Creating an Effective
Before you even consider
creating a web site, there are quite a few issues you should
think through. Here's a few to start off with...
by Peter Kent
There's more to creating
a great web site than taking your paper documents and throwing
them on-line. Working in hypertext takes a little more thought
and planning. By its very nature, hypertext works differently
from paper documents; it's more of an active media, with readers
choosing from a virtually unlimited range of directions. Furthermore,
you have a number of choices and techniques available that are
not available on paper: Should you link to other people's web
sites? How many routes through your own web site should you provide?
How many pictures should you use, at the risk of irritating people
by providing slow downloads?
In this chapter
we're going to begin by looking at a few major issues in a design
overview. In the following chapter we'll get a little closer
and discuss some very specific design issues.
Schools of Thought
There are a couple
of schools of thought about what makes an effective web site.
Here's what the first school seems to consider the essence of
perfection in the world of the web:
- Web sites must
- You need lots
- Adding sound
to your site can help make it more interesting.
- Adding animation
to your site makes it more exciting.
- Your site must
be in a state of constant change, or people won't come back.
What do these
people think the web is? An entertainment system? Certainly many
of them do believe that, and of course parts of the web are just
that. If you're MTV or Nickelodeon, maybe you do need to have
all these things: pictures, animation, sounds, constant change.
But there's no rule that says ever web site must be "cool."
Let's get back
to the real world for an example. When I ship a package via FedEx
or UPS, I can call the company to come and pick up the package.
Now, when someone from FedEx or UPS comes to the door, do I expect
a song and dance? Do I demand poetry or a joke? Of course not.
So why do I need these things when I arrive at a web site? In
most cases, I don't.
I've said it
a few times before, but I just have to say it again:
Internet is a giant jobs program for computer geeks.
Why are so many
people telling you that your web site must be cool? Because creating
a cool web site is really a lot of fun. I've used many of the
tools required to do this sort of thing, and if you're of a geek
frame of mind (as I freely admit I am now and then), this stuff
really is entertaining. Hell, it's better than working! You get
to express your artistic tendencies a little, even if a little
is just how artistic you happen to be. You get to play with pretty
pictures and the programs that create them, fool around with
all sorts of neat software, connect a microphone to your computer
and pretend to be a radio announcer, tweak this and tweak that.
Playing with computers can really be fun: after all, why would
I be writing this book rather than getting a real job?
Let me give you
an example. A while ago I watched a presentation given in Las
Vegas at the National Association of Broadcasters convention.
A young man (a Webmaster, as he called himself) who worked for
a television station in California was showing his web site,
and at one point he played some video of the funeral of David
Packard of Hewlett-Packard. He'd put the video at his web site
for visitors to view. His explanation? "Now people all over
the world can feel like they were there."
If I'd had the
opportunity to talk with him, I would have asked two questions.
First: So what? And second: How does this make money for your
television station? Someone in Japan, for instance, could view
this video; how nice. But does it help the company posting the
video on the web? Not at all.
Your web site
doesn't necessarily need "cool." Here's the other school
- Web sites should
- Web sites should
be designed with a real purpose in mind, and the designers should
make sure they fulfill that purpose.
- Web sites should
work quickly: don't keep your visitors waiting.
- Web sites should
be structured in such a manner that visitors can find what they
need quickly and without fuss.
So here's another
of my little mottos to live by (or at least, to build web sites
Cool, Think Useful.
Am I saying there's
no place on the Internet for pictures, sounds and animations,
and all the other neat stuff? No, of course not. A few pictures
here and there really can help a web site. Consider the purpose
of the site. If that purpose includes entertaining people, then
by all means add a little cool to the site. If not, don't worry
about cool and think about how to make the site useful.
By the way, perhaps
by now you've visited the UPS site (http://www.ups.com/); I've mentioned it
a few times already. Is this site cool? No, not particularly.
Is it useful? It's one of the most useful sites on the web, and
it gets a lot of traffic. How many people visit the UPS site
and think, "I'm not coming back here, this site's not cool
enough?" Not many, I'll bet.
I know I've made
a number of comments in this book about making the web site easier
for the visitor, but after all, it is your web site, so you have
to consider two conflicting needs:
- You are trying
to achieve something by bringing people to your web site.
- The visitors
are trying to achieve something by visiting your web site.
The perfect web
site, from your point of view, is the one that satisfies both
desires: you get what you want, your visitors get what they want.
Everyone's happy. Of course this is a circular dynamic. if your
visitors' needs are not met, they won't come back, so your needs
won't be met.
So when creating
a web site, you must consider what you want to get and what you
can give to people in order to get them to visit your site and
use it in the way you want.
you're planning to set up a site that attracts a lot of visitors
so you can sell advertising. Your aims are simple: get lots of
people to your site as often as possible and for as long a duration
as possible. The site will focus on giving something to your
visitors; whatever it takes to get them to come to your site
and stay there.
On the other
hand, perhaps your aim is to set up a technical-support site,
where customers can get information about your products so they're
less likely to call your technical-support staff. In this case,
you really want to get your customers in and out as quickly as
possible; for your sake and theirs. Yours, because it's less
stress on the web server, and theirs, because they're trying
to get a job done and not waste time on the web.
Or maybe you're
selling something. You want to get your prospective clients to
your site, and sell them whatever it is you have. But sometimes
in cases like this you run into conflict. You have to bring them
to your site somehow; perhaps you offer them information or a
discussion with other people who have similar interests, or a
freebie of some kind; but while they're at your site, you don't
want them just to take, you want them to give as well.
So consider also
how you are going to lead your visitors. They've come to get
something from your site, but you want to make sure your needs
are met too. I've said you should make things easy for them,
and that's where the conflict lies; if it's too easy for them,
they'll go directly to what they want, take it, and leave. Instead,
you need to lead them to where you want them. So for instance,
you don't take them straight to a page where they can take part
in a discussion group. First you lead them through another page
containing information that you want them to see about a product
or service you are trying to sell. You don't take someone straight
to a download page for demo software, you take them through a
page that explains what's so great about the full version of
the software. Now, you don't want to make this process obnoxious.
Make it too difficult, and you'll drive away your visitors. And
don't make it hard to navigate your site, either. Try to find
a balance somewhere.
the Web Awards
suggested that you travel around on the web looking for examples
of good web sites. You can also get more specific help. You could,
for instance, view web sites that are rated highly by various
review services on the web. Try these sites to reach the rating
and award sites:
viewing top-rated sites is not always a good way to find good
sites. These sites are often rated on a "cool" scale,
so many sites are listed because they're heavy on graphics or
of advice is to find lousy web sites, decide what you don't like
about them, and promise yourself not to make the same mistakes.
One of the best ways to find lousy sites is to visit the cybermalls
(see Chapter 3). You'll find all sorts of amateurish rubbish
with the following kinds of faults:
- They don't tell
you what they want you to do.
- They don't have
- They use horrible
- They use ugly
- They use ridiculous
text and background contrast, making their text unreadable.
- They contain
spelling and grammar mistakes.
A way to find
awful web sites is by looking at one of the indexes of bad sites:
Some Design Advice
I want to tell
you about the two most important sites on the World Wide Web.
The first is Web
Pages That Suck: Learn Good Design by Looking at Bad Design, by Vincent Flanders.
I think this is important because it's such a wonderful way to
learn about lousy web-site design. And once you've learned lousy
web site-design, you can avoid it.
The other site
that I consider one of the two most important sites on the web
is the Doctor
site. I think this is important because, well, because Vincent
told me it is. And it is, indeed, a very useful little site.
All you need to do is to enter a web page's URL, your web page
or one you are interested in learning about, make a few selections,
and Doctor HTML will analyze the page. It will tell you how large
the image files are, how long they'll take to transfer, whether
you've made mistakes in your HTML tags and whether there are
broken links, and will check for spelling mistakes. It will even
suggest ways in which you can improve your tags to make the page
are other sites providing useful information about web design.
For instance, the Resources on Web Style page is very handy,
containing links to around 20 advice sites. There's a good article
in WebReview, too, User Test Your
Before You Publicize
In Chapter 18
you'll see how to begin publicizing your web site, but it's a
good idea not to get started too soon. Don't set up a sparse
main page, then immediately begin publicizing the site. Instead,
make sure you've got something worth visiting. Otherwise people
will visit your site and leave immediately, perhaps never to
Web sites are
never completely finished, though. There's always something to
add or something to tweak, so don't feel that your site must
be completely perfect before you begin getting the word out.
You may want a few "Coming Soon" signs here and there,
and perhaps links to pages that explain a new feature you'll
be adding soon. If you plan to add some features that you believe
people will really want to see, it's a good idea to let them
know you'll be adding those features soon. If it's a major feature,
you may even want to add a feedback form (see Chapter 13) to
collect peoples' e-mail addresses you you can let them know when
you've added the feature.
- © 1998 - 2000, Peter Kent, all rights reserved. The above article
is a compilation of excerpts from Chapter 10 of Peter Kent's excellent book, Poor
Richard's Web Site: Geek-Free, Commonsense Advice on Building
a Low-Cost Web Site, a recommended reading at http://www.amazon.com.
This article (like the book!) is full of useful links and honest
advice...enjoy! For reprint permission contact Peter Kent at [email protected].