Thursday, April 10, 2008

Web design

Web design is a process of conceptualization, planning, modeling, and execution of electronic media content delivery via Internet in the form of technologies (such as markup languages) suitable for interpretation and display by a web browser or other web-based graphical user interfaces (GUIs).

The intent of web design is to create a web site (a collection of electronic files residing on one or more web servers) that presents content (including interactive features or interfaces) to the end user in the form of web pages once requested. Such elements as text, forms, and bit-mapped images (GIFs, JPEGs, PNGs) can be placed on the page using HTML, XHTML, or XML tags. Displaying more complex media (vector graphics, animations, videos, sounds) requires plug-ins such as Flash, QuickTime, Java run-time environment, etc. Plug-ins are also embedded into web pages by using HTML or XHTML tags.

Improvements in the various browsers' compliance with W3C standards prompted a widespread acceptance of XHTML and XML in conjunction with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to position and manipulate web page elements. The latest standards and proposals aim at leading to the various browsers' ability to deliver a wide variety of media and accessibility options to the client possibly without employing plug-ins.

Typically web pages are classified as static or dynamic.

* Static pages don’t change content and layout with every request unless a human (web master or programmer) manually updates the page.

* Dynamic pages adapt their content and/or appearance depending on the end-user’s input or interaction or changes in the computing environment (user, time, database modifications, etc.) Content can be changed on the client side (end-user's computer) by using client-side scripting languages (JavaScript, JScript, Actionscript, media players and PDF reader plug-ins, etc.) to alter DOM elements (DHTML). Dynamic content is often compiled on the server utilizing server-side scripting languages (Coldfusion, ASP, JSP, Perl, PHP, Python, etc.). Both approaches are usually used in complex applications.

With growing specialization within communication design and information technology fields, there is a strong tendency to draw a clear line between web design specifically for web pages and web development for the overall logistics of all web-based services.


Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, published a website in August 1991. Berners-Lee was the first to combine Internet communication (which had been carrying email and the Usenet for decades) with hypertext (which had also been around for decades, but limited to browsing information stored on a single computer, such as interactive CD-ROM design). Websites are written in a markup language called HTML, and early versions of HTML were very basic, only giving websites basic structure (headings and paragraphs), and the ability to link using hypertext. This was new and different from existing forms of communication - users could easily navigate to other pages by following hyperlinks from page to page.

As the Web and web design progressed, the markup language changed to become more complex and flexible, giving the ability to add objects like images and tables to a page. Features like tables, which were originally intended to be used to display tabular information, were soon subverted for use as invisible layout devices. With the advent of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), table-based layout is increasingly regarded as outdated. Database integration technologies such as server-side scripting and design standards like CSS further changed and enhanced the way the Web is made. As times change websites are changing inside(scripts) and out(design) because of the way programs and utilities are created and further developed.

With the progression of the Web, thousands of web design companies have been established around the world to serve the growing demand for such work. As with much of the information technology industry, many web design companies have been established in technology parks in the developing world as well as many Western design companies setting up offices in countries such as India, Romania, and Russia to take advantage of the relatively lower labor rates found in such countries.

Web site design

A Web site is a collection of information about a particular topic or subject. Designing a web site is defined as the arrangement and creation of web pages that in turn make up a web site. A web page consists of information for which the web site is developed. A web site might be compared to a book, where each page of the book is a web page.

There are many aspects (design concerns) in this process, and due to the rapid development of the Internet, new aspects may emerge. For non-commercial web sites, the goals may vary depending on the desired exposure and response. For typical commercial web sites, the basic aspects of design are:

* The content: the substance, and information on the site should be relevant to the site and should target the area of the public that the website is concerned with.
* The usability: the site should be user-friendly, with the interface and navigation simple and reliable.
* The appearance: the graphics and text should include a single style that flows throughout, to show consistency. The style should be professional, appealing and relevant.
* The visibility: the site must also be easy to find via most, if not all, major search engines and advertisement media.

A web site typically consists of text and images. The first page of a web site is known as the Home page or Index. Some web sites use what is commonly called a Splash Page. Splash pages might include a welcome message, language or region selection, or disclaimer. Each web page within a web site is an HTML file which has its own URL. After each web page is created, they are typically linked together using a navigation menu composed of hyperlinks. Faster browsing speeds have led to shorter attention spans and more demanding online visitors and this has resulted in less use of Splash Pages, particularly where commercial web sites are concerned.

Once a web site is completed, it must be published or uploaded in order to be viewable to the public over the internet. This may be done using an FTP client. Once published, the web master may use a variety of techniques to increase the traffic, or hits, that the web site receives. This may include submitting the web site to a search engine such as Google or Yahoo, exchanging links with other web sites, creating affiliations with similar web sites, etc.

Multidisciplinary requirements

Web site design crosses multiple disciplines of information systems, information technology and communication design. The web site is an information system whose components are sometimes classified as front-end and back-end. The observable content (e.g. page layout, user interface, graphics, text, audio) is known as the front-end. The back-end comprises the organization and efficiency of the source code, invisible scripted functions, and the server-side components that process the output from the front-end. Depending on the size of a Web development project, it may be carried out by a multi-skilled individual (sometimes called a web master), or a project manager may oversee collaborative design between group members with specialized skills.


As in most collaborative designs, there are conflicts between differing goals and methods of web site designs. These are a few of the ongoing ones.

Lack of collaboration in design

In the early stages of the web, there wasn't as much collaboration between web designs and larger advertising campaigns, customer transactions, social networking, intranets and extranets as there is now. Web pages were mainly static online brochures disconnected from the larger projects.

Many web pages are still disconnected from larger projects. Special design considerations are necessary for use within these larger projects. These design considerations are often overlooked, especially in cases where there is a lack of leadership, lack of understanding of why and technical knowledge of how to integrate, or lack of concern for the larger project in order to facilitate collaboration. This often results in unhealthy competition or compromise between departments, and less than optimal use of web pages.

Liquid versus fixed layouts

On the web the designer has no control over several factors, including the size of the browser window, the web browser used, the input devices used (mouse, touch screen, voice command, text, cell phone number pad, etc.) and the size and characteristics of available fonts.

Some designers choose to control the appearance of the elements on the screen by using specific width designations. This control may be achieved through the use of a HTML table-based design or a more semantic div-based design through the use of CSS. Whenever the text, images, and layout of a design do not change as the browser changes, this is referred to as a fixed width design. Proponents of fixed width design prefer precise control over the layout of a site and the precision placement of objects on the page. Other designers choose a liquid design. A liquid design is one, like Wikipedia, where the design moves to flow content into the whole screen, or a portion of the screen, no matter what the size of the browser window. Proponents of liquid design prefer greater compatibility and using the screen space available. Liquid design can be achieved through the use of CSS, by avoiding styling the page altogether, or by using HTML tables (or more semantic divs) set to a percentage of the page. Both liquid and fixed design developers must make decisions about how the design should degrade on higher and lower screen resolutions. Sometimes the pragmatic choice is made to flow the design between a minimum and a maximum width. This allows the designer to avoid coding for the browser choices making up The Long Tail, while still using all available screen space. Depending on the purpose of the content, a web designer may decide to use either fixed or liquid layouts on a case-by-case basis.

Similar to liquid layout is the optional fit to window feature with Adobe Flash content. This is a fixed layout that optimally scales the content of the page without changing the arrangement or text wrapping when the browser is resized.


Adobe Flash (formerly Macromedia Flash) is a proprietary, robust graphics animation or application development program used to create and deliver dynamic content, media (such as sound and video), and interactive applications over the web via the browser.

Flash is not a standard produced by a vendor-neutral standards organization like most of the core protocols and formats on the Internet. Flash is much more restrictive than the open HTML format, though, requiring a proprietary plugin to be seen, and it does not integrate with most web browser UI features like the "Back" button.

According to a study, 98% of US Web users have the Flash Player installed. Numbers vary depending on the detection scheme and research demographics.

Many graphic artists use Flash because it gives them exact control over every part of the design, and anything can be animated and generally "jazzed up". Some application designers enjoy Flash because it lets them create applications that do not have to be refreshed or go to a new web page every time an action occurs. Flash can use embedded fonts instead of the standard fonts installed on most computers. There are many sites which forgo HTML entirely for Flash. Other sites may use Flash content combined with HTML as conservatively as gifs or jpegs would be used, but with smaller vector file sizes and the option of faster loading animations. Flash may also be used to protect content from unauthorized duplication or searching. Alternatively, small, dynamic Flash objects may be used to replace standard HTML elements (such as headers or menu links) with advanced typography not possible via regular HTML or CSS (see Scalable Inman Flash Replacement).

Flash detractors claim that Flash websites tend to be poorly designed, and often use confusing and non-standard user-interfaces. Up until recently, search engines have been unable to index Flash objects, which has prevented sites from having their contents easily found. This is because many search engine crawlers rely on text to index websites. It is possible to specify alternate content to be displayed for browsers that do not support Flash. Using alternate content also helps search engines to understand the page, and can result in much better visibility for the page. However, the vast majority of Flash websites are not disability accessible (for screen readers, for example) or Section 508 compliant. An additional issue is that sites which commonly use alternate content for search engines to their human visitors are usually judged to be spamming search engines and are automatically banned.

The most recent incarnation of Flash's scripting language (called "ActionScript", which is an ECMA language similar to JavaScript) incorporates long-awaited usability features, such as respecting the browser's font size and allowing blind users to use screen readers. Actionscript 2.0 is an Object-Oriented language, allowing the use of CSS, XML, and the design of class-based web applications.

CSS versus tables

When Netscape Navigator 4 dominated the browser market, the popular solution available for designers to lay out a Web page was by using tables. Often even simple designs for a page would require dozens of tables nested in each other. Many web templates in Dreamweaver and other WYSIWYG editors still use this technique today. Navigator 4 didn't support CSS to a useful degree, so it simply wasn't used.

After the browser wars subsided, and the dominant browsers such as Internet Explorer became more W3C compliant, designers started turning toward CSS as an alternate means of laying out their pages. CSS proponents say that tables should be used only for tabular data, not for layout. Using CSS instead of tables also returns HTML to a semantic markup, which helps bots and search engines understand what's going on in a web page. All modern Web browsers support CSS with different degrees of limitations.

However, one of the main points against CSS is that by relying on it exclusively, control is essentially relinquished as each browser has its own quirks which result in a slightly different page display. This is especially a problem as not every browser supports the same subset of CSS rules. For designers who are used to table-based layouts, developing Web sites in CSS often becomes a matter of trying to replicate what can be done with tables, leading some to find CSS design rather cumbersome due to lack of familiarity. For example, at one time it was rather difficult to produce certain design elements, such as vertical positioning, and full-length footers in a design using absolute positions. With the abundance of CSS resources available online today, though, designing with reasonable adherence to standards involves little more than applying CSS 2.1 or CSS 3 to properly structured markup.

These days most modern browsers have solved most of these quirks in CSS rendering and this has made many different CSS layouts possible. However, some people continue to use old browsers, and designers need to keep this in mind, and allow for graceful degrading of pages in older browsers. Most notable among these old browsers are Internet Explorer 5 and 5.5, which, according to some web designers, are becoming the new Netscape Navigator 4 — a block that holds the World Wide Web back from converting to CSS design. However, the W3 Consortium has made CSS in combination with XHTML the standard for web design.


See Also