of Sahara desert rather than to find what you need.

Your navigational structure could be linear or functional. There are unlimited number of variations, just pay close attention and follow one simple rule: "The more difficult for you to write a WS structure, the more difficult it will be for potential user to navigate it!"

It doesn't depend on number of web pages rather then logical sequence and connection of different parts or sections of your site.

COLORS

I've also read numerous times, that Headlines is what the visitor sees first, when comes to your site. Wrong! The first thing a surfer sees on the WS, while it loads, is the color and, sometimes, design appearance. Don't underestimate the importance of color influence. With the help of color play you can easily create a feeling of excitement or grief even before s/he will see the first letter of your Headline.

One note should be also mentioned: try, if possible, to avoid main colors - green, red, yellow, blue. They are very Day-Glo and very annoying while using them in the company Logo sometimes considered to be enticing.

Don't use "aggressive" color scheme, make it to be "polite" to your customer's perception. By doing so, you don't, at least, make your visitor be irritated. Just experiment with hues and brightness and you will get the color you need. Follow this rule if you are not intend to sell clown noses in the circus tent. :0)

Text color is also ought to match the background color. Please, avoid red text on green color, dark blue on black etc.

USABILITY

Usability is what makes your WS pleasant to deal with. While everyone defines personally for her(him)self how to make design nice to look at, memorable (in respect to branding) and serve customer/business needs in the best way possible, the technical side of usability can and should be corrected using the standard requirements.

SOURCE CODE OPTIMIZATION

Firstly about the four problems that come to my mind with "dirty" HTML source code:

  1. Potential cross-browser conflicts as some particular useless Tags (a piece of HTML source code) may be neglected by one browser but create some visual errors, when viewed in other browser.
  2. The more useless HTML Tags web-page has, the more drive space it occupies.
  3. As the derivative of the previous problem, the more size of that web-page, the longer it takes to visitor to load and view it.
  4. Search engines like plain and clear textual information for easy search and scan. By having a lot of useless pieces of HTML code, you prevent SE spiders to proper index your web-pages. The result is the obvious decreasing of your Search Engine rankings. That is why Meta Tags correcting is not the only thing you should pay attention to.

Statistic shows that more then 85% of all WSs online demands graphics or HTML code optimization. That is actually a common problem, the core of which lies in the use of highly popular "home" web editors like FrontPage or other.

The "winner" among the worst is well-known Netscape Composer, due to the extremely "dirty" HTML code it generates while editing old or creating new web-pages. If you have ever used Composer and no one have "cleaned" those web-pages afterwards, they definitely contain a lot of HTML "garbage".

Based on my own experience every 50Kb Netscape Composer's web-page can be easily optimized to the 40Kb file size or less, as a simple result of the deleting junk HTML tags. If you implement Cascade Style Sheet and HTML compressor you will get the same, but "clean & shiny" web-page totaling 25-30Kb (40-50% space savings) with the enhanced visual effects.

The example above shows saving on a single web-page, but if we speak in terms of 50-60 pages WS, that occupy (without graphics) 3-5Mb of hard drive space, the potential savings as a result of HTML optimization may reach 1-3Mb. So if you are experiencing the lack of hard drive space with your hosting provider, the solution to that problem lies in simple WS optimization. It doesn't only save a lot of space, but, as we know, eliminates potential cross-browser mistakes, helps SE spiders to properly index your web-pages and make your visitors' surfing more quick and smooth and therefore pleasant.

GRAPHICS OPTIMIZATION

When we speak about poorly optimized graphics we get two problems: more occupied space and worse load time. Given that the first obstacle may be overcome by acquiring personal server with several Gigabytes of hard drive space, the letter problem will continue to exist as the majority of web visitors have low speed dial-up connection.

To make your graphics optimized on the basic level, you should save it in the proper graphic format. Many popular pictures of eBook covers can be easily optimized simply by re-saving .JPG format into .GIF or vice versa depending on particular file. That tactic alone can bring 15Kb file to occupy 7-10Kb in the matter of 2 min.

The basic math shows that 10 optimized pictures (without HTML optimization) on a web-page are capable to decrease the overall size of it from 120Kb to 70Kb with no visual loss in the quality of picture. Are you aware of statistics how many visitors leave your site just because they are tired to wait until all pictures load? It doesn't mean that you have to simply delete these pictures completely as some people suggest, what it does mean is that they are better to be optimized because in case with eBook covers, they proved to triple selling potential and their absence will be hardly compensated by new visitors.

To choose the right format, follow one simple rule: "If the target picture is more likely to be a photo, with many colors, unshaped objects and different lights, this file should be saved in .JPG format. If, on the contrary, a picture is more likely to consists of a number of vector objects like circles, triangles, squares, doesn't have too many colors or similar to some drown comics, then .GIF format is the best to use."

If it is hard to determine, then save it in both formats and compare quality/size ratio. Not much work, big effect.

Having semi- or fully professional graphic editors will allow you to get even better results by selecting compression rate, smoothness, sharpness of edges - if we speak about .JPG format; or palette, colors, rate of transparency, animation features etc. - if we deal with .GIF format.

Today's technological opportunities are vast, so it is you to decide how deeply you want to "dive in".

CROSS-BROWSER & SCREEN RESOLUTION OPTIMIZATION

The numbers are the following:

- 2% have outdated 14'' with 640*480 pixels in width and height respectively.

- 49% of web-surfers use 15" monitors with preferable "standard" screen resolution of 800*600 pixels;

- 45% surf the web with 17" monitors with reasonable 1024*768 resolution;

- 4% of users enjoy 18-19" monitors with 1152*864-1280*1024 screen settings.

What should these numbers tell you? The very simple thing - if you created the WS on your 15" monitor, don't assume that it will look as good on other monitors as on yours.

Let me draw several notes here about the tendency that monitor market will follow in the nearest future. First is that all 14" monitors are gradually going to their deserved eternal rest. Even the share of notebooks with 15" TFT screens growing exponentially. There are even several new versions with 16" active matrixes. Don't also forget that notebooks' 14" TFT screen have almost the same diagonal inches as usual 15" CRT (Cathode-ray tube) monitors. Secondly, the number of 15" monitors is also decreasing, due to growing number of 17" monitor owners that is the third point.

One sentence conclusion of the above statistics is that your WS should look fine, at least, under 800*600 and 1024*768 resolutions. This is a market demand to your WS and, as we know, you better not joke with The Market.

Without going deep into theory, there are two ways:

Both correct, both satisfy the demand above but the letter way, given it is more complex, usually perfectly fits any screen resolution, whether it is 14" or 21" and more favorable to WS space usage.

The easier way would be to make the borders of your web-page (tables of your web-page) to be fixed with certain number of pixels. The most popular settings are something between 650 to 750 pixels just to fit that 800 pixels width screen under the most popular 15" monitor 800*600 resolution. If you go that way your web-page will have the same look under different sets of resolutions. If we try to see it at 14" monitor with 640 pixels in width, the unpleasant horizontal scroller would appear because our fixed setting in 700 pixels is wider then 640 and it just won't fit in it. If, on the other hand, we look at our imaginable site under 1152*864 or 1280*1024, it will look too narrow, as it will occupy only 60% of the screen width (our 700 in comparison to 1200 screen pixels width). Why does this designing way simpler? You just won't have any problems building it: no need for resolution or cross-browser optimization, as fixed pixels are read correctly under almost every browser.

The more complex way is to have width of one or several HTML tables columns on your site to be set in percents like 75% or 100% and, therefore, poses the ability to automatically broaden or narrow according to the specified percents, depending on what screen resolution the site is being viewed under. If you have 600*800 screen settings (the screen width is 600 pixels) and one of the table width of your site is set to 100%, then this particular table along with all included text and graphic will narrow to 600 pixels, if we set the monitor to 1200*1024 resolution, i.e. having 1200 pixels wide, our site's table will stretch to the specified 100%, in that case, 1200 pixels. That's why it looks more attractive under different resolutions but demands additional optimization, including cross-browser optimization, as Netscape Navigator browser has some problems with proper interpreting of percent settings in multi column tables. Which way to choose depends on the tasks and your preference.



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About the Author

Pavel Lenshin is a publisher of "NET Business Magazine", author of a free "Info Business Online: the easy way" ebook, web-developer and founder of the http://ASBONE.com/ - informational portal and provider of discounted Internet services for small business.



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