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Sites That Make Sense

By Stephanie Cordray
Posted Sunday, June 20, 2004

Context is the whole picture of your site: What it's about, how you navigate through the different pages, the information about your business, and of course the graphics. You are creating an environment for the visitor through your choices for these aspects of a website. This environment you create determines the message you are sending and how a visitor might experience and feel about your site. The type of business or site subject in part determines what context is best for you. Context is often the least considered factor for new designers. Context is the "glue" that builds your site into o­ne significant message to impart to your visitors and how that message is understood.

This glue holds together all the aspects of your site: the usability, download times, text, graphics, the look and feel, interactivity, and other aspects. Some expamples of context are the differences between a site for a bank and a site for computer games. A bank site is usually conservative with formal textual content and very businesslike graphics whereas a game site will be upbeat, usually a lot of neons and flashy bright colors and informal textual content. Getting the idea? These sites work well within their contexts but never shall the twain meet. Banks are serious business, game sites are all about fun. You want your bank to take you seriously don't you? Whereas you want to be entertained o­n a game site.

When planning your website, the best place to start is with a text document or pen and paper if you are more comfortable with those instrument, and design it from the top down. Designing from top down gives you the opportunity to decide what message you want to impart to your readers for the end result. After you have decided that, you can begin to fill in the steps from the overall picture to the smallest detail of your site. This part of site building can take weeks of planning before the first web page is ever made while other sites start out with an initial ideal and evolve from that ideal.

Items to consider when planning your website are:

Font color and type
Should be consistent and appropriate to the site. o­ne thing I hear a lot among designers about this issue is the use of comic sans font this font is generally regarded as unprofessional and while it has appropriate uses such as in fun sites it's not a very good font overall. For most sites it's best to stick to something that is easily readable such as sans serif. Color is also a sticky point. I've seen sites that can use bright colors and it works and other sites where it fails abysmally. For instance, using a bright bright yellow text color o­n a black background.. it hurts the eyes and is guaranteed to send your visitors away sooner than you might want them to leave.

Linking and navigation
Links should be in the same place o­n each page. Whether you use buttons, drop down menus, or text links they should be consistent and in the same place throughout your site. Include links that your visitors can use, not just links you find interesting.

Logo
Your logo is your brand or trademark for your company whether it is product or service oriented. Each page should have the same logo.

Textual Content
Site Title: The site title shows at the top of the browser bar when a visitor comes to your site. A site's title should not o­nly contain the full name of a site(if it differs from your domain name but also some descriptive information about your site. For instance, Designers Edge's title not o­nly contains the site name but also that is it a site about web design, free graphics, and 3d art. Should contain what you want the readers to understand about your site.
Headings and descriptions. Headings are your way of drawing attention to a particular section of textual content. They should be simple, complete, and consistent. They should give a good summary of the textual content over which they preside.

Graphical Content
Backgrounds and other graphics used should fit with the textual content. Think back to the bank and game sites comparison. Finding free graphics or making your own is easier when you think about what will fit your site and the message you are trying to send.

Do looks counts? In a word: YES.
The way your page looks is vital to how effectively it does its job. Think about sites in the following contexts:

Plain = uninteresting: If the site is too plain, people won't be interested and may not stick around long enough to get to the important information.

Busy = disorienting:If the page is a riot of images and colors, people may be overwhelmed and visit another site just to give their eyes a rest. Likewise for lots of animations no matter how they are colored or the topic of them. They distract the eyes from the important stuff of your site.. what you do, why you do it, and why you do it o­nline.

Pastels can be positive or negative. Pastels generally are associated with the feminine or with babies. Think about colors and meanings associated with them. The negative side of that is: unless your site is targeting women or infant products and services it could leave your visitor with a feeling that you are wishy washy, a person who can't make up his mind and often allows others to tell them what he thinks, needs, wants. In reality that may not be the way you are but perception is 100% of the total picture here. People don't want to do business with someone who might not be the person they need to be dealing with.. they want to know who is in control. Others might try to take advantage of these people thinking that if they are forceful enough they can get more for less than the going rate.

Dark colors can also be positive or negative. They can be percieved as shady and dishonest, or used as backgrounds to pull out the textual and graphical content of the page while blending into the background as they are intended to do. Too much dark leaves a person in the dark, while a healthy blend of dark and light(light not bright, there's a difference) brings out the lighter qualities to a better effect sometimes and adds depth to pages that use o­ne main color in the theme.

Complementary colors: colors should compliment each other rather than complement. Putting the wrong colors together can be just as disorienting as a busy site and often construed the same way. Complementary colors lead to inconsistency both in design and perception. Complementary colors are exact opposites and using too many of them creates a loud brassy noise... who are you yelling at? Why are you yelling? Won't your product stand o­n it's own value or are you trying to distract from the fact that it's substandard but you still want to make dollars? When people are being yelled at they don't stick around very long if they have a choice. Contrasting colors o­n the other hand can compliment each other
and give depth to your pages. My rule of thumb here is to choose 1-3 contrasting colors that compliment each other and work them into a consistent theme.

At this point you can see why some sites are weeks in planning before the first page is ever made. Even with all that, you still have to live with the site as you will visit it yourself at least o­nce a day. Hopefully you'll visit it more often than that but do so at least o­nce. Also after all this planning and careful mapping out just what you want your site to be, you will continually tweak and update the look and feel of your page. Information changes and your site needs to reflect these changes so it's a continual process. In addition, some sites need to make seasonal changes as their products or services change with the seasons.

About the Author
Stephanie Cordray is owner of (http://www.totalweb-inc.com) and (http://www.jc-hosting.net) . She can be reached by emailing: scordray@totalweb-inc.com .
In addition she operates several free resource sites:
(http://www.writingwise.com)
(http://www.designer-edge.com)
(http://www.v-chatterbox.net)
(http://www.webmastersforum.org)