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-Web site designers FAQ

Web Theory

Design Etiquette (or 'Emily Post meets Andy Rooney and they both do webdesign') by carpeliam
Posted: 28 Jun 00

I've always likened the Internet to a frontier, a "Wild West" that has yet to be tamed. The laws do not fit the current environment, so anarchy reigns until the law can catch up to technology.

Internet Copyright law is one of the most speculative areas of law, and has yet to be ironed out. Until then, people are getting away with murder in ways that would never have been thought possible in another medium. The Recording Industry is trying to hold on to some sense of normalcy and heirarchy, despite MP3's and the enormous growths in recording technology concerning the Web. Artists displaying their artwork online are finding their own artistry on other sites without credit being given where credit is due, and big businesses are getting upset when one domain name is registered for a lesser known company that should be registered for a larger name brand company.

It can all be very confusing, as it is changing rapidly around us. How is the web designer involved? We must practice good etiquette in our websites, and bring some sort of order to the web; we must give credit where credit is due, and make things easy on our visitors.

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When I first started out designing my own home page (so many years ago), I found all the cool graphics from other sites that I could and linked to them. I didn't even bother downloading them and then uploading to my site- I had a number of direct links to images as well as .WAV files. Not only is the morality of this questionable, but the legality of direct linking is questionable as well; however, as this is a etiquette FAQ, I'll stay away from the legality of this and stick with the morality.

First of all, when linking directly to an object outside of your own site, you are slowing the server down. Imagine what would happen if everybody had a direct link to an image on this particular website. The server would be bending over backwards to supply this object to everybody, as it is the only server doing the job. Now, if everybody uploaded that object to their own hard-drives, we wouldn't all rely on just one server to supply that object to everyone. (This works under the concept of mirror sites, in a way- you have the same content, etc., but it is placed on different servers to lessen the load on one particular server.)

But we're not just talking about servers here. What about the artists who design these objects? You're linking to their art, causing their website to run slower, yet perhaps not giving them the full credit they deserve. If you want an object you've seen on the web, the proper thing to do is:

1. Ask the artist/site owner for permission to use the object
2. Upload the object to your own site- no direct linking
3. Give the artist credit: mention their name or email (or both)

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In addition to being courteous to other webdesigners and artists, we also must be courteous to our visitors. This only seems like common sense- however, often times we do not show common courtesy in various forms.

This is just personal opinion, but I regard background sound files that load automatically to be in poor taste. First of all, you're subjecting the entire world (or at least whoever visits your site) to your musical tastes, which may not be in agreement with their own. Many people don't have speakers, or turn their speakers off; still, they must wait until your song has loaded, despite the fact that it is not doing them any good. In general, you can't really go wrong if you give your visitors the option. If they want to hear your "Piano Man" MIDI file, let them choose this on their own.

I've always thought that there are essential tags in HTML (like the <A> tag or the <TABLE> tag) and then there are tags just for show, like Netscape's old <BLINK> tag. Blinking text has always struck me as obnoxious, and it's similar to ALL CAPS in this way. Studies have shown that staring at a computer screen over time isn't all that great for your eyes (obviously); don't compound the problem by including blinking text.

Another thing that irks me is an aspect of CSS: they allow you to keep your links from being underlined. This can be useful, especially for making the text flow easier, visually. However, this can also be a problem, when it becomes hard for your visitors to understand what's a link and what's not. If you choose not to underline your links, you must make it clear to your visitor what's a link and what's text. Having some text formatted in the same color as your links (or even having sections of your background or images the same color as your links) can throw your visitors off guard and become confusing. Now there is an easy way to tell if something is a link--if you can't click on it, it's not a link--but your visitor shouldn't have to try this just to figure your website out. Keep your colors straight, so as to not confuse your visitors. Also, if your links are underlined, it's best not to have other text underlined in the same color. In fact, if you choose to underline your text at all, make sure your underlined text is the same color as your regular text, so as to not compound your visitors' confusion. (I've actually visited sites where I couldn't find the links, so this does happen.)

I like frames. Now before you throw stones, let me refine that statement: I like frames when they are done right. Because you're only loading part of the screen multiple times, this means that you're downloading less stuff- meaning faster downloads. If you've got your navigation interface on one side, that frame will often times stay the same- making navigation easy and reliable. However, many people give frames a bad name.

Frames are hard to bookmark
The frameset page loads a specific set of documents each time it's loaded, regardless of whether or not that's the page you want. If you want to give your visitors a chance to bookmark certain pages of yours, give them a way to break out of the frames they are in (or give them a way to link to a new frameset which will load the document they need to see).
Nobody likes horizontal scrolling
We've all gotten used to vertical scrolling, even before we were browsing web pages. We don't like to scroll in multiple directions, though, and because of word wrapping (wrapping text from the right side of one line to the left side of the next), visitors should almost never have to scroll from side to side.
Make sure you make everything visible
Many times, to prevent horizontal scrolling (or scrolling at all), people will turn the scrolling off on a particular frame. However, say you're designing for 800x600 resolution, while your visitor is surfing at 640x480. If you have an image that takes up the entire width of the screen in your resolution, odds are that not all of the image can be seen in your visitor's low-res screen. Make sure everybody can view all of your documents- people might not come back if they can't see what you're saying.

Make sure your frames page is useful- if you find (or if your visitors find) that your frames are not making the impact they need to (for the right reasons), try going with a non-frames website.

You see a lot of "Best Viewed in Microsoft Internet Explorer" buttons or "JavaScript required" labels these days. I've always rejected that, in favor of not telling my visitors how to set up their own computers. It seems almost obvious: it's your visitor's computer, so let him/her keep the settings he/she wants to. However, many web designers tell their visitors to change their computer settings (usually their resolution, their browser, or their color depth) just to view a website at its optimum level. Some see this as courteous; I see it as slightly arrogant. Is your website so important that I must reconfigure my computer or download a new plug-in/browser (which can take hours, depending on the modem speed your visitor has)? If not, don't pretend to be- let your visitor be the master of his/her own computer. If you're designing for your visitor, cater to your visitor; don't make your visitor pander to you.

In short, try to design your web site from your visitors' point of view. It doesn't matter if you like it; if your visitors don't like your site, they won't come back for more. Always be curteous with the visitor's best interests in mind. And always chew with your mouth closed.

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