Does This Site Look Good On Me?

Website Design Basics: Part 1 of 5

(Look for Part 2, Thursday, August 21.)

Friendly Website Critique

A couple of months ago one of my friends asked if I would view her newly constructed website and critique it. This actually followed a discussion between us about another friend who had asked everyone to look at his friend's new site.

I had done so and was shocked by how slow the site loaded. I use the word shocked because apparently the website owner was a tekkie pro. Even professionals can get tunnel vision when trying to accomplish something.

In an effort to help my friend and others who are trying to be their own website designers, I thought I'd explore some of the fundamentals of good website design.


The problem with a slow load? Probably a bandwidth issue. Most ISP's offer customers free website hosting, but the space allocated is usually limited in size. Worse, they have limited bandwidth also. Limited bandwidth means if you get too much traffic, your site crashes. It also means if you design a site with lots of images, animations, and, my all-time least favorite, sound, then the site will load slower than an armadillo crossing a Texas farm road at midnight. (If you're not from Texas, well, let me tell you, on Sunday mornings the armadillo death toll on farm roads can be pretty staggering.)

Of course, you don't notice this when you're building the site. Once you have the site finished, you need to ask several people, using several different kinds of computers and monitors, to view your site and tell you how long it takes the site to load.

How fast it loads for me with high-speed connection will be vastly different from how something loads with a dial-up connection. Yes, there are millions using dial-up either because they can't afford high-speed or because it's not available in their area. In most rural and other isolated areas, you can't get anything but dial-up or satellite high speed which is iffy at best in bad weather.

Ask a broad section of people to time the loading of your site. Trust me, if it takes longer than 10-15 seconds, most people will click Stop unless they really, really want to see your site. If they're just casual visitors who don't know you but thought they'd check you out because they heard about you, you'll lose them if it takes that long for your site to open. Fifteen seconds is a lifetime when you're waiting for a webpage to open.


The other thing you need to ask of your informal critiquers is how does the site look on their respective monitors. What I see with my over-sized wide-screen monitor may be different from what Molly Public sees with a tiny 15" monitor connected to her 486 computer. And, yes, there are still a lot of people running 486's as well as systems running Windows 95, 98, 2000, XP, and now Vista, not to mention Linux and Mac/Apple systems.

The monitor display setting, in pixels, controls how large a space you view when you look at the monitor. Just about everyone uses what is web standard which is 1440 X 900. If you want to see what your setting is, right click on the desktop. From the window that opens, select the tab that says Settings. Your monitor setting will be displayed.

The next thing to ask your friend who's looking at your site is if everything is displayed properly or are there some elements overlaying or hiding other elements? Is it jumbled together? Are some text areas incomplete? You always want a software where the "boxes" expand with the text created.If you're designing your site yourself, always select a WYSIWYG software. That's What You See Is What You Get. So that when you preview it, it will look exactly like it will look when you upload it.

Most end designs with errors result from using a software package not compatible with the host site, i.e., the host site doesn't allow CSS or templates and that's what your software uses. If the software or your host site requires your monitor be set to a specific parameter, it may not display properly on monitors not set to that parameter.

Good website design software is expensive, but it's worth it.

Takeaway Truth

Good website designers are worth every dollar because it's an esoteric skill set that's taken time to learn. Not everyone can do it. If you can't afford a good designer, then educate yourself about the fundamentals of good website design. With knowledge, patience, and an esthetic vision, you can do it yourself.

Just make sure you learn how to make it look like a pro designed it, not an amateur. Otherwise, you'll be the owner of a site that's not only unappealing but also one that will fail to capture an audience.

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