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Setting up a Web site

by Eugenia Xenos

What looks good in print doesn't necessarily look good on a Web site, say designers who set up pages for the Web.

Christopher Alleyne, who designs both printed and Web material in Marketing Communications, says because the Web works in layers, it has to be set up so that navigation of the site is lateral, rather than linear. "You're dealing with more dimensions than with print," Alleyne said. "Users must feel that navigation back and forth through the layers is intuitive and easy -- they should be
able to go anywhere within your site at will."

One of the most common mistakes involves taking a printed document (especially if it's massive), translating it into HTML code, then plunking it on the Web. "Users won't read a lot of text online," says Luke Andrews, a Communication Studies student who works part-time as a Web Designer for Marketing Communications.

"It is better to try make each page contain only a screenful of information; people don't like to scroll down. If you have a lot of text, break it into smaller pages, and on each page, break the text into small chunks. Long paragraphs scare people away."

Andrews recommends putting bigger documents in a format that can be downloaded by the users (for example, with Adobe Acrobat Reader), if and when they want it. He also recommends having a high contrast between background and text for better legibility.

Another problem is speed. The more information that is put on the Web site in graphic form, the longer it will take to show up on screen. Andrews suggests keeping the graphics simple, and not making the dimensions of any one image too large. "If you must use a large image, try making a thumbnail that links to the larger version." He recommends JPEG format for photos, and GIF format for other graphics.

When it comes to images, it is also important to remember that computer monitors have a much lower resolution than most printed material, so fine details don't show up as clearly.

Andrews says it's best to stick to the 216-colour "safe" palette, which is a selection of colours that will show up correctly on most computers, no matter what configuration.

Which brings us to another problem: Different computers, using different browsers, will read HTML instructions differently, so that your site may vary from computer to computer. That's why it's important, Alleyne says, to verify how the site works on several systems before it goes up.

If you require more than a page of information, then you will also have to decide the best way to move around the site. Most links are made through text or images, but you will have to decide where your main menus will be, and what they will contain.

One handy way to get around a site is through the use of pull-down, or pop-up, menu bars, or smaller windows that are superimposed on your original window. The downside to these, though, is that changes can be cumbersome to make if the site is large, or if your knowledge of HTML code is limited, Alleyne says.

Another way to organize information is through "frames," literally, windows that work independently of one another. A positive feature of these is that some information can remain on screen while other information changes. Many people don't like frames, however, because only the selected window will print, and bookmarking is difficult.

Most importantly, you should have a clear idea about the purpose of your Web site -- what you want it to accomplish, Alleyne said. "Is it a document to recruit students into your program? Will it be very interactive -- that is, give users the chance to order something, or request more detailed information?

"It has to show what your raison d'être is, and invite you to tune
in again."

Web resources

Resources are too numerous to mention, but here are a few starting points, found on the Web:

From Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox

* Changes in Usability since 1994:

* Top 10 Mistakes of Web Design:

* Top 10 Mistakes of Web

* The Increasing Conservatism
of Web Users:

* How Users Read on the Web:

* The Need for Download Speed:

* Why Frames Suck (Most of
the Time):

* From Web Review Magazine:

* From a column called Web Architect, on Tables of Contents:

For a wealth of other usability info, see

And for those who prefer printed matter:

* Enhancing Websites (PC Novice Learning Series), Volume 4, Issue 11, October 1998.

* Netscape 3 Unleashed, by Dick Oliver

* HTML Sourcebook, by Ian Graham

* Web Technologies magazine

- Thanks to Scott Anderson and Christopher Alleyne

What to include on your University Web site:

* Your unit name in a prominent position.

* The Concordia logo, shield, or motto. (Check with the Standards Manual on what is "legal" and what is not, or call Marketing Communications for information, 848-4875). There is also a Concordia Web "banner" available for the tops of pages, if you need a graphic element to lead off your text (848-4875).

* Ideally, some information on who you are and what you do, with the least amount of jargon as possible. (You don't know who will be visiting your site, and from where).

* The organization of a site is crucial, so the categories you choose must make sense to someone who is not aware of how your office, program, etc. is organized. If the site is complex, you may wish to add a site map, which shows the layout, or organization, of your information.

* Contact names, addresses and phone numbers, in an easily accessible place. (You'd be surprised how hard it is to find this information sometimes.)

* Links to e-mail addresses for the people in your office.

* A link back to the Concordia home page (, or links to other relevant units (such as the School of Graduate Studies, Faculty, etc.)

* A "Back to Top" button at the bottom of a very long page of text.

* A "Last updated on this date" statement. (Be sure to keep your information relevant and up-to-date).

For more information, contact Eugenia Xenos at 848-4279, or

Copyright 1998 Concordia's Thursday Report.