The principles of good web design revolve around a number of central core factors. One important central criterion in the development of the principles of effective web design is to fully understand crucial characteristics of the medium. Another central aspect is to base your design message on aim and communication. The first factor -- understanding the medium of the Internet - is an essential and often neglected factor in web design as will become evident in the discussion of the various principles. Secondly, it should always be remembered that, within the context of the specific medium, being able to communicate quickly and effectively with the viewer or client is what makes a good Web site effective. The intended purpose of the web site is also another cardinal feature that influences the principles of design as it is in the creative presentation that is determines its ultimate level of success. It is within the ambit of these aspects that Web design principles have been developed. While a particular Web site may have a striking and pleasing appearance, if it does not take cognizance of the specific medium and if it cannot communicate its aims and intension clearly then it will have failed in its designed purpose. Therefore, many authors and experts emphasize the necessity of understanding the specific medium and perceive the Web as a unique environment which has its own specific principles of design and function and requirements.
Web design is a complex and experiential field as there are many factors to take into consideration such as the way Web pages are viewed and displayed on different browsers and on different platforms. A beautifully designed site with all the Flash, Shockwave and other paraphernalia that can be used sometimes fail because a relatively simple issue like navigation has not been properly implemented or thought through. The following discussion will refer to some specific areas of design which will expand the central criteria already mentioned.
2. Principles of Web Design
2.1. The importance of planning
One of the fundamental principles of Web Design is planning. This requires insight and a projection of vision into what the client, customer or viewer requires of that specific Web site. The designer should essentially have a clear and unambiguous idea of what the Web site proposes to achieve and how these objectives are to be presented and communicated to prospective viewers. Most Web designers spend many hours with pen and paper sketching various scenarios and testing different design models before implementing them online. Ruffini (2001) emphasizes the crucial importance of the planning phase of Web design as follows:
'Just as planning is important in building a house, planning is also very important in developing a Website. Planning can ensure a quality Website, save time and make the content of the Website easy to navigate. A systems approach to Web development is an overall plan that gives attention to all the essential elements in designing a Website. The following questions will guide the systematic planning of your site.
1. Who are your Website visitors? (Target Web audience) 2. What are the content and depth and breadth of information in your Website? (Goals and objectives of your site) 3. How are you going to arrange the topics and subtopics of your site? (Sketch out Web pages using index cards or flowchart) 4. What are you going to use to construct your Website? (Selection of a Web authoring program) (Ruffini, 2001, p. 64)
The elements mentioned above all relate to central preparatory aspects of the design process. These are essential questions that the designer needs to ask in order to implement the best possible elements for that particular Web site.
2.2. The Target Audience
Concomitant with the principle of planning is the assessment of the proposed target audience. As Ruffii and others state, "When beginning the planning process, it is important to identify the specific audience that will be coming to your Website." (ibid) The designer is required to ask specific questions such as: who is the site being developed for and the age, gender and financial status of the projected viewership. (ibid) This is an essential aspect as the audience or viewers must be taken into account at every stage of the design process in order for the site to be successful.
2.3. Goals and Objectives
As mentioned above, setting appropriate goals and objectives is an integral part of the initial design phase. Unclear objectives will be reflected in the overall design of the site which will make it lose focus and intensity. As Ruffini indicates, "Goals provide the general frameworks of your Website and are broad statements that indicate the purpose of the site." (ibid)_
2.4. Repeat visits and updating
In terms of intention one of the most basic and obvious requirements of a Web site is not only to attract viewership but also to attract return visits. The measure of a well designed and effective site lies in its ability to attract viewers to visit it regularly. This incentive relates to a number of other principles such as content which will be discussed below. Planning also involves the important aspect of content which can be regularly updated. Planning does not just refer to presentation but also includes aspects such as content, database accessibility and functionality that must be catered for in order to have a site that is regularly updated with fresh data. The following is a professional view on this aspect. Koreto (1997) states, "I return to Web sites because they have useful information that is updated regularly ... If you have attention-grabbing content someone will visit you again in a week or two. If there's nothing new, the chance of a third visit is slim." (Koreto, 1997, p 83) This aspect is extremely important in generating return visits to a Web site.
2.5. Presentation: graphics and color
The area of web design that involves the inclusion of graphics and color covers a wide range of technical and other prerequisites. Marcus (1990), McFarland (1995), and many other experts in the field of web design are of the opinion that color is an element that should be used sparingly and mainly to highlight important areas to draw attention to key points of the site. This minimalist approach to the use of color has certainly been the trend in recent years and a visit to the Webby awards site (www.Webbyawards.com) clearly illustrates this point. It is also important in terms of usability to use Web-safe colors in the design. The use of color also plays a major role in the legibility of the text on a site. Using a dark background color might obscure dark text fonts and make it difficult to read.
The use of graphic elements is also a complex topic, particularly with the wide range of image formats available today. It is common design practice to use only the most commonly accessible formats (JPG, GIF, PNG) in order to make the site accessible to as many people as possible. Another design principle is the necessity of keeping graphic elements on sites small in size. Zimmerman (1997) The reason for this is that larger graphics retard the loading speed of the page and can influence viewers to click away instead of having to wait for long periods of time to view the site.
Another important aspect to consider when planning and designing a Web site is the type of content that is to be presented. One very important aspect that many designers, particularly with regard to commercial sites, have found is that content that works well offline is not always as successful online. This relates back to the previous point about the unique medium of the Internet. Design in the world of ordinary publishing differs vastly from design applications for the Web. Koreto (1997) emphasizes this important point.
The philosophy of Web site content was summed up neatly by Janet G. Caswell. CPA, a member of the AICPA IT practices subcommittee. "Many companies try to transfer their existing business models to the Web, which simply doesn't work. Requiring people to pay for every bit of advice provided through the site is the complete opposite of the expectations of Web surfers. To be successful, companies need to modify their Website business models to satisfy the demands of their audience. Web surfers require some free information to feel they've had a satisfying experience with a site."
(Koreto, 1997, p 83)
As the above quotation implies, content is becoming even more of an important principle of good contemporary Web design. The desire for overdone and glitzy sites has waned over recent years in favor of informative and current content.
Many commentators and pundits reiterate a fundamental principle of Web design, namely that a static Website does not adhere to the requirements of the medium which is essentially dynamic. Geerts et al. ( 2000) emphasize this point and also that many ignore this crucial point as it can be extremely time consuming.…