Web Design Philosophy

Picture of a whiskey-jack

What are we trying to accomplish?

A well-designed Web site does several, if not all, of these things:

How can we best accomplish it?

These are the design principles and practices that we know make a great Web site. Click a heading to see further explanation. Some of these statements get a bit technical, but it's all important to good Web page and application design.

Useful content

The single most effective way to get people to use your Web site is to provide content that they want
to read and to keep it fresh and current so that they will come back often.

Stylistic simplicity

Flashy, chaotic, busy, cramped, or gimmicky designs are ubiquitous on the World Wide Web. They are also hard to read and off-putting to visitors, and create a loud, amateurish impression that you probably don't want to give. A clean, elegant, simple design is easy to read and pleasant to look at. Please consider this Web site as an example. Although every page contains sophisticated
graphics, they are used sparingly and with purpose. The colour scheme is constrained to a limited, coordinated, and suitable palette. The content is broken logically into digestible documents each of which could be printed on one or two sides of an 8 by 11 inch page. Each page is labelled with a main heading and organized using subheadings.

Ease of navigation

The inability to find what you're looking for on a Web site is frustrating and drives away visitors. A clear and simple set of navigation links to major areas of the Web site is indispensible. On a large
site with many pages, an easy-to-find and easy-to-read site map should always be provided. Links should be identifiable as links.

Consistency of design

A design that changes substantially with every page is confusing and disorienting to the visitor. A consistent style of presentation, including standardized page layout, colour scheme, and font usage, helps to keep the visitor oriented and comfortable. The style doesn't have to be dogmatically rigid, but it should create a reassuring sense of thematic unity and predictability. Equally
importantly, the navigation bar must remain largely unchanged and consistently located in the same part of every page. Notice, for example, the identical title graphic and the consistent set of navigation links immediately below the title graphic on every page of this Web site. Notice the consistent locations and fonts of the page title and subheadings.

Adherence to user interface standards and visitors' common expectations

Jacob's Law of the Web User Experience states that "users spend most of their time on other Web sites." This means that they form their expectations of your site based on what's commonly done on most other sites. If you deviate
far from their expectations, your site will be harder to use and users will leave. If they feel that they understand intuitively how to use your Web site, they will feel secure and will stay.

Adherence to the current XHTML standard

XHTML 1.0 is the current officially adopted document mark-up language standard on the World Wide Web and is well supported by all browsers that are in common use today. By adhering to this standard, we can take full advantage of the capabilities of visitors' Web browsers, we can minimize the impact of variations in document rendering among different Web browsers, and we can facilitate the work of the 'bots' or 'spiders' that crawl the Web and index Web sites for popular search engines such as
Google. Clean, standardized mark-up is an important tool in search engine optimization (SEO), which gets your Web site ranked high in the major search engines and brings more visitors to your Web site. The W3C XHTML 1.0 icon at the bottom of this page indicates that this page has been certified in full conformance with the XHTML 1.0 standard by the World Wide Web Consortium's XHTML validation service. All Web pages created by Whiskey Jack Software must meet this standard.

Use of Cascading Style Sheets for all layout and visual presentation features

The Cascading Style Sheets Level 2 (CSS2) recommendation came out in 1998 and has been widely adopted by browser makers. Style sheets relieve HTML (or XHTML) of responsibility for presentation and let it focus on describing the semantic structure of documents' content. Using CSS to handle page layout and visual presentation instead of using deprecated features of early HTML standards gives the designer much greater design flexibility and collects design policies into a single location for quick and easy updating as the need arises. It makes it possible to present material in the best possible format for each of various media (primarily screen and print, but also theoretically projection, voice synthesis, hand-held unit, cell phone, etc.) without having to create multiple
versions of the documents. It also cleans up the document mark-up by getting formatting considerations out of the document content, once again making the Web site easier to index and more attractive to popular search engines. Finally, it makes your Web pages readily adaptable to handle the changes in standards and browser features that are coming down the pike without the expense of major reworking of your mark-up. All of this adds up to a better browsing experience for the visitor, more cost-effective maintenance for the site owner, and more traffic coming to your Web site. All Web pages created by Whiskey Jack Software are verified in full conformance with the CSS2 recommendation using the W3C CSS validation service.

Hand crafting of all mark-up

Many graphical Web design tools fill their HTML documents with all sorts of mark-up clutter either for use by the editing tool itself or simply because the software doesn't understand what you're trying to accomplish. At Whiskey Jack Software, we are intimately familiar with the the hypertext mark-up language, Cascading Style Sheets, client-side and server-side programming, and database access methods and are able to
hand-craft every document one character at a time. This results in well-structured, standards-compliant, bug-free, easily maintainable Web pages that use a miniumum of bandwidth and download time. This saves you money on your Internet service and gives your visitors a pleasantly fast-loading experience at your Web site.

Separation of the presentation, business, and data access layers in server-side programming

Multi-layered server software design promotes well-structured, bug-free programming, makes maintenance quicker, easier, and less expensive,
and facilitates scalability so that, when your site really takes off, you can upgrade painlessly.

Use of object-oriented design in server-side programming

Fully object-oriented programming similarly promotes well-structured, bug-free code and
facilitates quick, cost-effective maintenance.

Testing on all popular Web browsers with the most common screen sizes and colour depths

At present, visitors should be able to see your Web pages rendered correctly in Internet Explorer version 5, 6 or 7 (which still holds over half of the browser market), Mozilla Firefox (with about a third of the market and rising), Opera 7, 8, or 9, and Safari 1 or 2.* Many other browsers exist, but the suite just named make up over ninety-eight percent of the browser instances in use on the Web today. This is where standards compliance really pays off. Almost no visitors sitting at PCs will be using a 640 by 480 pixel screen resolution these days, but enough (currently about 14%*) will have an 800 by 600 pixel resolution to make it your lowest common denominator. So, all pages should
be visible in a maximized browser window at 800 by 600 pixel resolution without the need for horizontal scroll bars. If your visitors are likely to be using portable devices, styles sheets should be used to reformat the page layout for smaller screens without changing the page content. Until recently, it was orthodox in Web design to restrict colour palettes to the 16 'web safe' colours or for a 256 colour display. This really is no longer necessary as all current monitors can handle 16-bit or 32-bit colour with millions of subtle gradations and it makes sense to take advantage of the full range of available colours.

*For more complete data on trends in browser usage and display resolutions, see Browser Information at W3 Schools.


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