Web design. Not an easy and straightforward topic to write about, there are many opinions about what is "right" and what works, and many that can show that what they do actually does work. But all of them had to take some considerations into mind when making the pages, and that's the points I'm going to discuss here.
With millions of people on the net, it would be very difficult to make pages that suit all, so you'd better think of who you want to see your pages, and design your site with that in mind.
Targetting isn't only about choosing the topic, that's only part of the big picture. First of all, of course, comes the topic and content. And then: Who are you writing for? What are their level of knowledge? What language should you use? Professors in metaphysics understand a lot more about their field than the man in the street, and will use a whole different set of terms and definitions to describe it than the rest of us.
Secondly, what equipment do your audience use? Windows-based PCs? UNIX-boxes at work? Macs, Acorns, or Amigas? Or maybe something completely different, like a hand held computer? Or one that reads the text, or are capable of using braille?
Then you have the choice to target people that use specific hardware and plug-ins. With this approach, you have no idea who is able to and will visit your pages. Also remember, there are many different plug-ins for the various browsers, some of which only exist for certain platforms. As you can see, this is not the most suitable way to implement many sorts of pages. You have to think carefully of what you want with your pages before you decide what is best for you.
You've settled for an audience, and want to take height for differeent configurations and platforms. The topics are decided. What now? Well, this is, I believe, the most important aspect when creating homepages: Content.
You may have heard the expression: "Content is King!" And there is a simple reason for this: Without content, visitors will soon leave, never to come back nor recommend it to others. There must be something that grab the visitors' interest, and keep them there. If you're an artist, this may be nice graphics, and maybe some accompanying text where you tell about the pictures, how they're made etc. Just think: What would you like to see/read if you were a visitor? Depending on the topics, this may not always be text...
Whatever your topic is, be sure to present it as good as possible. Well written text, accessible graphics, quality sound or whatever. Make the stay at your pages worthwhile. Offer something so that people come back for more.
Also an important aspect when designing your own homepages. This is not only about presenting your site in an attractive manner, and making it look good and fancy. It is how the site works, from the impression it makes to the ease of navigation. But let's start with presentation. There are many different and equally successful ways to approach this, so I won't say to do it this way or that way, but there are things that shouldn't be forgot.
Quite a few people are connected via a modem, paying for their connection time. So I think it's important to stress this: Make quick-loading pages! This may not always be possible, but in that case it would be appropriate with a warning of some kind. Most important would be to keep the front page small and inviting, so that visitors will decide that it will be worth waiting for pages later.
But how to make pages load quick? Well, text loads quick, but it is a good idea to keep the pages short anyway. What takes time is loading graphics (and sound etc.) so make these as small as possible. Use jpegs for photos - experiment with the compression to find the best combination of size and quality. For other graphics, use gif or maybe the png format. Reduce colours as much as possible. It is possible to use the browser to scale down pictures, but don't. Scale them down in a image-program, as the resulting pages will load quicker.
I've seen a limit of 20-40 Kb for the front page mentioned in discussion-forums. This is the page that will "sell" your site; make it attractive so that visitors may accept longer pages if they believe the result is worth the wait.
Make sure you have no broken links - test your site thoroughly. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? But still I find broken links too often, they may even refer to pages/images on the creator's harddisk... As sites come and go frequently on the net, it's bound to happen that links to other sites get broken now and then, but local links should never be broken, as you have full control over these yourself, and is easily avoided. Test your pages before you upload them, and after - just to make sure you don't refer to pages and images located on your hd...
As I mentioned briefly earlier, you should keep the size of your images as small as possible. Try different settings of the compression of JPEG images, and see how many colours you need in GIF images. You can reduce the size very much without losing too much detail.
Another aspect to think of is: What is the purpose of the image? Maybe you don't need real good quality? Maybe you could use some special filters and process your images so that they look quite different, takes less space, but still is just as useful? Remember, even two-coloured pictures can be very capable of illustrating your text and make the point come through.
I will also mention that the alt-option in the <img>-tag should be used to describe the picture. After all, it isn't unusual to browse with a text-browser or with image-loading turned off for speed, so a little text to help would be nice, especially where the images are used for links.
Oh, and don't let that "under construction" sign stay there for ages. (Any good sites are constantly evolving anyway...)
This article merely have a few views on different aspects of web design. I have barely touched many points that deserve their own articles, but there should be enough here to start you thinking of what good design is. You may disagree with me and reach different conclusions (which you are welcome to tell me,) but as long as you think of your options and what choices you have, you are more likely to make good pages.
If you want to read more, here are a few links that I find useful:
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