Web Site Design
Web Site Design
Web site design is the process of creating a site on the Internet. Internet users view Web sites with a software program known as a Web browser. Each Web site has a unique address usually referred to as a unique resource locator or URL. Web sites can consist of text, graphics, audio files, video files, and animation. For many businesses, a Web site can be a virtual "storefront" that enables the company to sell products and services to customers and clients around the world at a relatively small price.
The most common way that small companies establish a presence on the Internet is by setting up a simple homepage that provides potential customers with information on the company and its products. The essentially limitless storage space of the computer network means that businesses are free to post as much information as they wish about themselves—computerized versions of brochures and press releases; product catalogs, complete with photos; a company overview; news and notes related to the industry the company serves; and contact and technical support information. This makes it easy for consumers to locate information about the company 24 hours a day.
Business Web sites also provide visitors with the means to order goods and services electronically. With direct online purchasing, customers identify an item they wish to purchase from the company, fill out an order form and provide their credit card number, and then transmit that information electronically to the company. The product is then shipped directly to the customer. The advantages to this method of selling are obvious. Instead of being restricted to a local market, even the smallest company can now reach users around the world. Customers can locate information about the company or order a product 24 hours a day. Customers with questions can now find very specific information about a company's products or services.
HOW TO DESIGN A WEB PAGE
When designing a Web page, certain information should always be included:
- Basic Company Information—This can include vision or mission statements, a history of the business, a summary of business philosophy, etc. The key is to sell the customer on the company.
- Product Line Information—Commercial Web pages should include photos and text descriptions outlining the benefits of the products. Features, applications, and examples can also be highlighted. Consultants often recommend that businesses establish separate pages or sections for each major product line—connected, of course, to the main company Web site.
- Technical support—Frequently asked questions, parts information, product diagrams, and technical specifications are just some of the ways a company can provide support from its Web site.
- Ordering information—Companies should include an electronic mail or hardcopy form with instructions on how to order a product.
- Service section—Free information that is of interest to potential customers, designed to keep them coming back to the site. Industry news and trends are good examples of this kind of information, which is a feature of increasing numbers of business-oriented sites.
- "What's New"—This section is essentially intended to inform visitors of new initiatives, products, etc., that are covered on the Web site.
Once you decide what to put on your homepage, it is time to actually create the site. Web pages are written using a language called the Hypertext Mark-up Language. HTML, as it is more commonly known, is a series of tags and codes that instruct a Web browser on how the text on that page should be displayed. Once a page has been written using HTML, the page must be placed on the host computer, or server, of an Internet provider. HTML can be created using any common word processing package or via any one of the proliferating HTML editor software packages available in the marketplace.
One of the more important features of HTML is the "hypertext" feature. This means that text can be highlighted on a Web page so that when a customer clicks on a word or an image, a link to a new page on that site (or even another site altogether) is called up on the computer screen. This allows customers to move freely on a site and allows for design creativity and flexibility.
Learning the basics of HTML coding is not difficult, and an ambitious business owner who has the time and the initiative may create his or her own homepage from scratch. However, as the Web has continued to grow, pages have become far more sophisticated in appearance, convincing some businesses to outsource the design and creation of the site to firms that specialize in providing such services.
Having a Web site does not, of course, guarantee visitors. As the Internet has grown it has become much more like any other established marketplace. To attract visitors and attention requires a great deal of marketing work. One would not, for example, tape a small 8-inch by 12-inch promotional sign onto the wall inside of a major shopping mall and expect that the sign alone would generate business. Posting a basic Web site on the Internet is, in many ways, a similar act. Web design firms can be very helpful in establishing a marketing program designed to promote a new Web site. By advertising it in other Internet locations and by registering the site with the dozens of Internet directory services that exist, new site exposure can be increased dramatically.
Flaws in a Web site have a way of causing a disproportionately large negative impact. Company e-sites with errors in content, structure, or navigation have the capacity to plunge businesses far behind their competitors and obliterate painstaking calculations of return on investment. Such flaws can be avoided by proper testing and design from the beginning. The use of a prototype site—a scaled-down working model of the finished product—for pre-launch testing is always a good idea. A prototype lets you get a first look at what users will see as they click through your site, and it can expose unforeseen flaws in your structure and navigation.
Whether you choose to create your company's Web site yourself or outsource the project, the expense of creating a basic informational site is relatively modest. Small business owners should also keep several other cost factors in mind when weighing an entrance onto the Web. For instance, businesses who do not serve as their own Web server are required to pay a monthly charge to a professional Internet hosting firm. Some companies choose to serve as their own host for control and security reasons, but others prefer to enlist a professional hosting firm, which can provide technical support and e-commerce experience at a relatively modest price (hosting fees vary from $10 to $100 a month).
Once the site is on a host computer, users from around the world can then access the homepage, which is given an address that is unique to the entire Web. That address is one part of naming your site. The chosen name can be secured through a domain provider, if the company chooses to go the in-house route. Otherwise, the contracted outside server will purchase the domain name.
POSITIONING AND MAINTAINING A BUSINESS HOMEPAGE
Sites can be freestanding, or they can be a part of a larger online "mall." Hundreds of retail malls have opened on the Web, some more successful than others. Before choosing an Internet provider to store your homepage, do some research on popular online malls and see where your company might best fit in. Visit the sites yourself, and see what you like and do not like. This research step can be an essential component of Internet success for companies, because location can be just as important on the Web as it is in real life.
Even after your Web site has been successfully launched and is up and running, the work does not end. The site needs to be updated on a regular basis to ensure continued content integrity. Areas to monitor include:
- Price changes
- Product changes
- Adding pages to describe other parts of your business
- Adding new links and eliminating obsolete links
- Updating images
- Overhauling the entire site when it becomes tired looking
Once again, you will have to decide if you want to undertake the updating yourself or if you want to hire a firm to handle the work for you.
see also Advertising Media—Internet; HTML; Internet Domain Name; Search Engine
"How to Build Your Firm's Web Site." Baltimore Business Journal. 23 March 2001.
MacDonald, Matthew. Creating Web Sites: The Missing Manual. O'Reilly, October 2005.
McCarthy, Paul. "Small Firms Can Succeed in the E-Business Game." Computer Weekly. 30 November 2000.
Morain, Erin. "Web Sites Jockey for Search Engine Optimization: Optimization strategies allow businesses to break through online clutter and stay ahead of improving search engines." Business Record (Des Moines). 17 April 2006.
Reynolds, Janice, and Roya Mofazali. The Complete E-Commerce Book: Design, Build and Maintain a Successful Web-Based Business. CMP Books, 2000.
Schmeiser, Lisa. "Test Drive Your Web Site." Macworld. May 2001.
Thurow, Shari. Search Engine Visibility. New Riders, December 2002.
Hillstrom, Northern Lights
updated by Magee, ECDI
Web Site Basics
WEB SITE BASICS
Through the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Internet transformed the way in which companies, organizations, and individuals interact with the world. Over that period, a new medium, the World Wide Web, gave birth to what became one of the most prominent means by which entities convey their personality, character, and features: the Web site. Increasingly, the Web site has emerged as a primary and central means by which information is transmitted. By the 21st century, it was the rare company—particularly if it were larger than a local small business—that did not maintain a Web site, and the field of business competition had likewise expanded to include Web strategies as well.
Over the course of just a decade, the conception of the Web page and Web site evolved considerably. The earliest Web sites were characterized by long strings of relatively undifferentiated text, separated by browser-length horizontal lines. Since such sites were primarily mere depositories of information, little attention was paid to aesthetic design or user-friendliness. Moreover, the mode of presentation was overwhelmingly informed by existing models of documentation in books and periodicals. It took designers a while to realize and implement the actual possibilities inherent in the interactive Web form of presentation.
By the 2000s, however, Web sites were among the most prominent means of communication, and the starting point for interacting with companies over the Internet. Business Web sites evolved quickly from the basic "brochure" sites—pages that simply established the company's presence in cyberspace but did little beyond explain the company's purpose, products, and services—to the myriad forms that graced the Web by the 21st century. Web sites all contain core elements, but on top of that basic infrastructure they take on personalities and forms of their own.
Ideally, business Web sites come to reflect in the most complementary manner possible the core strategic purposes of the company itself, and thus no small amount of research went into devising Web strategies that most fully took advantage of the Web's opportunities and added value to the company's operations. As competition—particularly Web-based competition—heated up, firms scrambled to find ways to generate the maximum amount of return on their Web efforts. One of the greatest challenges facing companies in the early 2000s was figuring out how to turn their Web sites into revenue generators. Venture capital firms, advertisers, and investors alike were all bringing pressure to bear on companies to transform their Web sites from simple business prerequisites to positive revenue streams. All demand a greater return on their investment into Web sites, and thus companies were under fire to enhance the per-page bottom line.
As a result, not only were Web sites growing more sophisticated in their design and implementation, but business strategies in the physical world increasingly pointed toward the Web. Television, print, radio, and billboard advertisements increasingly broadcast company Web sites so customers, clients, and investors can retrieve the most extensive information and interact with the company directly. Perhaps most importantly, however, the Web site has emerged as a key vehicle for buying and selling. The e-commerce boom of the 1990s and early 2000s was due largely—though not entirely—to the explosion of the World Wide Web.
WEB SITE ELEMENTS AND ORGANIZATION
Web sites exist for all sorts of purposes, but at their essential core is the conveyance of some kind of information in an interactive setting. Whether hawking goods and services, acting as an archive or resource for other data sources, offering content for free or for a price, or acting as a forum for like-minded users to exchange ideas, Web sites come to develop an organizational structure and logic of their own.
Web sites are almost always built around a central starting point known as the home page, from which the site extends in a linear, Web-like, or hierarchical fashion, depending on the specific goals of the site. The home page acts as the introduction and gateway to the site's offerings. The home page's Universal Resource Locator (URL) is the Web address that a company or organization uses to advertise its Web site. A general rule of thumb holds that all pages on a Web site should include a link back to the home page, so that, in the event that a user finds himself lost on a site, he can quickly and easily return to a convenient starting point.
Generally, the home page is the element of the Web site that designers will put the most thought and care into, since it is the first impression a user has of the site—and often of the company itself—and research suggests that Web users tend to be impatient with Web sites that don't load quickly or properly or that appear to be shoddily designed or laid out.
Particularly in the world of e-commerce, the hierarchical Web site model overwhelmingly dominates. Linear models are more useful where there is a logical sequence to a Web site's offerings, which is generally not the case with e-commerce sites. Similarly, the Web-like organizational scheme—in which pages are organized in a free-flowing manner with pages linked randomly throughout the text—can be useful for some types of information, but for the sake of their customers, businesses tend to require a more rigidly structured organizational scheme. Hierarchical organization schemes are easy for users to digest and navigate, since hierarchical models are so familiar in social life and users can easily construct a mental image of the site's layout.
In the hierarchical model, information is organized according to some logical scheme of importance. The most widely used hierarchical organization scheme employed on the Web is the home page-and-link scheme, in which users access the site through a centralized home page that contains a site overview and introduction and points users to all the different areas contained on the site. For instance, a company Web site may organize its site according to the different branches of its operations—products, services, and so on—and within each category the site narrows down to specifics: specific products, prices, etc.
This hierarchical organization frequently entails layers of menus and submenus stemming from the home page. For example, the home page of a large industrial firm may offer a link to "Products and Services" that carries users to a submenu that includes the categories of products and services the company offers. In addition, the home page may provide another link to "Investor Relations," taking users to a sub-menu where they can choose to view "Company History," "Income Statements," "Quarterly Reports," "Letters to Shareholders," and so on. Larger companies with more extensive Web sites may include hundreds of submenus. But the larger and more hierarchical the site, the more conscious designers need to be of the ability for users to get lost. Thus, designers must implement a logical and helpful navigation scheme that allows users to quickly return to familiar territory if they stray in the wrong direction.
The layout of the pages themselves consists of a combination of text, colors, and graphics. There are myriad schemes for the layout of each of these elements, and overall design tools and techniques were growing more sophisticated by the month in the early 2000s. Again, companies must take a number of variables into consideration when devising their page layouts, including their own technical capabilities and those of their users, the particular message they're trying to convey, and so on.
Graphics include still pictures, background designs, logos, and animation. While good graphic design is essential to any professional-looking Web site, designers are still compelled to consider the balance between the most attractive possible site layout and the capabilities of their users. Graphics consume a relatively high amount of space on users' hard drives and in Internet transmissions, and thus an excessive use of graphics could cause the Web site to take an intolerably long time to download, particularly for users with low-end equipment.
At the least, most company and organizational Web sites include a graphic-based banner and logo at the top of their home pages to create an attractive first impression and provide a theme to the Web site. More advanced home pages veer toward an almost entirely graphics-based layout, including pop-up menus, moving text, and other features to grab the users' attention and provide the most user-friendly layout.
One of the primary ways in which Web pages differ from physical text documents—in addition to their ability to be infinitely copied—is their inclusion of hypertext links. Links give the Web its free-flowing quality, allowing users to leap instantaneously from one document to another, and from one site to another, by a simple click of the mouse. Web sites include links to other pages within and outside the site that the designer feels are conducive to the message the site is trying to convey. As such, there is as much planning and strategy to the inclusion and layout of hypertext links as to other elements of site design.
But since pages in a Web site are, for that reason, far more independent than ordinary text documents—that is, since pages are not automatically tied, from the user's experience, to a larger site or entire document—individual pages always need to reflect the broader context in which they're intended to be received. The most common way in which this context is conveyed is via headers and footers. Headers generally identify the document and its author or owner, while footers usually include links to other elements of the site or document, copyright information, the date of the page's most recent update, and links to a home page.
Depending on the size of a Web site and the frequency with which it is updated, many site designers opt to keep users posted of recently added or altered content by way of a link to all recent updates. Since Web users tend to have little patience if they can't find what they're looking for, it's important for sites—particularly larger, more detailed sites—to allow users a way to seek out only that information they want. Thus, to maintain users or clients inclined to visit the site regularly, it's helpful, and perhaps crucial, to devise a link to new material rather than compelling them to search through the site themselves in hopes of finding anything new.
A Web site is dependent on its "hidden" features: the backend equipment, systems, and programs that constitute the site's infrastructure and building blocks. There are several key elements of backend Web site components. At the ground level is the server software, the tools that are involved in actually hooking up a computer system to the Internet—that is, the software that turns a series of computer files into a Web site. Servers are generally built on the UNIX programming language. Most advanced Web sites also utilize databases, of which there are numerous varieties. Databases allow for quicker updating and organization of Web materials, and are generally a useful tool for constructing highly detailed Web content.
To place documents on the Web, pages, graphics, and all other sources referred to in the site's pages must be uploaded to the remote host computer that's connected to the Web. The host may be an Internet service provider (ISP), a Web hosting service, or even the company or organization itself, if it can afford the resources. Once a site is ready to go online, the company, organization, or individual must determine a URL for the site that hasn't already been taken by another site. Most companies try to make their URL as easy to remember—and as logically close to the company name—as possible. For example, a company known as My Company would likely try to register mycompany.com or my-company.com so as to create the least possible confusion in their customers' minds.
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is the traditional lingua franca of the World Wide Web. HTML consists of hundreds of tags that tell Web browsers how to read the information contained in the document, including the layout and font, the setting of hyperlinks, the referencing of graphics, and so on. By the 2000s, HTML was increasingly augmented by more advanced languages such as eXtensible markup language (XML) and eXtensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML), the latter of which was built ostensibly as a bridge between HTML and XML. XML was quickly emerging as the standard language for e-commerce, particularly in the business-to-business realm. XML is a metalanguage that allows programmers to more intricately define what the tags mean and how they interact with the data they define. While there are scores of other markup languages, the safest route for Web designers is to stick to the established standards—such as HTML, XHTML, XML, and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)—that have been approved by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the primary organization overseeing the World Wide Web's development. Designers can test their programming and Web authoring for compatibility with these standards at a number of free online validation sites.
Zeldman, Jeffrey. "Web Publishing Secrets." Macworld, September 2001.
SEE ALSO: HTML; UNIX; URL; User Interface; Web Site Design and Setup; Web Site Usability Issues; World Wide Web; World Wide Web Consortium (W3C); XML
Web Site Usability Issues
WEB SITE USABILITY ISSUES
No matter how sophisticated and well planned a Web site's design, it was ultimately the user's experience that counted most, particularly in e-commerce. If customers couldn't use a site's offerings, they couldn't make a purchase. Usability refers to the overall quality of a user's Web site experience. Did the page load quickly? Was she able to find everything she was looking for? Were all links "live"—that is, did they actually access other Web pages? Were all the more involved processes, such as order forms and shopping carts, functioning properly? Was the site's navigation scheme logical and easy to follow? In short, does the site do what it was intended to do, and could the user figure out how to use it?
In the tense commercial environment of the World Wide Web, customers are notoriously impatient, particularly when it comes to the usability of commercial sites. Since the great promise of the Web is its enormous convenience, particularly in terms of speed, customers learn relatively quickly what they want to find, and if it isn't readily available on one site, they'll simply seek it out elsewhere. As reported in Fortune, according to the research firm Keynote Systems, Web users grant a Web site an average of eight seconds of download time before clicking away to another site. Moreover, much research suggests that customers tend to be unforgiving of sites that fail to load quickly or provide an adequately usable environment, so sites that are too difficult for users to navigate or load may simply be written off altogether as customers develop loyalty to other, more user-friendly sites.
EFFECTS ON BUSINESS
The lack of optimal usability was hardly confined to a few unprofessional sites. Market researcher Forrester Research and Bradford, Massachusetts-based usability testing firm User Interface Engineering conducted a study in 2000 that found serious usability flaws on thirty leading e-commerce sites, including e-tailing giant Amazon.com. Forrester Research reported that 27 percent of all Web transactions were abandoned when users reached the payment Web page, while BizRate.com found that fully 75 percent of the respondents to their survey said they had abandoned their online shopping carts without completing a purchase. The main culprit for these lost revenue opportunities was a lack of usability on the Web site. According to a study by Redwood, California-based Zona Research, U.S. Web sites lost an estimated $25 billion in revenue due to slow Web site performance alone.
With such enormous sums at stake, companies were taking few chances. By the early 2000s, e-commerce firms were increasingly turning to consultants who specialize in Web site usability issues. In the process, they helped foster a hot site-testing industry. Particularly in the wake of the e-commerce shake-out of 2000, e-tailers sought to utilize their Web sites to generate as much revenue as possible, and thus could ill afford to lose customers due to easily avoidable flaws in their site design.
A site's usability, first and foremost, must be measured in terms of the customers' capabilities, not those of the firm itself. As much as designers may wish to exploit the latest technologies, design techniques, and browser capabilities, conscientious and business-wise Web managers would do well to keep their entire range of customers in mind. Specifically, designers must remain cognizant of their lowest-end users—those users and potential customers with the least advanced browsing capabilities. It's extremely common for corporations to maintain cutting-edge technology, but more important is the technological capacities of the customers.
For example, a designer may wish to include fancy, intensive graphics and advanced search mechanisms to offer the best-looking and shopping-optimal site, but if a segment of the company's customers still operate on low-end browsers, they may be unable to utilize the site at all, in the process driving those customers away. If a corporation's customer demographics include a strong focus on lower-income groups or other demographics that are less likely to enjoy the latest broadband or other technologies, then the firm would be ill-advised to focus their Web sites too heavily on streaming media technologies or complicated graphic schemes, no matter how aesthetically pleasing or even how user-friendly such designs, in theory, may be.
COMPATIBILITY ACROSS SYSTEMS
Sites must be rendered equally useful across different platforms. That is, designers must be sure to cross-check their designs on various computers running different browsers. There were few more easily avoidable usability problems than this one. A site that was designed for a personal computer running Internet Explorer may function differently on a Macintosh using a Netscape browser. While there were efforts in the late 1990s and early 2000s toward greater compatibility between these different systems, designers were still encouraged to render their designs as neutral as possible. The most important precaution for designers to take, then, is to test their sites on all possible systems, correcting errors as they arise and making their sites as cross-compatible as possible. Another alternative was to maintain multiple "mirror" sites, in which a home page can point users toward sites tailored to different browsers via a click of the mouse.
MAKING WEB SITES HANDICAP ACCESSIBLE
While computer technology can be a highly empowering tool for those with disabilities, not all Web sites accommodated the needs of the disabled. By the early 2000s, there was growing awareness of the kinds of practices that do and do not make for a quality Web experience for disabled users. For example, various forms of visual impairment, including some kinds of color blindness, can hamper a user's ability to make out everything on the site. Blind users, by the 2000s, were able to utilize Web pages with special software designed to create synthesized speech based on the text of the page and the alternate messages incorporated in the markup of the graphic references. Text-based alternate graphics and menus were thus steps companies could easily take to make their sites more accessible to the visually impaired.
CREATING OPTIMAL USABILITY
Among the most crucial steps in maintaining the usability of a Web site is providing a forum for—and attending to—user feedback. Often, this is as simple as establishing a "Feedback" link on the site, to which users can write their comments on what worked well and what was problematic to the site's Webmaster. Mike Ragunas, the chief technology officer for the Framingham, Massachusetts-based office-supply chain Staples.com, reported on ZDNet that "customer feedback led us to streamline our registration process, to put our customers' virtual shopping cart on the screen at all times, and to display search results in an easy-to-read, bulleted list format. The upshot was a more user-friendly site with fewer barriers to purchase." In this way, companies not only render their sites more usable (and thus more likely to generate sales), but also potentially improve their overall relations with customers by actively seeking their input and incorporating it into the firm's operations.
In the near future, Web designers can expect a number of significant developments allowing for greater design freedom—along with enhanced responsibilities. As telecommunications systems improve and photonics and other improvements find their way into the Internet backbone, greater bandwidth will coincide with further penetration of Internet access to create a more seamless Web, requiring less concern of designers for lower-end users and their technological limitations. Not only will this allow for greater freedom of graphical layout and more complex design schemes, but designers will also be far freer to incorporate streaming media applications, which were expected to greatly enhance the Web's possibilities once its kinks were ironed out and its usability more universal.
LEADING THE USABILITY CHARGE
Jakob Nielsen, whose expertise in and efforts on behalf of Web site usability earned him the nickname "Usability Pope," was a Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer until 1998, when he left to become a full-time writer and consultant, with a special focus on Web site usability and a goal of taking the haphazard World Wide Web of the early 2000s and establishing a more user-friendly order. He founded Nielsen Norman Group with former Apple Computer vice president Donald A. Norman to assist companies with their Internet interactions with customers. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Nielsen spearheaded a new "discount usability engineering" movement devoted to building tools and processes for improving the usability of interfaces, including those used on the World Wide Web. In the process, he built a portfolio of 55 U.S. patents, most of which center on creating a more usable Internet.
According to Econtent, Nielsen feels one of the biggest mistakes companies make in setting up their Web sites is their failure to understand the online medium and what it entails. Simply taking print-oriented information and putting it on the Web makes for poor Web sites, according to Nielsen. Firms need to understand that their Web sites are not depositories of information; rather, they are online services. "I recommend," Nielsen remarked, "doing a field study of the audience to really discover their information needs and how they are ingrained in their everyday work, because what you should think of when you're developing online services is activity support or task support." According to Nielsen, "the Web can be made at least 2,000 percent more usable than it is now."
Nielsen wasn't the only one on a crusade to make the Web safe for the average user. The World Wide Web Consortium launched an initiative to incorporate usability issues into its broader guidance of the World Wide Web's development. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) established guidelines, devised technologies and tools, and engaged in education and out-reach to ensure that businesses, organizations, governments, and individuals incorporated Web practices that promoted the greatest overall accessibility on the Web.
Fichter, Darlene. "Designing Usable Sites: A State of Mind." Online, January 2001.
O'Donovan, Cheryl. "Dot Ugh." Communication World, June 2001.
Pack, Thomas. "Use It or Lose It: Jakob Nielsen Champions Content Usability." Econtent, June 2001.
Ragunas, Mike. "ZDNet Developer—Usability: Giving Your Web Site Tender Loving Care." ZDNet, 2001. Available from www.zdnet.com.
Raskin, Jef. "The Humane Touch: Bad Design Can Be Costly." Forbes, May 28, 2001.
Riedman, Patricia. "Latest Hot Trend Tests Usability of Web Sites." Advertising Age, October 2, 2000.
World Wide Web Consortium. "Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Homepage." Cambridge, MA: World Wide Web Consortium, September 2001. Available from www.w3.org.
Zeldman, Jeffrey. "Web Publishing Secrets." Macworld, September 2001.
SEE ALSO: HTML (Hypertext Markup Language); Web Site Basics; Web Site Design and Setup; Web Site, Relaunching a; World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary Range: Median—$59,894 per year
Employment Outlook: Excellent
Definition and Nature of the Work
Web designers are responsible for creating the look and feel of World Wide Web pages for a client's Web site. This involves developing a graphic design that effectively communicates the ideas being promoted by the Web site. A web designer may take part in the initial planning of a Web site, meeting with the client to discuss ideas for the layout and organization of the site, the types of colors or images to use (photos, illustrations, videos, etc.), and other matters concerning overall graphic design. Sometimes a web producer has already developed a basic concept for the web page. In this case it is the web designer's task to create a design that matches the producer's ideas.
Once the basic concept is agreed upon, the web designer must collect the text documents and images that will appear on the page and convert them into a form in which they can be viewed. This requires a mastery of HTML (hypertext markup language), the computer language used to create web pages. The designer must also have knowledge of the most current HTML extensions—programs that make it possible to add special features to web pages such as animations and interactive surveys. Because a Web site may incorporate a variety of different functions, including clickable e-mail contacts or the ability to download files to a computer, the designer must have a working knowledge of FTP (file transfer protocol) and other programs that enable these functions to work.
Because web designers work with a client or web producer to develop and refine ideas, they must have strong verbal and visual communications skills. Designers should be able to listen closely to the client and create pages that reflect what the client is looking for. They also need to be flexible because they may be called upon to change their designs. Since Web sites are constantly updated to remain current, a designer has to be able to work well under the pressure of tight deadlines and changing demands.
Education and Training Requirements
Web designers typically have a background in fine arts, graphic design, or publishing combined with college courses in computer science and hands-on computer experience. A web designer may have a four-year college degree, a two-year associate's degree, or perhaps no advanced schooling at all. Many web designers teach themselves HTML and acquire other necessary computer skills on their own.
All designers must have training in computer graphics packages such as Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Paint Shop Pro as well as knowledge of Flash, XML-based web applications and programming, XHTML programming, and other web development languages and technologies. The designer should also be comfortable working with a variety of operating systems such as Windows, Macintosh, and Unix. Since computer technology changes rapidly, web designers must constantly stay abreast of new developments in graphics software packages as well as those in the World Wide Web and related technologies.
The HTML Writers Guild offers web training and a certification program. There are four web study certification levels offered: Web Technologies, Web Programming, Web Graphics and Multimedia, and Web Business. Students must pass the web study courses before obtaining certification.
Getting the Job
As more companies develop their own Web sites, web designer openings can be found in classified ads in local newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet itself. Quite often, web designers begin their careers as graphic designers or layout artists for advertising firms or publishing companies. After learning the appropriate computer skills, they can transfer their artistic experience to the online world.
Prospective web designers should put together a portfolio of their work to show to potential employers. Many web designers are freelancers who sell their services to clients on a consulting or contractual basis. Self-employed web designers often establish a personal page on the World Wide Web that showcases their design skills for potential customers.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
There are several different career paths available in the field of web design. The entry-level position of assistant designer involves designing certain elements of a web page or Web site. Project managers are in charge of the design or redesign of entire Web sites. The project manager may work with freelance artists and writers who supply materials to be incorporated into the Web site. Design directors oversee the work of a number of web designers, reviewing and correcting it and making suggestions to improve the design. A design director is usually the person who meets most often with the client to discuss ideas and make sure a project meets the client's expectations.
The World Wide Web and its related businesses are growing at an astounding rate, so the employment outlook for web designers is excellent through 2014.
Web designers usually work in a modern office environment. Much of the work requires long hours of solitary effort, although designers must also meet with clients and supervisors to discuss projects in progress. Freelance web designers work mainly out of a home office, but they may be asked to perform some work at the client's place of business. Web design takes place in a fast-paced, creative atmosphere in which one must constantly develop new ideas and respond quickly to changing needs. This may involve working long and irregular hours to meet tight deadlines or make last-minute changes to an existing design.
Where to Go for More Information
HTML Writers Guild
119 E. Union St., Ste. F
Pasadena, CA 91103
Earnings and Benefits
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the salary for web designers ranges from $51,750 to $74,520 per year. The median annual salary is $59,894. Project managers and assistant design directors make slightly more, while design directors can earn up to $80,000 per year. A college student engaged in web design might charge anywhere from $25 to $50 per hour, while an experienced professional freelance designer can earn significantly more.
Web Scripting Language
WEB SCRIPTING LANGUAGE
Web scripting languages are a form of high-level programming language. High-level programming languages are much closer to human language than machine language, through which computer hardware accepts commands. High-level programming languages, like C and C++, rely on programs called compilers or interpreters so they can be converted to machine language (mainly zeroes and ones). Programs written in scripting languages, called scripts, are not compiled ahead of time for specific computer systems like many high-level languages. Instead, the plain text that constitutes a script gets interpreted into computer commands while a program runs.
Scripting languages normally are interpreted by Web browsers like Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. Web browsers interpret scripts along with Hypertext Markup language (HTML), the language in which Web pages are written. This can be done in one of two ways. In one scenario, programs written in scripting languages can run directly from a server. Otherwise, a script can be included with or directly in an HTML Web page that someone downloads to a computer. In either case, the Web browser is used to access the program.
In server-based situations, the Common Gateway Interface (CGI) allows users (clients) to run programs located on Web servers. CGI scripts are small programs written in a variety of different programming languages (including C, C++, and Perl) that run in real-time, which makes them ideal for such things as stock tickers, weather reports, or query results from a database that appear in the form of a Web page. In the 2000s, other methods—like Java servlets (Java programs that reside on Web servers) and Microsoft's Active Server Pages—began to replace CGI scripts.
Appleman, Daniel. How Computer Programming Works. Berkeley: Apress. 2000.
"CGI Script." Techencyclopedia, April 1, 2001. Available from www.techweb.com.
——. "Scripting Language." Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corp, April 1, 2001. Available from msdn.microsoft.com.
"Scripting Language." Techencyclopedia, March 12, 2001. Available from www.techweb.com.
SEE ALSO: C; HTML; Java; Microsoft; Programming Languages; XML
A web designer puts information on the World Wide Web in the form of web pages for use by individuals and businesses. Web designers use the principles that a graphic artist would use to create their artwork. The difference, however, is that a web designer's tool is a computer, and their "paints" are computer software.
Web designers use mathematics in a variety of ways. The drawing applications used by web designers require a thorough knowledge of geometry . Additional applications require knowledge of spatial measurements and the ability to fit text and pictures in a page layout.
Web designers who use source codes such as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) need to know basic math for calculating the widths and heights of objects and pages. Accounting and bookkeeping are important areas of math that web designers should study if they plan to establish their own businesses.
Because web designers must be able to plan, design, program, and maintain web sites, a knowledge of computers and how they work is very important. Most computer science courses require algebra and geometry as prerequisites.
see also Computer Graphic Artist; Internet.
McGuire-Lytle, Erin. Careers in Graphic Arts and Computer Graphics. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 1999.