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Digital Reviewer

Producing for the Web

Whittaker 2000Whittaker, Jason, Producing for the Web, 2000

Whittaker is a lecturer in journalism, media and English in the UK, specilising in international journalism, and the academic slant can be seen in the book, which is quite theoretical. He doesn’t want to get too technical, but feels a good understanding of the history, structure, workings and limitations of the Internet are important so that designers can work within the limitations. Web production and management is now a career choice, rather than a hobby, and throughout the designer must remember that effectiveness is the most important aim.

Before a site is produced, questions should be asked: what do you want to achieve from it, are you prepared to put in the long haul to achieve not only the initial site, but the updates. The structure and homepage are important elements of design, with flexibility within designs to allow for different elements of content, whilst maintaining an overall consistent look. Whittaker approves of Bauhaus design, where form follows function, and “Less is More” is a motto. Although interactivity can be achieved through scripting and multimedia (he discusses various scripting languages currently available), these should not be used just because they are available, as they may interfere with the sites purpose, and users are not interested in the latest technology, but is good design which facilitates usability and content (can learn a lot from newspaper techniques).

Whittaker discusses the use of colour, and graphic optimisation, legal, regulatory and ethical issues, how to promote the site post-production, and how to optimise the site for good search engine rankings. He details building a site using Netscape Composer (although he feels there are many similarities with other editors), whilst stressing the need to understand HTML in order to fine tune the site. He stresses the need to test the site for technical and usability problems before uploading. A website accompanies this book. (January 2002)

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Digital Reviewer

Effective Web Design

Ann Navarro Effective Web Design 2001Navarro, Ann, Effective Web DesignSybex, 2001 (2nd Edition)Navarro runs an Internet consultancy, is a member of the HTML Writers Guild, and works with W3C which strives to set standards on the Internet. The book is largely a ‘how to’ book, although she identifies design, time, financial and legal constraints (including recent issues such as copyright and privacy laws) on the scope and development of a site.

Sites should be planned on paper first, the purpose and audience of the site must be defined, the desired outcomes prioritised, and the site planned accordingly. Users should know from the start what they are going to get from your site, and this should be consistently applied throughout the site. It is the job of the designer to make it obvious to users what elements of the page are and how they work.

Navarro assesses how the visual balance of a site should work, the psychology of colours (although she advises going with gut reactions on what looks good), some of the new media available on the web. She stresses the importance of accessibility, with plenty of tips on how to implement good, accessible design, claiming that this forms the basis of what is effective for all users, although it may restrict some elements of design. (January 2002)

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Don't Make Me Think

Don't Make Me Think, Steve Krug, 2000Krug, Steve, Don’t Make Me ThinkNew Riders, 2000

Krug used to write computer manuals, but in 1989 changed to usability testing and interface design. He advocates a common sense approach to web design, and says that there is no ‘right’ way to design, but there are guiding principles that are already accepted, although all are learning their way through a new medium. Krug is a big fan of the Amazon website, and the book has many illustrations from this, and other, sites. He devotes the last three chapters to the importance of testing, and how to test sites.

From the word go sites should be self-evident or self-explanatory, in order to make sites user-focused. Users are the more likely to return if they feel ‘smart’, and by trying to be too clever, you will add to the ‘cognitive workload’, and makes users feel less intelligent. Krug insists that conventions work for a reason, and that if you decide to deviate from this, you must at least understand the rules that you are breaking. Users don’t necessarily understand how the web works, they skim pages, and choose the first reasonable option, rather than the ‘best’ option, and pages must be optimised to allow users the best chance of finding what they want.

Krug devotes a lot of attention to navigation, which he compares with directional/item signs in the supermarkets, although online the user loses any sense of scale, direction and location, and it is up to the web designer to offer some idea of this through navigation elements. Sites should identify a particular need, and try to answer it, keeping the overall site simple. There are many ideals for what a site can involve, but compromises must be made, and designers should avoid the temptation to add ‘just one more thing’. (January 2002)

Buy the 2005 edition from Amazon.

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Designing Easy-to-Use Websites

Donnelly 2000Donnelly, Vanessa, Designing Easy-to-use Web Sites: A hands-on approach to structuring successful websitesAddison-Wesley Professional, 2000

Donnelly comes from a software design perspective, specialising in user interfaces, and applies similar principles to web design. The testing of a site by real users throughout the design and production process is stressed as an important element throughout the book, as it is easiest to change elements then, rather than at the end. The book ignores the technology, which dates so fast, and concentrates on the fundamentals of getting web projects to succeed. Web development is now a discipline for a team to work on, rather than the province of enthusiasts, and business models need to be created, and the second half of this book defines the roles of those who are likely to be involved. Chapter 7 particularly concentrates on critical design features such as navigation and readability.

The text is aimed at businesses, and it is stressed that in order to succeed the sites must be user-focused, based in good market research. It is claimed that the changing nature of the web is not always recognised by businesses, and that businesses often to do not recognise the negative impact of a poorly designed site. She feels that there needs to be a shift away from using the web for marketing and advertising messages and a need to apply software development processes, based upon the interactive nature of the web. There needs to be a focus on web sites, rather than individual web pages, and companies must evaluate the business reasons for undertaking the project, then rigorously analyse the user goals and tasks. These goals must be borne in mind at all times: interaction is more important than the aesthetics of a site, the nature of the web is different to that in the ‘real world’, with a need to establish trust, particularly when personal and financial details are requested. (January 2002)

Reviewed for Web Usability and Accessibility Project.

Buy from Amazon.

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Digital

Web Usability (2001-2002)

webusability1-300x199These pages are the result of a 5 month project investigating what makes a web page usable, and thus effective.

  • Members of staff in all departments of the University of Winchester (formerly King Alfred’s College/University College Winchester) were questioned as to the use that they would possibly make of webpage design (within teaching, research, and assessment).
  • Usability and information structure were deemed more important than aesthetics, although this was still a consideration.
  • Designed primarily for use by students, the site offers options for web design, rather than hard and fast rules, the site was also designed to meet the needs of academic staff who were seeking to teach theories of web design.
  • The site was designed to be largely static, as it is more issue-led, rather than a ‘how-to’ of the latest web building software. Although the site is now rather out of date, a lot of the issues to be thought-through remain relevant.

Client Comment

“Dr Bex Lewis was the designer and implementer of a pioneering website at the university which aimed to support lecturers in teaching about web design. This was at a time when web sites were put together hurriedly with many basic mistakes. That website is still available and and stands up remarkbly well, giving sound advice. Would that more web designers would take the time to look at it”

David Rush, 2009

Business IT

University of Winchester

Visit: http://www.winchester.ac.uk/designproject/