Web Design  & Engineering...

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Web Design 1011:  Interoperability, Accessibility, Compliance, & Branding.    

Web Design & Web Site Engineering Guide

As the primary objective of a web page is to provide information to visitors and in a commercial context, to generate sales, the most important feature of a web page is it's legibility. Credibility is not gained by astute colour coordination, nor by a clever and sophisticated logo. Microsoft, the world's largest and most successful software company, went many years without any logo at all. In fact, while Microsoft has a number of product logos, this corporation still lacks a corporate logo, thereby proving by sheer profit, the redundancy of the logo as a tool for credibility. Credibility is gained solely by delivering what you promise. This is up to you. However, making what you promise clear and legible, even to the blind, is the most important task of the web developer.

Special Effects are for Movies and NOT Web Pages!

People willing & competent to spend money online are looking for clear product documentation, and if anything, are put off by the "trust me" attitude imposed by Hollywood style special effects. Such extravagant features depend on what became known as the Zero Day hole: "Active" or "Dynamic" mark up or HTML otherwise known as Client-Side technologies, which include VBScript, JavaScript, Flash, ActiveX, and .NET just to name a few. This same "Zero Day Hole" is what is exploited by phishers, internet fraudsters who stole in excess of 80 billion dollars from consumer bank accounts in the first month of their sting.

VBScript, JavaScript, Flash, ActiveX, and .NET can't be scanned prior to execution, and certainly can't be quarantined adequately prior to anti-virus scanning. This is why users savvy enough to buy from you online disallow this level of access to their computer. So if you want a feature to be visible to online shoppers, make sure it does not depend on the Zero Day Hole because economically competent web surfers close this hole before going online to do business.

Multiple Browser Compatibility.

Market share for web browsers such as Internet Explorer 6, Internet Explorer 7, Mozilla, Firefox, Netscape, etc. may be changing all the time, but what is important is that there are always statistically significant divisions in the browser market. In spite of the efforts of the World Wide Web Consortium, different browsers come with different bugs and different interpretations of the HTML and CSS standards. What this means is that unless you account for these differences in effective interpretation, your site is doomed to display improperly for a substantial proportion of your visitors. Ultimately, it is not up to your visitor to change browser, but up to you to properly engineer page mark-up to account for differences in browser behaviour.

Standards Compliance and the Value of Validation.

One of the first steps to achieving interoperability and predictable page functions is to ensure that the mark-up is error-free and standards-compliant. The World Wide Web Consortium was instituted to set common standards for web page mark-up, and thereby curb the incidence of "market-segmentation" by web browser manufacturers. This has lead to a more predictable web, albeit among those pages developed with valid, standards-compliant mark-up. Standards-compliance shows a degree of due diligence that attests to the thoroughness of the corporation represented by the applicable site.

Accessibility; More Than Just a Wheel-Chair Ramp!

A significant proportion of the market suffers a disability of some sort. Counting only those people with visual impairment also infers a not insignificant market share. In fact, even if none of your products can be used by people with visual impairment, this will not prevent such people from purchasing those products from you, as gifts for friends and family - unless you prevent it. This is one reason why site accessibility is a vital aspect of web site design. Another reason is that the poor old search engine spider is not only totally blind, it was born without a brain! If your site is not clear and legible to the visually impaired, it is unlikely to be properly indexed by the search engines.

Consistent & Visible Navigation Structures.

Visitors who do not land on quite the right page need to be able to see where they must go next, and quickly - before they decide that your site simply hasn't got the goods. Toolbars are the usual place people look for information about the site, while sidebars are where the most relevant links to the given page are to be found. A dropdown menu at the top can be used to form a navigational back-bone for the site, so someone who has landed way off base, or is starting with your homepage can quickly review links to all the major areas of your site without having to wade through the site map. These features need to appear with consistent colour, layout, and behaviour. It helps if they are fixed, and thus visible no matter where the visitor has scrolled to on the page.

Effective Site Branding without Diluting your Message.

Branding is the art of making your site memorable, either by some unique features, a logo, or perhaps even something as simple as colour and font combinations. On one hand, you want your visitor to be able to see who you are at all possible times, but without diluting the message. When branding becomes too distracting, it is common for visitors to just give up and move on. However, the places where it is important to be noticable are on the toolbar and toolbar popup, on the page margins, where the visitor will look when hunting through dozens of open windows looking for your site. Fixed panels can be applied to ensure that the branding remains visible on the margins regardless of page position, and by using strong colour separation between the background for the content and the background for the fixed panels, the branding can be sufficiently separated from the content so as not to be a distraction.