Web Design Myths
By Christopher S L Heng
|If your site has been
around for a while, you'd probably have been visited by the
"Web Design Police" (people who have a lot of time on their
hands). In fact, depending on your site, you might have been
visited by different branches of these people, both advocating
opposite policies. I recently received an email from one of
my visitors who had apparently been "helped" by some of these
people, and thought that an article on two of the myths of web
design is appropriate.
1. The Myth of "Content is King, No Animation/Sound/Java/etc"
The adage that "Content is King" applies to all websites, and
I am not disputing that. It is also true that when you add sound,
animation, Java applets and lots of graphics, your web page
takes a long time to load, and some of your visitors may not
bother to wait for it to load; they'll just go away.
However, putting those two together does not actually mean that
all pages with animation, sound and applets are necessarily
bad. The trick is to know when they're appropriate and to make
the download speed as fast as it is reasonably possible under
the circumstances. I will mention a few ways of reducing your
graphics and animation file sizes later in this article.
When is it appropriate? Sometimes applets are needed for some
sort of processing - for example, the Sesame Street website
has a Java applet that shows Elmo (a Sesame Street character)
dancing, and the child using it can use the mouse pointer to
"tickle" Elmo and he'll respond according to where he is tickled.
The applet takes forever to load on a 56K modem, but you cannot
say that it is out of place: the site caters to young children
who are there to play. In this case, the applet is an appropriate
solution. Likewise, animation and sound might be appropriate
for sites that feature online comics, online gaming, etc.
In fact, if yours is a website that sells website design services,
that is, you want people to pay you to design their website,
it is in your interest not to make your site too plain. Many
potential customers see your site as an example of what their
site can become. There's no point claiming "Content is King"
at this time - they won't be around long enough to hear your
claim. Such sites need a certain amount of colour, graphics,
etc, although of course making it take too long to load would
also be a deterrent to your potential clients.
Like all things, how you design your site depends on your topic
and your target audience. Keep that cardinal rule in mind and
you'll be fine.
2. The Myth of "Good Web Design is in the Graphics"
On the other end of the scale are the people who believe a good
website must have much colour, graphics, animation and sound.
You might meet them, for example, in the form of newcomers or
pundits who either do not have much real world web experience
or who only surf on T1 connections.
My first encounter with such people came in the form of an old
friend who exhibited his personal website proudly to me. At
the centre of his home page was a large animated graphic that
was a few hundred kilobytes in size. That graphic had little
function on that page - it did not provide any informative value:
it was neither a logo, nor was it a photo of himself, or an
image map, or anything at all. It was purely decorative. At
that time (many years ago), I was using a 14.4K modem and that
page took ages to load.
Now don't get me wrong. Decorative graphics on a page are fine.
They make a page more pleasant to look at, and hence more likely
to be read. But you should at least make them as small as possible.
While I'm hesitant to give a hard and fast rule about how big
such graphics should be, a decorative graphic that is a few
hundred kilobytes in size is definitely too big to be tolerated.
3. Some Page Design Tips
If your concern is that your page should look good without being
too slow to load, here are a few commonly used tricks that you
may want to consider:
A note of caution: the oft-cited cliche that "Content is King"
is not to be lightly reckoned with. Your site may look beautiful,
but it's your content that saves the day. Few people will return
to your site just to admire your graphics. But they will be
back to read what you have to say.
- Do not put too much text in one big block. Separate them
out into paragraph and put white space between paragraphs.
This makes your text look more readable.
- Like coloured pages? That's okay, but in general, if the
readability of your text is important to you, a white background
with black text works best.
If you must have a coloured background, make sure you try
out your page by viewing it in resolutions like 256 colours
to see whether the page looks alright. A coloured page that
looks fine on your 32 bit colour resolution system may have
dithering that makes your text difficult to read on lesser
If you check the websites of big companies (Microsoft, Yahoo,
etc), you will find that they still prefer a white background
with black text for their main text. These companies probably
have more resources for testing the usability of their website
than you have, so it may not be wise to scoff at their design
- Reduce the size of the individual graphics files on your
pages by using the following methods:
- reduce the number of colours in the graphic
- reduce the size of the image, if possible
- in animations, reduce the number of frames
- in animations, don't duplicate the background in every
frame; make the first frame a background without any
objects that will move, and put all your moving objects
in separate frames with transparent backgrounds.
There are also some free automated GIF reducing services
on the Internet.
Copyright by Christopher S L Heng. All rights reserved.
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