Web pages are somewhat akin to fashion. What makes a page look bright and modern one day will stigmatize it as old-fashioned a week later. No one ﬁnds a plain white page with small black type attractive, but add one too many colors or pictures and you have a page people will hate because it’s too “busy.” Where is the line between boring and gaudy, between childish and hopelessly complicated? Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.
Your page must reflect the subject matter it contains. You can’t sell cheese on a ﬂower-strewn background, and it takes a clever florist to work a skunk into an ad for roses. (Actually, I’ve seen that one, but the florist’s name was “Pugh.”) This book, The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese, uses a cartoon mouse throughout the chapter headings, so the title of the book’s webpage sometimes appears in a cartoon font. There’s great room for error, however. Littering the page with too many mice will eventually irritate your viewers. I recommend picking one element to show the theme, and then letting the page’s information carry the theme from then on.
Flash introductions used to be popular, as did animated gifs, which had little characters running across the computer screen. They are no longer surprising. Now they delay the appearance of the real information, and impatient readers will move on. The same is true of sound clips. I considered using a “cheer” on the web page for the online book launch I ran last year. Then a reviewer took me to task. She tried to visit the page at night while other family members were asleep. She was not amused to open the page and be greeted by a raucous crowd.
Other types of animations cause serious problems for viewers with physical limitations. Flashing lights, waving ﬂags, or other sudden or rhythmic visuals may actually trigger seizures in those who are susceptible to such stimuli. Those who are colorblind will miss parts of your page if the contrast between print and background is not great enough. Keystrokes that require two hands may be impossible for some. Information conveyed only by sight will be lost to those who are blind. Illustrations always need to be labeled with tags for those who use software such as “Jaws” to read what appears on the screen.
The quickest way to learn how to design your own webpage is by visiting the pages of others. See what appeals to you and what doesn’t. Note that too much information is a turn-off. Pay attention to the ease with which you can navigate the site. Are the buttons or links clearly marked and in a logical spot, or did you have to hunt for them? Was the most important information available quickly, or did you get lost trying to ﬁnd what you needed? Design your own page to make it easy to use.
Find more tips in The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese.