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Authoring and Design for the WWW


The Death Resource

Death Resource main page

The aim of this Web site is to provide, in a clear and accessible way, information which will be of immediate practical use to those involved with a death. A design was needed which offered openness and informality without appearing trivial or patronising.

It is particularly important that the visual and interaction design of such a site does not get in the way of clear and effective communication. The opening page presents a simple and uncluttered appearance.

Background colour matters

Replacing the standard grey of the browser window with white evokes concepts of clarity and lightness.

Graphical buttons

Areas of the screen are indicated as clickable using the by now standard convention of drop shadows. There is little room for doubt as to which items on the screen are clickable and which not, despite the absence of the standard blue box around hot graphics.

It is of course essential not to misuse such graphical conventions for things which in fact are not active.

Graphical text

Live text in browsers has disadvantages: the designer cannot choose the font (since the font may not be on the user's machine); and the text cannot be anti-aliased (which would help disguise the jaggedness of the screen pixels by blending the edges into the background).

Rendering the text in a graphics program overcomes these problems, but at a price. The download time will be longer, more work is required of the designer, and the text cannot be found by any searching process (since to the machine it is just graphic pixels). Text-only browsers will not display these graphics at all, so it is essential to use HTML's ALT attribute within the <IMG> tag to put a textual substitute in place of each missing graphic.

Bottom of Death Resource main page

Information structure

The title page need contain little text. By presenting this sparse appearance, it avoids overwhelming the user. The six buttons lead to logically grouped clusters of information.

Items which need to be constantly available to the user are presented in three Netscape frames at the bottom of the screen. The links item only presents links to existing sites created by others, and deliberately does not include links which are internal to this site. The e-mail item allows the user to mail an enquiry or comment at any time (the browser opens its e-mail facility when the user clicks on this area), using the mailto: mail_address form of URL.

Technical aspects of frames

The main technical advantage of frames is that, when one frame is updated by the arrival of new information, the other frames of the browser window are left undisturbed. Only the frame targeted is re-rendered. This means that downloading time is not wasted, and the user is not distracted by unchanged items being needlessly redrawn.

However, as browsers become better able to support the positioning of information within a single frame, and selective updating within single frames becomes possible, the need for the frame structure may decline.

From an information design point of view, frames are regrettable since they introduce yet more screen-furniture which is not part of the actual information.

Legal aspects page from Death Resource

To scroll or not to scroll?

Casual visitors to Web pages do not generally make the effort to scroll a browser window in order to uncover further information. However, with an already motivated user, it may be acceptable to present text which is longer than the standard window. If an extensive document is presented in this way, it is kind to the user to provide hypertext anchors at the top of the page, and perhaps at the bottom as well, which allow the user to jump to the various subheads elsewhere in the same page.

If frames are not used, and therefore there is no place to present a separate set of navigation controls, then it is also considerate to provide navigation buttons at the top and bottom of a long document, and even, for a very long document, at intervals in between.

It is important to remember that not all displays show the same area of pixels, so that it is always unwise to make assumptions about what is and is not within the user's view.

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