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Web Site Style and Content Tutorial

The Three Cs of Web Page Design

Html Basics

Update
This document was written about three and a half years ago, however, much of the information is still a good start for a newbie to web design. Many of the links are to websites I found while trying to teach myself website design.

This tutorial is designed to take you through all the steps to building a WWW document. Most of what you learn will not necessarily be from me personally because I am by no means an authority! I have been only doing this myself for about a year. I will give you kind of an overview and then you follow the links at the bottom of the page to kind of fill in the blanks so to speak .

I am a compulsive bookmarker and these are the references and resources I used to learn what I presently do know. If you want a good forum to learn on an ongoing basis the HTML Writers Guild has been an excellent resource for me. It is a private list that covers many HTML related topics on different lists. I would suggest the basic and critique lists as a good start. Since these are private lists the ratio of information to noise is well above average.

Before you start I suggest you sit and ponder the job you are about to start. I always start by sitting down and putting on paper what I want to accomplish at the site in question. Start by giving the site a purpose or set of goals and always make these the guiding force when deciding content, style and theme!

A common mistake made by designers is they build the site for their clients and themselves and quite often don't take into CONSIDERATION that they want people to come to the site for information and products (in the case of a commercial site). Consideration from a design standpoint means download time (the avg. user has a 14.4 modem), eye appeal, screen resolution and size and browser types.

Update
Although this has changed considerably since the writing of this article still keep in mind that a good site will always design for the lowest common denominator. This consideration of users is appreciated and results in fewer users leaving the site because it scrolls, is toooo slow or just plain annoying.  However, this is a good way to filter users. If you don't want certain kinds of visitors you can use these annoyances to your advantage;)

If you have a state of the art computer with a large, high resolution monitor and a 28.8 modem then what you see when your building and testing a page is not necessarily what the average user is going to see! If its a Mac it's even worse. Nothing against Macs it's just that the way something looks on a Mac are hard to duplicate on a PC ( please no letters from either group this isn't the forum for that debate). That same page that seemed to download in a reasonable amount of time with its wonderful graphics and beautiful spacing is more than likely nothing like what the average internet user is going to experience. Keep in mind that there are lots of people out there using old graphic cards, 14.4 modems and 14" monitors. Design with them in mind and the rest will take care of itself! Users using these products are the norm not the exception!

Always design pages so that they will work well in at least 3 browsers, e.g. Netscape Gold, Microsoft Internet Explorer and a text browser. Lynx would be a good choice to see what a site looks like in a text browser. If your pages look good and have full functionality in all of these than you have made your pages usable by at least 90% of the browsers currently in use. This is a good start, you have made your pages easily accessible to a large audience. Netscape enhanced sites and sites using a lot of Active X are limiting their audience considerably. Also, pages using a lot of java applets are very slow to load and limiting their audience as a lot of users do not upgrade their browsers because of cost and hardware considerations.

Update
Once again this has changed considerably since the writing of this article. Text browsers are mainly still in use in universities and countries where the user has to pay for online time. With most users in NA paying little or no online time fees text browsers are a very small factor. If you are targeting Unix, LYNX is still a popular browser with Unix users. Another thing to think about is what version of HTML you choose to optimize your site for. Take into account that at present over 70% of users are using DHTML capable browsers (presuming that all have JavaScript turned on). 

Generally I try to support the last two versions of each browser. Note that you may see major differences in the look of the site in Netscape due to my feeling that it is broken and doesn't support features such as linked stylesheets or JavaScripts very well.  The problems are aesthetic in nature so I rely on users default settings. Not necessarily a good thing but the net giveth and teketh at the will of companies that have their own agendas.

COMMON SENSE is also important and is pretty self explanatory. If you can't read the text on the screen because of the background color common sense should tell you something has to be changed!!! Why put links for HTML resources on a page of a manufacturer making widgets. Why have links on a site selling baby clothes to a page for fly fishing. Chances are that the user derives no benefit from these links, so why bother. The manufacturer of widgets would be adding useful content if he had links to sites of retailers of his product or better still a hobby page that uses his products. The person selling baby clothes could have links to pages devoted to child care, child safety or any page that someone with a child would get useful information.

CONTENT is the driving force behind any site!! Content or information is what keeps net users coming back time and again. Provide and update useful information and its like the saying from Field of Dreams "Build it and They will come" and come and come!!!!!! Look at the sites that draw the most users and you will see a lot of good content. Some of the most visited sites are shareware sites. Why you ask? Content of course! Computer users are always looking for new apps. Personal pages are a different story but one of the biggest complaints about personal pages is their lack of focus. If you are doing a personal page think of a hobby or interest that you could provide useful information about. Some of the best personal pages that I have visited were fan pages devoted to musical bands or musicians. A topic where lots of information and resources are available. Likewise for a sport or team in your community. This is information that would be of interest to people with similar interests.

Look at the three highlighted words and you are looking at what I call the three Cs of web design! There are three more CONTENT, CONTENT and more CONTENT sounds like the real estate saying doesn't it. Just like location , content is what drives the web and when you have good content you are well on your way to achieving the purpose and goals for any site.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the tutorial I'll give you an overview and then a list of links to where you can learn even more. Just keep one thing in mind, Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is a good web page!! Planning is very important!! So take a look at the suggested surfing. I have more or less put them in an order of importance, so if your short of time skim through them in the order listed and this will give you a good overview. Please go to some of these before going on to step 2. I am a man of my word so here they are and happy surfing!!

Suggested Surfing for Step 1.

Web Pages That Suck Some times to learn the best things to do it is good to start by looking at other peoples mistakes. This is the best of the worst so to speak!
Art and the Zen of Web Publishing This is a great site, especially take note of the graphic content and the presentation of the information. If you have a few extra moments check out some of his other articles they're great.
World Wide Web Consortium This is a very technical site but if this is your bag it's worth the time.

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