This installment begins with an apology and an explanation. I apologize to my readers for the long delay between the last part of this series and this installment. The subject of proper web design is an emotional one for me. I do so much research on the Internet and have so little time to waste, that when someone's idea of proper web design interferes with my purpose, I get very annoyed. Even more annoying are the exorbitant prices some businesses are being charged for such substandard work.
So when I first wrote this installment several months ago, it was more of a rant than an instructional piece - a fact that was not lost on my editor, who tossed it back at me for a rewrite. He also made an interesting point about my treatment of the word "Webmaster", which I originally used to refer to anyone designing web pages. Unfortunately, that really does seem to be the way that the word has come into usage. But, for the interests of clarity, I have also rewritten this piece to differentiate between a "Web Designer" and a "Webmaster".
I also wish to differentiate between personal Web Sites and those intended for the purposes of conducting business. What I have to say here pertains more to commercial Web Sites. Aside from wasting precious Internet bandwidth, little else is lost as a result of whatever nonsense someone might want to put on their personal pages. Proper design is critical though when you're trying to sell a product or service and your site's design just makes the potential customer want to hit the "Stop" button.
When designing a web page for business, it's more critical to understand why a company's logo is important to sales than to make the logo dance around the screen. A poorly tendered page will obscure your company's message, which is the purpose of your Internet exposure.
As a service to the entire Internet community then, I present an outline of what is considered the most common blunders committed by those Web Designers that would consider themselves Webmasters. These are not necessarily just my own views either, as I've seen these sentiments echoed among many others willing to give some thought to what passes across their screen as they browse the Web.
Those errors that are greatest in quantity and most profound in effect seem to pertain to graphics, so let's consider these first...
UNSIZED GRAPHICS - Ever wonder why sometimes you go to a page (for the first time), and you find yourself staring at a blank screen for several minutes? You may have thought that the Internet or particular server was just "slow", but it was probably due to "unsized" graphics.
Budding Webmasters take note that every graphic tag should always have HEIGHT and WIDTH parameters specified. This permits browsing software to display the text of a document first, before the graphics have downloaded. It allows visitors to your site to page down through your message while they're waiting for your graphics to come onto the screen.
The sites where I see this rule ignored often amaze me. Fortune 500 companies have paid tens of thousands of dollars to have their sites designed by Webmasters that are not aware of this simple technique. Even the so-called HTML generators built into the office suite software on the market today will commit this gaff unless it is intentionally avoided. An HTML generator can't be any better than the programmers that created it.
OVERLY LARGE GRAPHICS - Everyone knows about this one. You just don't want to put a quarter megabyte graphic on a regular page, even if the graphic is sized. It's piggish to even do so, and if you are trying to sell a product, you run the risk of having a potential customer become impatient and leave your site before you've even had the chance to deliver your message. If you want to make large graphics available to visitors to your site, at least put them off to the side, so that someone will know what to expect, and you won't waste the bandwidth unless the person is actually interested in the graphic.
You can place a "thumbnail" of the graphic on a page with other information, and you can have this thumbnail linked to the full size graphic (a technique quite common), but be sure to scale your graphic to make your thumbnail. Specifying, for example, a height and width of 72 x 72 will make the graphic 1" square on the screen, but if the resolution of the graphic is actually 720 x 720, it will still take up to 100 times longer to download!
Therefore, when creating thumbnails, use your favorite imaging software and scale the graphic to the actual size that you will be using to place it on your page. The Height and Width specified in the image tag SHOULD ALWAYS MATCH the actual dimensions of the graphic (in pixels)!
UNCAPTIONED GRAPHICS - The caption that I refer to here is not the one that people would normally see displayed underneath the picture. This caption is the one specified as a parameter in the graphic tag, and it applies only to those people who come to your site with graphics turned "off".
I've gone to many sites (without graphics turned "on"), only to see a handful of those nondescript boxes scattered across the page. Since all the text on the page was part of a graphical image, and none of these images had tag captions, there was not a single word on the page!
Tag captions are displayed in later versions of browser software as the mouse cursor hovers over the picture, and in earlier versions when a person has their browser's graphics setting to "off". The caption can be an excellent sales tool for newer browser software and gives visitors with older browser software the opportunity to decide which if any pictures they'd like to see.
ANIMATED GRAPHICS - Animated graphics are never more than "cute", and I have NEVER seen a commercial Web Site where they served the purpose of selling a product or service. In fact, in many cases they clearly have the exact opposite effect.
Every so-called Webmaster that considers animated graphics of any use should be sentenced to run on a 486 with a 14.4 modem (or even a 28.8) for a week. Even a modest sized animated graphic can wreak havoc on an underpowered system. The animated graphic can actually hang a system lacking adequate resources so badly that it prevents the rest of the page from downloading! If that's not interfering with your message, then I don't know what is.
If you sell caviar, diamonds or Ferraris, maybe this doesn't matter to you. Any of your potential customers are bound to own state-of-the-art systems. Otherwise, by including an animated graphic on your Web Site, you immediately eliminate a certain portion of your market.
Art Glick dba Almost Heaven Electronics