Monday, 19 February 2007

Building A Web Site

A letter from Mike Gardner

Dear Roy,

I have visited your Machins Made Easy website and would like to congratulate you on the simplistic manner in which you put your message across, I have found it an invaluable source of information.

I have tried in the past to build my own site with AWYSIWYG program. I would like to ask if you have any web building tips that I can use?

Mike there is no easy way to build a website, but I can reproduce an article I wrote for the IPDA news page which may give you some information.

e-Business Made Easy

For a start let me just say , I am no expert in web design, but have built a few and learned from my mistakes as I have gone along.
Everyone I know wants their web site to look its best, it no matter if it is a simple personal home page or a massive online shop selling all and sundry.

Part one of this (our) simple guide will help you avoid the pitfalls of disaster and hopefully allow you to build a successful web site. Its a dilemma for most just to know how or where to start with web site design. Most just chuck a package full of things on to a page and hope for the best. This throw it together approach can work with a bit of luck, but 9 times from 10 it ends in tears.

Anyone who knows the basics of computers can put a site together, however there are plenty of handy tips you can use to avoid 90% of the pitfalls.

Rule 1/ Where to start

The main thing to consider when planning a home page is "what do I want my site to do"? If you have an idea of what you want your visitors to see, then this is half the battle.
Try to resist just adding content to your pages just co,s you can. In my experience people do not want to wade through tons of gimmicks or irrelevant information when they land on your page.
If you have thought of a theme for your site then you have already jumped the first fence, once you have the concept all you have to do is spice up the page to interest them. We can captivate them, later.

Some images and a bit of text set out in a tidy manner works wanders. Nothing has to be complicated to be a success. Besides, why make things harder for your self?.
In terms of complexity, there are tons of ideas you can experiment with, but wait until you have actually put a page together. Remember we can always add at a later date.

The knack of adding Frames, image maps, sound and animation are all within most peoples grasp once they have mastered the basics. Just keep it nice and simple to start. Trying the old adage running before you can walk will result in a hit counter that stays static.

My philosophy has always been "Less is More". I have noticed that the best sites are those that are not overloaded with to much content. A simple design idea and pages that are easy to navigate are the sort of things that persuade people to return.

It is to easy to pack pages with with lots of tricks and whistles, but minimization has always been found to be the most successful when it comes to web design.

If you contemplate having a busy site with lots of information, you must consider breaking it down in to digestible chunks, the only way to do this is by adding more pages. The same applies,do not Overcrowd your pages, some of the worst sites are those that seem so chaotic they make the Freeway in rush hour seem a more tranquil choice of venue.

I must stress this, avoid the temptation to overcrowd your pages. Visitors only skim read anyway, so its pointless writing reams of text, they will not be bothered to read it. This is most important on your index page (home page) as this is the first port of call for your visitors. Ease them in gradually. Subtle will grab them, a one word one quote and a couple of pictures leave a more lasting impression. It also wants them to investigate further.

Rule 2/ What’s the Plan?

Before you even start to play around with programs, do not be afraid to sit down with a pencil and paper, draw a rough sketch of your ideas. This will pay you in the long run , the reason is, it enables one to decide on a workable format. Draw your plan and spread the consent over a few pages, when you add the content to the site it will automatically be less cluttered than if you jumped straight into computer design mode. You will find the separate pages linked together will allow your visitors easier access and make the site simple to navigate.

So I'm talking rubbish! Let me convince you with a simple argument. If you are having a house built from scratch, you would not let the person constructing it, build, or even lay a brick if he did not have some sort of plan. Do not add anything until you have a firm idea of where your rooms are going to be and what they are going to hold, you must also have an hallway (or link way) so people can get from one room to another.

This forward planning stage is more important on web sites that will have lots of pages, but even a site with 2 or 3 pages needs a plan, you will be surprised on how much time you save if you have a plan, so rule two is , get it down on paper first.

Rule 3/ Optimize your Graphics

Before you load pictures to your site, play around with them in your image editor until you feel they are the right size for the page, not to big, not to small. If you are not sure write down the size that you think will suit. E-commerce sites contain a lot of images so it will pay to get the sizes right from the off, compress them as much as you can, but do not over do it.

Adding massive pics will mean your visitors will have to wait an age for your web site to load, remember not everyone at this time has broadband. If you have a gallery of pictures turn them into thumbnails, which when clicked take the visitor to a bigger version. This may seem like a lot of work, but it will be worth it in the end just to grab that quicker download time. Rule three size does matter.

Rule 4/ Pick your Text

OK, it (your site) is only a guide to the boy scouts dinner party, but you need to pick your text to make sure everything is explained concisely. You do not need to use plain English, but by adding short lines of plain understandable text, your pages will take on a little more appeal. The scouts will also get their dinner.

See I told you it pays to plan! Using your bit of paper at this stage you have already worked out how much text to add to the page.

As I have already stated do not overcrowd the page with to many lines of text, visitors will just hit the back button. No one likes going to a home page to find they have to scroll down through a mountain of text. Point them in the direction of page 2. In other words rule 4 in laymen’s terms is spread your content.

Rule 5/Colours

There is nothing wrong with using a background colour on your page or an image come to that, but if you do make sure its low key. Bright yellow with purple text is not the way forward, choose a subtler tone and you will notice the immediate change, you and your visitors will also find the text is easier to read. Its more of a case of not using anything that will give your visitors eye strain. Back to our house designer. My God, the builder has painted the house neon purple, now I have no hallway, a toilet in my living room and the decor has given you a headache to boot.

When deciding on a colour scheme, avoid anything to bright , or to dark. The bulk of web designers stick to a old fashioned tried and tested method of black on white. The old saying again . "Less is More".

Rule 6/ What’s Hot?

The easiest method of seeing what’s hot is to browse the web, see what the others are doing. Look at a cross section of sites from humble home pages through to corporate holdings. Make notes of anything that you like. If you see a natty drop down menu and think "Oh id like some of that", open up the source code. This will reveal how it was done.
Java script used to be considered the "dogs what-sits". unfortunately this type of script has lost its appeal of late. Designers have come to realise that adding lots of clever dick code was pointless. A currency converter that helps your customers is a different kettle of fish. We can add these later.

So there we have it- simple handy tips to building a better site, do not consider this as a definitive guide though, web site design is a subjective thing and you may have your own ideas that you may want to experiment with. Just remember to enjoy the experience.
If you sit in front of your screen for weeks and end up with your head in your hands each night, then you are trying to hard. Have a rest, and try something a bit simpler.

Do not be put off by design snobbery, there are plenty of people who will tear your work to shreds, if you give them the chance. If they do , don’t let this deter you, learn from mistakes....OK this is where I end the lesson, but before I do finish , repeat this 3 times......LESS IS MORE.....LESS IS MORE......LESS IS MORE.

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