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Tips and Tricks for Web Design

Vision

Why is the website being contemplated? You have to know why. Most of all you have to have a vision, a grand plan. Make it a big vision. A website is always under construction, is flexible but you should have an aim and a goal. Start small, dream big.

The philosophy and scope of the website need to be thought out carefully.

You will consider ways of structuring the website to suit the aims and philosophy of your institution

You also need to ponder the proposed style and ethos of the planned website.

You will develop ideas about your final product, but they will be changed as you implement them. Your plans and those of your administrators will change and your perceptions of what is important will alter.

A good idea is to talk to all the "stakeholders" to find out what they expect the site to be, perhaps even form a committee of involved and interested people. If possible, those who will use the site need to have input into its development so that it becomes their territory and they become part owners.

However, at the end of the day, if you are the person creating and maintaining the website, make sure you know why.

Philosophy

Any move  to create a website should be informed by a thorough understanding of the purpose of the whole enterprise of the organisation as well as implementing an effective philosophy. Why are you making this website?

I'm a fan of Constructivism . People need to involve themselves in their learning so that whatever they learn becomes a part of their lives. They need to remake any knowledge into the fabric of their internal landscape and they can only do that by making meaningful choices about things they care about and by being actively involved within the constructs of their own knowledge.

The Purpose: Why do you want to create a website?

Maybe you think it's your good idea; maybe it's an idea from ceo. The reason for the creation will determine to a large extent the scope and direction of it. You must have a good reason, not just "we should have one". If there is not a purpose then the website will fail.

Is your site to be a "front door" to the organisation? In this case the priorities will be concerned with creating an impressive face, an exercise in public relations.

Is your site to be a place where staff members and users share their work?

Is your site to be an information source for staff members and public users?

Maybe you'd ultimately like it to be a combination of all of these.  

Access to a greater range of resources has become a necessity.

You are very aware of the problems of servicing these wide ranging needs.

It is obvious that no library,  can afford to provide enough text-based material to support the ever-widening requirements of teachers and students.

However, the other resources of the library, whether print-based or multimedia, are still vitally necessary.

You want to steer the user into the direction of the most appropriate resources for each  need.

What Do Your Users Want?

Obviously, one of the prime purposes for the creation of the website will be to provide what the user requires. This usually involves an opportunity for learning of some kind.

Users may want to find out about the operation or news of the organisation.

 Users may be searching for material to answer an immediate information need.

Users may be looking for background information for work or research.

Users may be pursuing an interest or hobby.

Each of these users wants to learn something from your website. Your aim is to assist them.

As web designer you are in the unique position of being able to have an overview of the whole enterprise of the organisation.

Your website should be a tool, as your "real" organisation is, to further the development of user demands.

Above all, what can you create that will be original and different that will be of real use for you and your organisation? What is unique about your vision?

You need to establish guidelines for project management, guidance and discussion

Project Management: Guidance and Discussion:

As mentioned before your website is part of a greater whole: the whole enterprise. The 'stakeholders" need to be involved from the beginning if at all possible.

It may take many forms:

an official committee,

a small group of interested parties,

a flurry of shared e-mails and ad hoc meetings.

This grouping will vary depending on the shape of the website. Possible interested people include other staff, IT personnel, administration and other  staff. If it is only a website for a part of the organisation then less people will be interested and involved than if the website includes input from the whole. Even if the website is only concerned with content from your subsection there will still be need to discuss various issues with other members of the organisational community. You will need to ascertain where the website fits into the rest of the organisation's endeavours.

Support:

What you need most is in principle and practical support from administration, Information Technology Department and your section's staff. Without this, your website will not be possible.

Funding

As with every undertaking, funding will need to be allocated for this endeavour for:

some space on a web server either locally or on an Internet service provider will need to be made available

software will have to be bought and licensed (though this may be covered in other licenses)

appropriate computers for compiling the webpage will need to be available

a computer as a local server

staff allocated to the task will be required and this is a cost from other tasks

Hardware

The first action is to find out

what hardware is present (do an audit)

what will (definitely) be provided if upgrades are necessary.

A fast computer with adequate memory is needed for the person creating the website: searching, creating, publishing and storage are necessary.

If the server is to be housed locally then the computer should be dedicated only to that task, if at all possible.
 

Web authoring software

Find out what software will be available. There are many different website creation tools, many easy to use for new creators of web sites. Skills of web authorship are very like those of word processing, written composition and design that many school librarians already possess. I would advise against trying to do all your website with pure html. It is far too time-consuming. Why not use some of the very easy to use web authoring software available? WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) web editors are very user friendly.

I would not use Word, as html documents made with Word are very clunky. Word html is very verbose.

Publisher saves as a large image.

Many people use Netscape Composer quite successfully.

People using Macintosh rather than PC might find other software of use.

Web Authoring Software and HTML

Dreamweaver Web Design

I do use Dreamweaver as it is very customisable (it does what you tell it!) The code is very clean. It will even clean up Word html if necessary.

Staffing

Web authorship

Expertise

Who will create and maintain the site? Is it you? Whoever is chosen must either have or be prepared to develop the expertise.

Time Allocation

If this is to be someone from present staff, what will have to be curtailed to enable the website to proceed? Creating and maintaining a website is a time-consuming undertaking. Decisions have to be made as to how much time is allowable and available. Who will update the site and how are the links checked and how often?

Technical Support

An essential factor in the creation of the website is

the technical support for setting up and organising the running of the equipment and

inevitable troubleshooting.

How is the website to be hosted - locally or at an Internet service provider?

If it is hosted locally who will handle the server

and the interface with the outside world?

If the site is to be hosted externally

how easy is it to publish to the server and

how much space is allocated?

Who will maintain backups and logs?

It is very important that issues of space and ease of publication are discussed very early so parameters are set.

Design

What do you know of web design principles? Explore the links in the menu to the right.

The basic idea is KISS (Keep it Simple S.)

What kinds of design parameters are important to you?

Have a look at what other schools have done.

Establish of ascertain your organisation

print style guides

web style guides.

These will need to be established especially if there are a number of different websites for your organisation.

Audience

Who is the audience? Who do you expect to view the site? Who is your main target?

Prospective Users

Prospective users of the organisation are on a fact-finding mission trying to learn about it.

They want information about:

the values, vision and priorities of the organisation and how its practice matches with theory.

organisation culture, tone and spirit

any costs and opening hours

contacts

services offered.

opportunities for courses and activities.

the kind of activities that will impinge on the area

the contribution that the organisation will be likely to make to the community.

Your User Community

Your users have  a multitude of needs.

They want:

information about your organisation

access to information for themselves

access to information of use to their children for assignment completion

methods of keeping in touch with the organisation.

Students

If students are your main audience, you need to be looking at their needs and requirements. Students will want information to support their assignments. They will want it quick and easy to find. They will need intuitive navigation with lots of points of access and plain language. Information will need to be targeted very closely to specific assignments.

Students want:

Internet links to sites to assist completion of assignments

general reference

assignment outlines

course outlines

study and reference guides

recreational sites

ways of interacting with other students and also teachers

Teachers

Information for staff needs to be targeted to their special needs. It needs to be accessible and very easy to use. Any material for staff has to be obviously of immediate benefit, either saving time or helping students.
Staff want:

lesson plans

rubrics

webquest and online module outlines

educational theory for study

Internet links for background reading in their subject area

study skills and research information

Keep in mind that all groups will possibly include people who will want to use links you provide for your own staff and students for their own information-seeking.

It might be that your website will be serving an amalgam of some or all of these groups. Nevertheless you have to decide who is most important for you. If the students are your main focus, you will create a different site than if a prospective parent is your main expected user. Choose which specific group of users will be the focus for your site.

You can't be all things to all people.

Remember The Parable of the Old Man, The Boy, and The Donkey

 

Structure

You'll have to decide on an organisation plan for the site.

You need to consider

where your website sits in relation to other websites within the organisation

the website should not mirror the organisational map but instead

what users want to do at your website

Some Guidelines

Start small but figure on growth.
I started with one page, but soon planned a site where every learning area is covered and each has its own folder and subsections have subfolders. This allows for expansion as further assignments are added.

 

Create enough folders for each main section and folders with the directories to divide up into sub sections. Do not create too many levels of folders. For an average site there should be a reasonable number of folders (around 5 -7) and only a few levels (around 3 - 5). Very large sites may have a need for more; very small sites less.

 

Keep the folders and file names short, with no spaces or strange symbols and no capitals so there will not be trouble with older or less common browsers.

 

Place all graphics in one folder (call it images or graphics).

Subdivisions

These will need to be subdivided. How? What makes sense? What will your users be looking for?

What combination of the groups above is right for you? What makes sense for you and your school? At first you may not have anything each section. You do not need to create folders until they contain anything, but you will need to have a plan to accommodate further growth.

A website is not a book

The organisation of a website can be much more fluid than a book because of the magic of hyperlinks. You can link each page to a number of other pages, go back and forwards and off on a tangent.

Redundant navigation is the key

Organise the links coherently with easy navigation. Link! Link! Link! The glory of the web is to refer forwards backwards and sideways! You should be able to find your way around with ease.

Add a site map or table of contents to assist with this. This is what my site map looks like. P. L. Duffy Resource Centre, Trinity College Site Map. This can be set up within FrontPage or Dreamweaver.

A search facility is also useful. Freefind provides a free search facility, which indexes as often as you like. Google provides a free search for education institutions but is only indexed once a month. FrontPage has a search option. This may or may not work depending on server options and set-ups.

Navigation bars are important. Create a template and have a common navigation border. I place mine on the right hand side, though this is less usual, because most users are right handed and have their mouse on that side. Also, if your page is designed to sometimes appear in the frame of a parent website, two areas of navigation on the left hand side makes finding "real" content difficult. You can insert navigation buttons or bars at will.

Frames are a bad idea. Don't use frames! Users can end up with tiny windows in which to view your page. Users have no idea when they are on your site or elsewhere. If you link within frames it can imply a page is on your site when it is not, raising difficult copyright issues.

Speed

This is important. Users need to find what they want quickly. Pages need to load in seconds. The priority is for each page to load quickly and provide information as easily as possible.

The website necessarily should be as accessible and usable as possible, both for ordinary users and for those who are disabled in some way. Look at some of the recommendations Usability and Accessibility. The resource is only worthwhile if students and staff find it easy to use, and it is only fair for you to make it possible for disabled users to access it easily.

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Rosemary Spark

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