Web Design & Development Guide
Cascading Style Sheets
Fahrner Image Replacement
Techniques for creating a User Centered Design
Web design is a process of conceptualization, planning,
modeling, and execution of electronic media delivery via
Internet in the form of Markup language suitable for interpretation by
Web browser and display as Graphical user interface (GUI).
The intent of web design is to create a
web site --
a collection of electronic files that reside on a
and present content and interactive features/interfaces to the end user in form
of Web pages once requested. Such elements as text, bit-mapped images (GIFs,
JPEGs, PNGs), forms can be placed on the page using HTML/XHTML/XML tags.
Displaying more complex media (vector graphics, animations, videos, sounds)
requires plug-ins such as Flash, QuickTime, Java run-time environment, etc. Plug-ins are also embedded into web page by using
Improvements in browsers' compliance with
W3C standards prompted a widespread acceptance and usage of XHTML/XML in
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to position and manipulate web page elements
and objects. Latest standards and proposals aim at leading to browsers' ability
to deliver a wide variety of media and accessibility options to the client
possibly without employing plug-ins.
Typically web pages are classified as static or dynamic.
Static pages don’t change content and layout with every request unless
a human (web master/programmer) manually updates the page.
Dynamic pages adapt their content and/or appearance depending on
end-user’s input/interaction or changes in the computing environment (user,
time, database modifications, etc.) Content can be changed on the client side
JScript, Actionscript, etc.) to alter DOM elements (DHTML). Dynamic content is
often compiled on the server utilizing server-side scripting languages (Perl,
PHP, ASP, JSP, ColdFusion,
etc.). Both approaches are usually used in complex applications.
With growing specialization in the
information technology field there is a strong tendency to draw a clear line
between web design and
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, published a website in
August 1991. Berners-Lee was the first to combine Internet communication
(which had been carrying email and the Usenet for decades) with hypertext (which
had also been around for decades, but limited to browsing information stored on
a single computer, such as interactive CD-ROM design).
Websites are written in a markup language called HTML, and early versions of
HTML were very basic, only giving websites basic structure (headings and
paragraphs), and the ability to link using hypertext. This was new and different
to existing forms of communication - users could easily navigate to other pages
by following hyperlinks
from page to page.
As the Web and web design progressed, the markup language used to make it
became more complex and flexible, giving the ability to add objects like images
and tables to a page. Features like tables, which were originally intended to be
used to display tabular information, were soon subverted for use as invisible
layout devices. With the advent of
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), table-based layout is increasingly regarded as
outdated. Database integration technologies such as
server-side scripting and design standards like CSS further changed and
enhanced the way the Web is made.
The introduction of
Macromedia Flash (now Adobe Flash) into an already
interactivity-ready scene has further changed the face of the Web, giving
new power to designers and media creators, and offering new interactivity
features to users, often at the expense of usability for persons with
disabilities, search engine visibility and browser functions available to HTML.
Web site design
A Web site is a collection of information about a particular topic or
subject. Designing a website is defined as the arrangement and creation of Web
pages that in turn make up a website. A Web page consists of information for
which the Web site is developed. A website might be compared to a book, where
each page of the book is a web page.
There are many aspects (design
concerns) in this process, and due to the rapid development of the Internet, new
aspects may emerge. For typical commercial Web sites, the basic aspects of
- The content: The substance, and information on the site should be
relevant to the site and should target the area of the public that the
website is concerned with.
- The usability: The site should be user-friendly, with the
interface and navigation simple and reliable.
- The appearance: The graphics and text should include a single
style that flows throughout, to show consistency. The style should be
professional, appealing and relevant.
- The visibility: The site must also be easy to find via most, if
not all, major search engines and advertisement media.
A Web site typically consists of text and
images. The first page of a website is known as the Home page or Index. Some
websites use what is commonly called a Splash Page. Splash pages might include a
welcome message, language/region selection, or disclaimer. Each web page within
a Web site is an HTML file which has its own URL. After each Web page is
created, they are typically linked together using a navigation menu composed of
hyperlinks. Faster browsing speeds have led to shorter attention spans and more demanding
online visitors and this has resulted in less use of Splash Pages, particularly
where commercial websites are concerned.
Once a Web site is completed, it must be published or uploaded in order to be
viewable to the public over the
internet. This may be done using an FTP client. Once published, the Web master
may use a variety of techniques to increase the traffic, or hits, that the
website receives. This may include submitting the Web site to a search engine
such as Google or Yahoo, exchanging
links with other Web sites, creating affiliations with similar Web sites, etc.
Web site design crosses multiple disciplines of information systems,
information technology and communication design. The website is an information
system whose components are sometimes classified as front-end and back-end. The
observable content (e.g page layout, user interface, graphics, text, audio) is
known as the front-end. The back-end comprises the organization and efficiency
of the source code, invisible scripted functions, and the server-side components
that process the output from the front-end. Depending on the size of a Web
development project, it may be carried out by a multi-skilled individual
(sometimes called a web master), or a project manager may oversee collaborative
design between group members with specialized skills.
As in most collaborative designs, there are conflicts between differing goals
and methods of web site designs. These are a few of the ongoing ones.
Lack of collaboration in design
In the early stages of the web, there wasn't as much collaboration between
web designs and larger advertising campaigns, customer transactions, social
networking, intranets and extranets as there is now. Web pages were mainly
static online brochures disconnected from the larger projects.
Many web pages are still disconnected from larger projects. Special design
considerations are necessary for use within these larger projects. These design
considerations are often overlooked, especially in cases where there is a lack
of leadership, understanding or concern for the larger project to facilitate
collaboration. This often results in unhealthy competition or compromise between departments, and less than optimal use of web pages.
Liquid versus fixed layouts
On the web the designer has no control over several factors, including the
size of the browser window, the
web browser used, the input devices used (mouse, touch screen, voice command,
text, cell phone number pad, etc.) and the size and characteristics of available fonts.
Some designers choose to control the appearance of the elements on the screen
by using specific width designations. This control may be achieved through the
use of a HTML table-based design, or through the use of CSS. Whenever the text,
images, and layout of a design do not change as the browser changes, this is
referred to as a fixed width design. Proponents of fixed width design prefer the
control over the look and feel of the site and the precision placement of
objects on the page. Other designers choose a liquid design. A liquid design is
one, like Wikipedia, where the design moves to flow content into the whole
screen, or a portion of the screen, no matter what the size of the browser
window. Proponents of liquid design prefer to use all the screen space
available. Liquid design can be achieved through the use of CSS, by avoiding
styling the page altogether, or by using HTML tables set to a percentage of the
page. Both liquid and fixed design developers must make decisions about how the
design should degrade on higher and lower screen resolutions. Sometimes the
pragmatic choice is made to flow the design between a minimum and a maximum
width. This allows the designer to avoid coding for the browser choices making
up the long tail, while still using all available screen space.
Similar to liquid layout is the optional fit to window feature with
Adobe Flash content. This is a fixed layout that optimally scales the content of
the page without changing the arrangement or text wrapping when the browser is
Flash) is a proprietary, robust graphics animation/application development
program used to create and deliver dynamic content, media (such as sound and
video), and interactive applications over the web via the browser.
Flash is not a standard produced by a vendor-neutral standards organization
like most of the core protocols and formats on the Internet. Flash is much more
restrictive than the
open HTML format, though, requiring a proprietary plugin to be seen, and it does
not integrate with most web browser UI features like the "Back" button unless a hyperlink is programmed
to link a new html page from the Flash file, in which case the animation of the
previous page would reset. However, those restrictions may be irrelevant
depending on the goals of the web site design.
According to a study
98% of US Web users have the Flash Player installed
(depending on region) having the latest version. Numbers vary depending on the
detection scheme and research demographics.
Many graphic artists use Flash because it gives them exact control over every
part of the design, and anything can be animated and generally "jazzed up". Some
application designers enjoy Flash because it lets them create applications that
don't have to be refreshed or go to a new web page every time an action occurs.
Flash can use embedded fonts instead of the standard fonts installed on most
computers. There are many sites which forego HTML entirely for Flash. Other
sites may use Flash content combined with HTML as conservatively as gifs or
jpegs would be used, but with smaller vector file sizes and the option of faster
loading animations. Flash may also be used to protect content from unauthorized
duplication or searching.
Flash detractors claim that Flash websites tend to be poorly designed, and
often use confusing and non-standard user-interfaces. Up until recently, search
engines have been unable to index Flash objects, which has prevented sites from
having their contents easily found. This is because many search engine crawlers
rely on text to index websites. It is possible to specify alternate content to
be displayed for browsers that do not support Flash. Using alternate content
search engines to understand the page, and can result in much better
visibility for the page. However, the vast majority of Flash websites are not
disability accessible (for screen readers, for example) or
508 compliant. An additional issue is that sites which commonly use
alternate content for search engines to their human visitors are usually judged
to be spamming search engines and are automatically banned.
The most recent incarnation of Flash's scripting language (called "ActionScript",
usability features, such as respecting the browser's font size and allowing
blind users to use screen readers. Actionscript 2.0 is an Object-Oriented
language, allowing the use of CSS, XML, and the design
of class-based web applications.
CSS versus tables
Back when Netscape Navigator 4 dominated the browser market, the popular
solution available for designers to lay out a Web page was by using tables.
Often even simple designs for a page would require dozens of tables nested in
each other. Many web templates in Dreamweaver and other WYSIWYG editors still use this technique today. Navigator 4 didn't support
CSS to a useful degree, so it simply wasn't used.
browser wars were over, and Internet Explorer dominated the market, designers
started turning toward CSS as an alternate means of laying out their pages. CSS
proponents say that tables should be used only for tabular data, not for layout.
Using CSS instead of tables also returns HTML to a semantic markup, which helps
bots and search engines understand what's going on in a web page. All modern Web
browsers support CSS with different degrees of limitations.
However, one of the main points against CSS is that by relying on it
exclusively, control is essentially relinquished as each browser has its own
quirks which result in a slightly different page display. This is especially a
problem as not every browser supports the same subset of CSS rules. For
designers who are used to table-based layouts, developing Web sites in CSS often
becomes a matter of trying to replicate what can be done with tables, leading
some to find CSS design rather cumbersome due to lack of familiarity. For
example, at one time it was rather difficult to produce certain design elements,
such as vertical positioning, and full-length footers in a design using absolute
positions. With the abundance of CSS resources available online today, though,
designing with reasonable adherence to standards involves little more than
applying CSS 2.1 or CSS 3 to properly structured markup.
These days most modern browsers have solved most of these quirks in CSS
rendering and this has made many different CSS layouts possible. However, some
people continue to use old browsers, and designers need to keep this in mind,
and allow for graceful degrading of pages in older browsers. Most notable among
these old browsers are Internet Explorer 5 and 5.5, which, according to some web
designers, are becoming the new Netscape Navigator 4 — a block that holds the
World Wide Web back from converting to CSS design. However, the W3 Consortium
has made CSS in combination with XHTML the standard for web design.
How it Looks vs. How it Works
developers have a
graphic arts background and may pay more attention to how a page looks than
considering other issues such as how visitors are going to find the page via a
search engine. Some might rely more on advertising than search engines to
attract visitors to the site. On the other side of the issue, search engine
optimization consultants (SEOs) obsess about how well a web site works
technically and textually: how much traffic it generates via search engines, and
how many sales it makes, assuming looks don't contribute to the sales. As a
result, the designers and SEOs often end up in disputes where the designer wants
more 'pretty' graphics, and the SEO wants lots of 'ugly' keyword-rich text,
bullet lists, and text links. One could argue that this is a false dichotomy due
to the possibility that a web design may integrate the two disciplines for a
collaborative and synergistic solution. Because some graphics serve
communication purposes in addition to aesthetics, how well a site works may
depend on the graphic designer's visual communication ideas as well as the SEO considerations.
Another problem when using lots of graphics on a page is that download times
can be greatly lengthened, often irritating the user. This has become less of a
problem as the internet has evolved with
high-speed internet and the use of vector graphics. This is an engineering
challenge to increase bandwidth in addition to an artistic challenge to minimize graphics and graphic file
sizes. This is an on-going challenge as increased bandwidth invites increased
amounts of content.
Accessible Web design
Accessible Web design is the art of creating webpages that are accessible to
everyone, using any device. It is especially important so that people with
disabilities - whether due to accident, disease or old age - can access the
information in Web pages and be able to navigate through the website.
To be accessible, web pages and sites must conform to certain accessibility
principles. These can be grouped into the following main areas:
semantic markup that provides a meaningful structure to the document
(i.e. web page)
- Semantic markup also refers to semantically organizing the web page
structure and publishing web services description accordingly so that they
can be recognised by other web services on different web pages. Standards
for semantic web are set by IEEE
- use a valid
markup language that conforms to a published DTD or Schema
- provide text equivalents for any non-text components (e.g. images,
hyperlinks that make sense when read out of context. (e.g. avoid "Click
- don't use
rather than HTML Tables for layout.
- author the page so that when the source code is read line-by-line by
user agents (such as a screen readers) it remains intelligible. (Using tables for design will
often result in information that is not.)
However, W3C permits an exception where tables for layout either make sense
when linearized or an alternate version (perhaps linearized) is made available.
Before creating and uploading a website, it is important to take the time to
plan exactly what is needed in the website. Thoroughly considering the audience
or target market, as well as defining the purpose and deciding what content will
be developed are extremely important.
It is essential to define the purpose of the website as one of the first
steps in the planning process. A purpose statement should show focus based on
what the website will accomplish and what the users will get from it. A clearly
defined purpose will help the rest of the planning process as the audience is
identified and the content of the site is developed. Setting short and long term
goals for the website will help make the purpose clear and plan for the future
when expansion, modification, and improvement will take place. Also,
goal-setting practices and measurable objectives should be identified to track
the progress of the site and determine success.
Defining the audience is a key step in the website planning process. The
audience is the group of people who are expected to visit your website – the
market being targeted. These people will be viewing the website for a specific
reason and it is important to know exactly what they are looking for when they
visit the site. A clearly defined purpose or goal of the site as well as an
understanding of what visitors want to do/feel when they come to your site will
help to identify the target audience. Upon considering who is most likely to
need/use the content, a list of characteristics common to the users such as:
- Audience Characteristics
- Information Preferences
- Computer Specifications
- Web Experience
Taking into account the characteristics of the audience will allow an
effective website to be created that will deliver the desired content to the
Content evaluation and organization requires that the purpose of the website
be clearly defined. Collecting a list of the necessary content then organizing
it according to the audience's needs is a key step in website planning. In the
process of gathering the content being offered, any items that do not support
the defined purpose or accomplish target audience objectives should be removed.
It is a good idea to test the content and purpose on a focus group and compare
the offerings to the audience needs. The next step is to organize the basic
information structure by categorizing the content and organizing it according to
user needs. Each category should be named with a concise and descriptive title
that will become a link on the website. Planning for the site's content ensures
that the wants/needs of the target audience and the purpose of the site will be
Compatibility and restrictions
Because of the
market share of modern browsers (depending on your target market), the
compatibility of your website with the viewers is restricted. For instance, a
website that is designed for the majority of websurfers will be limited to the
use of valid XHTML 1.0 Strict or older, Cascading Style Sheets Level 1, and
1024x768 display resolution. This is because Internet Explorer is not fully W3C
standards compliant with the modularity of XHTML 1.1 and the majority of CSS
beyond 1. A target market of more alternative browser (e.g. Firefox and Opera)
users allow for more W3C compliance and thus a greater range of
options for a web designer.
Another restriction on webpage design is the use of different Image file
formats. The majority of users can support GIF, JPEG, and PNG (with
restrictions). Again Internet Explorer is the major restriction here, not fully supporting PNG's
advanced transparency features, resulting in the GIF format still being the most
widely used graphic file format for transparent images.
Many website incompatibilities go unnoticed by the designer and unreported by
the users. The only way to be certain a website will work on a particular
platform is to test it on that platform.
Documentation is used to visually plan the site while taking into account the
purpose, audience and content, to design the site structure, content and
interactions that are most suitable for the website. Documentation may be
considered a prototype for the website – a model which allows the website layout
to be reviewed, resulting in suggested changes, improvements and/or
enhancements. This review process increases the likelihood of success of the
First, the content is categorized and the information structure is
formulated. The information structure is used to develop a document or visual
diagram called a
This creates a visual of how the web pages will be interconnected, which helps
in deciding what content will be placed on what pages. There are three main ways
of diagramming the website structure:
- Linear Website Diagrams will allow the users to move in a predetermined
- Hierarchical structures (of Tree Design Website Diagrams) provide more
than one path for users to take to their destination;
- Branch Design Website Diagrams allow for many interconnections between
web pages such as hyperlinks within sentences.
In addition to planning the structure, the layout and interface of individual
pages may be planned using a
In the process of storyboarding, a record is made of the description, purpose
and title of each page in the site, and they are linked together according to
the most effective and logical diagram type. Depending on the number of pages
required for the website, documentation methods may include using pieces of
paper and drawing lines to connect them, or creating the storyboard using
Some or all of the individual pages may be designed in greater detail as a
website wireframe, a mock up model or
comprehensive layout of what the page will actually look like. This is often
done in a graphic program, or layout design program. The wireframe has no
working functionality, only planning.
Web development software
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