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Ten Tips for Better Website Design

Build for the user, not the designer

Sure your flash splash page may be pretty... the first time around. Then again, I fast-forward through commercials whenever possible. Why do you think I'd voluntarily go out of my way to subject myself to them?

Unless the intended website is a shrine to the great and wonderful designer, build for the user, not designer ego gratification. Use tools like flash for practical reasons; not because you think they're cool. The designer should use his skills and talent to present the content in a visually interesting way, but when design overwhelms content, there's a serious problem with the website.

Don't keep rearranging the furniture

Imagine if the numbers on your telephone were in a different order each time you went to make a call. Navigation on a website should be consistent, both in its location, and its order. If a user has to keep figuring out how to navigate your site, it's a good bet they're going to figure out how to leave it pretty quick.

Not all viewers are created equal

It's a diverse and wonderful world out there; remember that when designing websites. Visitors to your websites won't necessarily be using the same system you are; there are different browser versions, browsers, operating systems, monitor resolutions and connection speeds. Unless you specifically want to limit visitors, don't pick the highest resolutions, large file downloads, or proprietary browser features. If you really, really, really want to use something that only a portion of your viewers will be able to utilize, have some form of alternatives for the have-nots.

Content, content, content

Why else would anyone want to visit your site?

Quality is job 1

It's impossible to be perfek all the time. But if your site is littered with misspellings, broken graphics and links, its credibility will definitely be lacking. You wouldn't want to get up to address a large group of people and discover your fly is open. Check your work before you make it public.

Let the user feel validated

If you have forms on your website, don't make them a guessing game for the user. Clearly indicate optional or mandatory fields. Validate the form info so that you get the info you want, and the user doesn't get a nasty server error message. And on the off chance the user does make a mistake filling out the form, generate friendly and instructional error messages. Make your guests feel like idiots and they probably won't stick around too long.

Opening too many windows lets in a draft

When did browser windows become rabbits? You start on a website with one window open, and it multiplies exponentially before you're finished. I'm not talking about advertising pop ups; I'm talking regular site browsing. There are good reasons why you may want to pop open a new window. Perhaps you're taking users to another site, and you don't want to lose them off yours. Or maybe it's a secondary viewing window intended to supplement what's in the main window. But have a plan or reason for opening new window. Give the user the benefit of the doubt... if he doesn't know how to use the back button, do you really want them on your site?

Try not to cause epileptic seizures

Words, sounds, images... There's a lot you can do on a website. But too much of anything is a bad thing. One animated graphic may be nice, but ten can be sensory overload. Then throwing in music? Unless you're building something to enhance Nyquil induced hallucinations, less is more is probably a safer bet.

The shortest path between two points is a straight line

Just a wild guess, but you probably want lots and lots of people to visit your site. You want people to return to your site; and you want people to send other people to your site. Help them out, make your pages bookmarkable. If a user can't come back to the exact page that caught their interest, or send that link to a friend, chances are they'll find another site where they can.

Obey the laws of gravity

For some reason, people are conditioned to scroll vertically. Up and down is no problem; you can have a page a mile long, and people will be willing to scroll through it. On the other hand, horizontal scrolls are just unnatural. And before you argue with me, ask yourself how many times you've seen a horizontal scroll mouse.

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