My Philosophy on Web Design

Hello, and welcome to the site. This is an explanation of why I built this site the way that I did and a small insight into how I approach websites.

Firstly, you'll note the casual tone of the text. I intersperse jokes and banter throughout. Pictures have funny names, extended parenthesis abound. This is purely due to the nature of the site, and it doesn't reflect some deeply held inner belief that websites must be frivolous (or even that I believe that I am actually entertaining, rather than just irritating people).

One of the questions that is most important, when designing a site is "Why are you building a website?" It sounds obvious, but a glance through the web will show you that a lot of people don't ask it at all before building their site. In fact, it seems that a lot of people start off with "What cool new wing-ding can I use?" This is, in my opinion, a mistake.

In the case of this site, the answer is "In order to store pictures of my daughter as she is growing up and to enable friends and family to see them without the need for huge postal bills". This leads me to some more questions that I should tackle long before I start building the thing.

Who are the people likely to use the site?

The audience of this site is limited. I do not really want people from around the world finding pictures of my daughter on their screens. I really only want the people that I tell about the site to know about it. As such, it is not registered with any search engines, nor is there any metadata on the pages (in order to prevent web robots from indexing the page effectively).

In addition, the audience of the site is very diverse. We have Germans, English, Australians, old, young, experienced users, complete novices and some who use accessibility technology, including my wife. Incidentally, you may note Australians in the list there and think "What, don't Australians have the same language or something?" Well, one of the Australians in question lives on a sheep station in the outback, and her connection isn't exactly very quick. As such, I wanted a big, reliable web host (who provides free service to boot) who wouldn't flake out in the middle of downloading an image, and I had to ensure that pages were simple and small.

You may also notice that I include novice users. All websites are used by novice users. If you want to allow novice users to use your site, you have to think about usability. That means that you keep things as simple as you can in order to accomplish your goal (the answer to the first question). If your goal is complex then you may have to accept that some users will not be able to cope, but it might be better to ask whether your goal should be simplified. You don't reinvent the wheel every time that you build a site. Someone, somewhere out there has produced every menu system that you can build. They've built them floating about in the middle, in separate windows, in JavaScript dropdowns, in Flash, I've even seen one where you have to chase the menu items in order to get to the address details of the restaurant that the site was supposedly advertising. You don't need them, your users don't need them. They want something that they don't have to think about to use. They don't want to appreciate your webpage, they want to get the information that they came for.

You'll also notice the users with accessibility technology. My wife is visually impaired and uses JAWS to read pages. Other friends of ours use Braille displays. Even if they didn't, it is my belief that, if you design a website with a VI user in mind, you will produce a very usable site. The W3C WAI guidelines are the definitive resource here.

Is it going to be updated often?

Yes, it is. Every month, hopefully. As such I need a simple method of updating it. I am currently switching from an array based system to a database method, in order to make it even easier to update, but that will cost me money to upgrade my service. The site has been enough of a success that it warrants that extra expenditure.

Either way, I needed to think about how easy it would be to edit from the very start. Building a lot of flat HTML pages was going to be far too cumbersome, so I used VBScript and ASP to build dynamic pages. When I add images, I just have to add a new array to an include file, reference it in the code (a one line change) and the pictures are there. Editing and enhancing the pictures takes far longer than updating the site.

Is it going to contain a lot of information, either in terms of pictures or text?

Yes. Lots of pictures. This means that I am going to need to have an overall design strategy from the very beginning, rather than running with a series of small redesigns with each change in information. A system of galleries, metagalleries and thumbnails seemed to be the most effective solution.

The result of this is the site that you see before you. It is simple and, to some eyes plain, but it is very user-friendly and the information that it provides is easy to get to. I hope. My test subjects thought so, at least. Also, whether you use a screen reader, change fonts and colour on web pages, or are just not that good at seeing, you should be able to navigate the page.


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