I’ve 20 years experience of website development, going back to HTML 1 in 1992 when the word ‘website’ hadn’t been invented and ‘web hosts’ were numbered in their tens (remember Gopher, Telnet, Archie, etc?). For all this time, my design philosophy has been simple: use open standards unless there’s a very, very, very good reason to use proprietary technology. As a result, all my websites are designed with the following standards:
- CSS (2 + 3)
- W3C accessibility guidelines to at least AA level
and work fully in all standards-compliant browsers, and even in the accursed non-compliant Internet Explorer. I also use standards-compliant design frameworks, such as the excellent Bootstrap, for rapid interface design.
To me, there are three types of design used in websites, in order of importance:
This is the design of the site’s hypermedia information structure, comprising the site hierarchy, content types, and inter-relations of content and site levels. I always design this on paper, after spending significant time with the client to draw out their requirements and desires. Scalability is a very important part of this design, to try to ensure some degree of future-proofing and allow the site to grow naturally over time. A sound information structure is crucial to scalability, integrity and reliability, much as a sound database design is crucial to a good web application.
A sound hypermedia structure needs intuitive interfaces for navigability and usability. For navigation, the essential principles are that the user should always know where s/he is in the site, and be able to find content quickly and easily. The site should be intuitive to use, and ideally the user should be able to build a ‘picture’ of the site ‘landscape’ for orientation. Navigation and page design are closely related. I try to employ multiple navigation systems on a site, including hierarchical, non-linear, sitemaps and of course search engines.
Or ‘pretty pictures and nice colours’. I’m not a great graphic artist, having the artistic imagination of a lobotomised flea, so I use standard graphic and colour design principles, including the Web Style Guide (née Yale Style Guide) and Colour Theory. For instance, when selecting the colour scheme of a site, I’ll try various core colours (unless the client has a ‘corporate swatch’ s/he wants me to use) to generate harmonious swatches via tools such as Color Scheme Designer. I much prefer to work with a graphic designer for sites which need ‘sexy’ images (such as the Hull IVF site) but if one’s not available then I source vector and bitmap images from archives and repositories of reusable (usually Creative Commons-licenced) images and edit those as required.
Funnily enough, I did write a beginner’s book on Computer Graphics back in the 90s, when working for a UKHE training initiative, which still has some currency.