Designing an effective web site requires more than just gathering relevant
information and posting it on the web. Like a good paper or research presentation,
a quality web project demands as much attention to the selection, organization,
and presentation of material as to the underlying research itself. You
should strive, above all, to be both clear and engaging in every aspect
of site design. Without the first, you will quickly lose your audience.
Without the second, you'll never catch their attention in the first place.
Here are some concrete suggestions for making your site a winner:
Before you begin:
- Consider your audience and your goals. You should have a clear sense
of who will be using your site (mostly college undergraduates) and
what kind of experience you are hoping to provide. What exactly are
you trying to accomplish here? Why is this important?
- Plan your site on paper first. You can draw a
"family tree" of pages with arrows indicating links. Or you can make
a hierarchical outline. Either way, it is essential to organize your
information and lay out the architecture of your site before attempting
to implement your vision.
- Strive for consistency. You want your project to have an identity,
so all the pages in your project should have a common feel: there
should be consistency among backgrounds, color schemes, navigational
tools, and tone of voice. This is especially important if you are
dividing up your site's pages among several team members. Otherwise,
your project will seem like two or three separate projects lumped
together, rather than a single, unified whole.
- Provide a rich set of links within your site. Ideally, there should
be multiple ways for your user to navigate your pages. You should
consider including a prominent 'home' link or icon on each page, a
menu or table of contents, and highlighted links within textual material
to related information elsewhere on the site. Feel free, of course,
also to provide links to other pages within ECE or elsewhere on the
- Don't hide important information. Users don't like to click too
many times to find the information they want -- if information is
particularly important, make it accessible up front. On any given
page, remember that as with a newspaper, the top left corner is the
most prominent. See the National
Geographic Website for a good example.
The web medium:
- Provide opportunities for interaction. How is your site any different
from a traditional print document? How can you involve the reader
in ways that non-digitized texts usually cannot? Interactivity can
be a compelling, innovative means of engaging your reader and creating
experiences that cannot be replicated in other media. Good examples
"Make Your Way as an 18th-Century Woman" site on ECE and the site
for the Louvre Museum in
- Avoid text-only pages. Ideally, a user should never encounter an
entire screen full of uninterrupted text in browsing your site. Again,
take advantage of the web medium!
- Don't sacrifice elegance for pizzazz. Just because you can make
images fly across the screen does not mean you necessarily should.
Every design element of your site (colors, images, animation) ought
to correspond thematically with the content and goals of your project.
See the Enigma site for a
- Provide a link for every URL you mention in your
site. If your bibliography or notes include a citation for another
website, list the URL in full, but make it 'clickable' as well so
that the user can go directly to the site in question.
The front door:
- Give your site a descriptive title. Your title should convey the
content of your site in a concise but engaging manner. Remember, the
title is how your site will be identified on the ECE home pages. Ideally,
it should pique the curiosity of users and prompt them to explore
your project pages.
- Include a brief introduction. This should be part of your site's
home page, and should explain the scope and purpose of the site. Once
users have noticed your title and followed a link to your site, they
will expect quickly to find a further elaboration of your title, a
brief paragraph or two describing what the site is all about and what
makes it interesting. You've caught the user's eye with your title;
the introduction is your chance to heighten their interest and persuade
them to actually stick around and explore.
- Make your site's home page as useful a starting
point as possible. The viewer should be able to see at a glance what
your site is about, how it is laid out, and what kinds of resources
and features it includes. Ideally, all of this information (along
with your site title and introduction) should be visible on a single
fast-loading screen that requires a minimum of scrolling.
- Make sure your text is legible. Check the size, color, and font
of all text within your site to confirm that it can be easily read.
Be especially careful of dark or fancy backgrounds that make text
hard to read.
- Make sure your site is platform independent. Your site should be
viewable on both Mac and Windows machines using either of the most
commonly available browsers, Netscape and Explorer.
- Consider the needs of your viewers. Think about
the bandwidth your site will require. Keep in mind that not all users
will have the luxury of an ethernet connection. Minimize the memory
requirements of your site by compressing images and other large files.
And make sure all your images have ALT-TEXT behind them. This makes
the site accessible both to low-vision users and users with slow modems
who have turned the images off.
The end game:
- Thoroughly test your site. Ask a friend to sit down and explore
your site. Ask them to think out loud, and watch them navigate the
site. Do they get lost? Do they have trouble finding links? Do they
have trouble understanding your labels? Do they understand your prose?
Ideally, you should elicit and incorporate feedback about your site
in the course of developing it as well as when its nearing completion.
Be sure to test your site both of the most commonly used browsers,
Netscape and Internet Explorer.
- Proofread carefully! ECE is a public resource
sponsored by the University of Michigan and all of its pages should
maintain a high level of professionalism. Check carefully for spelling
and grammatical errors before posting your written materials to the
For further information:
Go on to Working with Images