Web design is similar to traditional print publishing. Every website is an information display container, just as a book is a container; and every web page is like the page in a book. However, web design uses a framework based on digital code and display technology to construct and maintain an environment to distribute information in multiple formats. Taken to its fullest potential, web design is undoubtedly the most sophisticated and increasingly complex method to support communication in today’s world.
For the typical web sites, the basic aspects of design are:
- The content: the substance, and information on the site should be relevant to the site and should target the area of the public that the website is concerned with.
- The usability: the site should be user-friendly, with the interface and navigation simple and reliable.
- The appearance: the graphics and text should include a single style that flows throughout, to show consistency. The style should be professional, appealing and relevant.
- The visibility: the site must also be easy to find via most, if not all, major search engines and advertisement media.
A web site typically consists of text and images. The first page of a web site is known as the Home page or Index. Some web sites use what is commonly called a Splash Page. Splash pages might include a welcome message, language or region selection, or disclaimer. Each web page within a web site is an HTML file which has its own URL. After each web page is created, they are typically linked together using a navigation menu composed of hyperlinks. Faster browsing speeds have led to shorter attention spans and more demanding online visitors and this has resulted in less use of Splash Pages, particularly where commercial web sites are concerned.
Once a web site is completed, it must be published or uploaded in order to be viewable to the public over the internet. This may be done using an FTP client. Once published, the web master may use a variety of techniques to increase the traffic, or hits, that the web site receives. This may include submitting the web site to a search engine such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, exchanging links with other web sites, creating affiliations with similar web sites, etc.
Web site design crosses multiple disciplines of multiple information systems, information technology and communication design. The web site is an information system whose components are sometimes classified as front-end and back-end. The observable content (e.g. page layout, user interface, graphics, text, audio) is known as the front-end. The back-end comprises the organization and efficiency of the source code, invisible scripted functions, and the server-side components that process the output from the front-end. Depending on the size of a Web development project, it may be carried out by a multi-skilled individual (sometimes called a web master), or a project manager may oversee collaborative design between group members with specialized skills.
By its very nature, web design is conflicted, involving rigid technical conformance and personal creative balance. Rapid technological change complicates acquiring and deploying suitable resources to maintain web presence.
Layout is a double edged sword: on the one hand, it is the expression of a framework that actively shapes the web designer. On the other hand, as the designer adapts that framework to projects, layout is the means of content delivery. Publishing a web engages communication throughout the production process as well as within the product created. Publication implies adaptation of culture and content standards. Web design incorporates multiple intersections between many layers of technical and social understanding, demanding creative direction, design element structure, and some form of social organization. Differing goals and methods resolve effectively in successful deployment of education, software and team management during the design process. However, many competing and evolving platforms and environments challenge acceptance, completion and continuity of every design product.
Early Web design was less integrated with companies’ advertising campaigns, customer transactions, extranets, intranets and social networking. Web sites were seen largely as static online brochures or database connection points, disconnected from the broader scopes of a business or project. Many Web sites are still disconnected from the broader project scope. As a result, many Web sites are needlessly difficult to use, indirect in their way of communicating, and suffer from a ‘disconnected’ or ineffective bureaucratic information architecture.
Form versus function
A web developer may pay more attention to how a page looks while neglecting other copywriting and search engine optimization functions such as the readability of text, the ease of navigating the site, or how easily the visitors are going to find the site. As a result, the designers may end up in disputes where some want more decorative graphics at the expense of keyword-rich text, bullet lists, and text links. Assuming a false dichotomy that form and function are mutually exclusive overlooks the possibility of integrating multiple disciplines for a collaborative and synergistic solution. In many cases form follows function. Because some graphics serve communication purposes in addition to aesthetics, how well a site works may depend on the graphic design ideas as well as the professional writing considerations.
When using a lot of graphics, a web page can load slowly, often irritating the user. This has become less of a problem as the internet has evolved with high-speed internet and the use of vector graphics. However there is still an ongoing engineering challenge to increase bandwidth and an artistic challenge to minimize the amount of graphics and their file sizes. This challenge is compounded since increased bandwidth encourages more graphics with larger file sizes.
When faced with a large database and many requirements, a design group may throw far too much information for a server to manage. Alternative technology or additional structure (even another server or site) may be required to fit the demand.
Layout refers to the dimensioning of content in a device display, and the delivery of media in a content related stream. Web design layouts result in visual content frameworks: these frameworks can be fixed, they can use units of measure that are relative, or they can provide fluid layout with proportional dimensions. The deployment flowchart (a useful tool on any design project) should address content layout. Many units of measure exist, but here are some popular dimension formats:
* Pixel measure results in fixed or static content
* Em measure results in proportional content that is relative to font-size
* Percent measure results in fluid content that shrinks and grows to “fit” display windows
Proportional, liquid and hybrid layout are also referred to as dynamic design. Hybrid layout incorporates any combination of fixed, proportional or fluid elements within (or pointing to) a single page. The hybrid web design framework is made possible by digital internet conventions generally prescribed by the W3C. If any layout does not appear as it should, it is very likely that it does not conform to standard design principles, or that those standards conflict with standard layout elements. Current knowledge of standards is essential to effective hybrid design.
The earliest web pages used fixed layouts without exception. In many business pages fixed layouts are preferred today as they easily contain static tabled information. Fixed layout enforces device display convention, as viewers must set their display to at least a certain width to easily view content. This width can include display of corporate logos, cautions, advertisements and any other target content. Design frameworks for fixed layout may need to include coding for multiple display devices.
Hybrid design maintains most static content control, but is adapted to textual publishing, and for readers, to conventional (printed) display. Hybrid layouts are generally easy on the eye and are found on most sites that distribute traditional images and text to readers. For some sites, hybrid design makes an otherwise cold text column appear warm and balanced. A good example of hybrid layout is WordPress, where liquid design is now optional, and movie and auditory media is stretching the envelope.
Fluid design is useful where content is delivered to an ‘unknown device’ population. Appropriate liquid code displays images, text and spaces proportional to display size. Someone with a handheld can see view and interact with the same content as someone using a large desktop monitor. However, scaling of content for a variety of devices has more recently evolved with modern web browsers, allowing users to see the same layout across all devices.