Web Design: Everything you know about websites is wrong. Well, nearly

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The Independent Culture
I HAVE noticed recently - in the questions that readers ask me, and in surfing the Web - that there are several "myths" regarding the design of websites. I would like to clear a few of these up:

1. Only programmers can create a dynamic website. Although JavaScript and DHTML take time to learn and understand, they can be used by just about anyone to create interesting sites (http:// www.independent.co.uk/ net/980706ne/story6.html).

2. Having standards for the Web will insure that anyone can develop websites. I am a great believer in the need for standards when creating sites (http://www. independent.co.uk/net/ 980317ne/story4. html), but the fact is that not just any standard will do. The World Wide Web Consortium is the primary arbitrator when it comes to Web standard creation, but the people who make up their committees are often either programmers or representatives from corporations with a vested interest. This means that the standards are often technically based, or rely on expensive software.

3. The number of awards a site has won can tell you how good it is. Design awards are confirmed on designers who have distinguished themselves by showing either originality or a masterful use of technique. These awards are given after careful consideration, usually by a diverse committee of design peers. However, there has been a proliferation of Web design awards. Whether a site of the week, site of the month, cool site or whatever, it seems that everyone - not least individuals or companies in the Web design business - is giving out awards online. There is a subtle reason for this. Web design awards take the form of a graphic that is placed in a prominent position on the "honoured" website. These graphics frequently link back to the confirming organisation's own website. Did anyone say "free advertisement"?

4. Attractive typography can not be created without the use of graphics. Until recently, text formatting was fairly limited and not very reliable between browsers or platforms. However, Cascading Style Sheets have opened possibilities for text layout without the need to resort to slow loading graphics (http:// www.independent.co.uk/net/980407ne/story8.html).

5. Web graphic artists do not need to understand HTML. Web design firms will often employ graphic artists who mock up the layout and graphics for a site and then have an HTML programmer put the site together. A graphic artist with even a basic understanding of how layout works in HTML using frames, tables and colours can save countless hours of development time when the HTML programmer has to cobble together the graphic artist's "vision". It is especially important for graphic artists to understand how Web graphics work, and the best ways to ensure small file sizes (http://www. independent.co.uk/net/980602ne/story5.html).

6. Visitors do not read text on the Web. One popular myth is that visitors coming to a website often do not read the text on it, but just skim it (http://www. independent.co.uk/net/980127ne/story7.html). In fact people are arriving in droves to get textual information on the Web.

7. Visitors are confused by hypertext. The Web is changing the way we read, process and synthesise information, and hypertext is playing a vital role in that evolution (http://www. independent.co.uk/net/980210ne/story5.html). Hypertext is the ability to link contextually words or phrases to related information. These links can then be accessed in order to explain the word or phrase in greater depth. To the hypertextually uninitiated, this may seem labyrinthine and intimidating, but as more people become accustomed, that is changing rapidly.

8. Visitors need a link to every option on the first page. This has come about because visitors often complain that they want to get to the information they need with the minimum number of mouse clicks. In response, Web designers attempt to cover all eventualities from the first page. But Web pages with dozens or even hundreds of links do not work, for several reasons. Links take longer to download than standard text. More important, it is difficult to find the link you want. A better idea is to sort the information in a logical manner and provide links to pages that will quickly download for the visitor to follow through to their desired goal.

9. The more frames used in a design, the worse it is. This is simply not true. Frames are a design tool like any other. Frames can be used - such as with Spinner.com (http://www. spinner.com) - to put together complex layouts that would be impossible by any other method.

10. Clients do not understand the Web. Probably the greatest myth in the field of Web design is that only people in the Web industry really "get it". The fact is that the Web is no longer the playground for a select few, but an open medium that is defined and redefined daily (sometimes hourly) by the people going online. Often clients may not be aware of the latest advancements and innovations in Web technology, but they do have a clear idea of what they wish to accomplish. It is the designer's job to talk and, most important, to listen to their clients to find out exactly what that is.

Have you noticed any Myths of Web design? Send me a line to indy_web design@mindspring.com

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