The Lang Jones Rules of Web Design

My eventual aim is to incorporate all this design material into a site which will be specifically intended for newcomers to the net. So if there is anything here that is too obvious, or if you find the tone patronising, let me apologise at the start!

You donít have to be very long on the net before you come across advice on web design. You will find that before you even think about committing anything to electrons, you will be subject to exhortations from all kinds of quarters, a lot of it contradictory, and all of it prescriptive.

The following is an example of the sort of response you might get if you foolishly offer up your site for criticism. The complete passage is not genuine, but every single criticism it contains, apart from the advice at the end, is one that I have come across on the net or in magazines:-

"I thought your site was not bad for a first attempt, but there are some observations I would like to make about it. For instance, did you really need that exploding squirrel on the home page? It took a long time to load, it was just fussy, and it didnít do anything to help put over the information you were trying to impart. And I must say, I didnít like the colour of your headline. Did you honestly want that horrible orange colour? I thought it very vulgar.
And with regard to your music, I must say that normally I never visit sites that have music playing in the background. I think it is very irresponsible to do this sort of thing. Donít you realise that there will be people looking at your page in their office? They donít want music blaring out unexpectedly, alerting their boss to what they are doing. Very inconsiderate.
I felt your design was a bit fussy anyway. Why did you decide to have those backgrounds? They detract from the impact of the printed word. After all, the purpose of your site is to convey information, and anything that detracts from that is not a good idea. I would suggest white backgrounds throughout.
And did you really need all those graphics? After all, if your information is clear enough, you surely donít need anything to complement it.
I wonder in fact whether this is actually the right medium for you. There is a medium you could try which uses a unique form of non-degradable hard-storage. It is fairly slow, but memory is virtually unlimited. Unfortunately you will need to upgrade your system by buying a special piece of hardware called a Personal Escritoirial Nib unit, but it is cheap, and it will be a long time before it becomes obsolete.
If your bandwidth requirements are higher, you can send your material to a special agency called a printer, who will produce the hard copy and distribute it through a special network which can extend globally if necessary.
Best of all, the system is guaranteed spam- and virus-proof!"

This is a slight exaggeration, but it is very similar to things I have come across on some of the Compuserve forums. There seems to be a new Puritanism about - perhaps it is the freedom offered by the web which makes some people react against it and become more authoritarian. But the thing to remember is that the world-wide web is not a library, and web sites are not books.

Another thing to bear in mind if you are discouraged by this sort of thing is that on the web anybody can be an expert if they wish. The essential thing about the web is that people can be what they want to be, and if they want to set themselves up as an authority in web design, and make themselves feel superior by slagging off other peopleís efforts, there is nothing to stop them.

The essential thing about web design is that your design should be right for you. If you see yourself as becoming a professional web designer, and producing a web page for a commercial company, then certainly you will be doing it to promote that company, and you need to get their message over as clearly and as unfussily as possible. But if you are doing a web page for your own pleasure, there is no reason at all why you should take any notice at all of what people tell you. There are different criteria for commercial sites and others, and there is no reason at all why they should be designed to the same specifications.

Do it this way if you want! If you want an exploding squirrel, have one. Who is to say you should not? And why should you consider removing sounds from your site to protect the sensibilities of those who are cheating their employer? That particular bit of advice I have seen several times on the net, and it strikes me as the pinnacle of hypocrisy.

The great thing about the web is that there are no rules! If you want to put your information in red type against a red background, thatís up to you. No one will be able to read it - but so what? Itís your site.

Having said all that, I am conscious of the title of this article. Letís see if I can think of some useful precepts to follow when designing web pages. Ok. That is not to say that the following are invariably right:-

The first, and most important of the Rules is this one:- Don't try to satisfy everyone, because you can't. No matter what you do, someone will find fault with your site. Everybody has different ideas about web design.

If you have large graphics on your page, it will take a long time to load. I have found that it helps to keep individual graphics to less than 20k. And even at that size, if you have too many on the page it will take a long time to load. None of the graphics on this site, apart from animations, is more than 20k, but if you go to my Bracknell page, which consists of a series of photographs, you will find it takes a very long time to load. This is reasonable on a page which is specifically designed for graphics, but imagine how frustrated people would become if your home page loaded at that rate. Very few people would have the patience to hang around to see the final result.

If you use backgrounds, it helps to try to make the combination of background and text a readable one. Mind you, I have tried to do that with this site, but I have nevertheless received complaints about the backgrounds I have used.

People are more likely to spend more time on your site if it's easy for them to get around. You can achieve this by providing plenty of escape routes on your pages, and using a fairly logical layout for your site.

And finally the one thing I am going to suggest so strongly that perhaps you might consider it a rule. Always use a spellchecker.

But rules are meant to be broken, and I have to say that I havenít used one on this site. However (a) I can spell fairly well, (b) there could well be spelling mistakes I havenít noticed and (c) had I used one, I would have picked up some typing errors sooner.

Anyway, there you have them - the Lang Jones rules of web design. Follow them and I can guarantee you will get people telling you that you went wrong when you did this, and that you shouldnít have done that, and that you were betraying the unutterably vulgar nature of your soul when you did the other.

Tell them that you were following the Lang Jones rules. If they ask you who Lang Jones is, tell them that you are shocked by their ignorance, and that Lang Jones is universally recognised on the world-wide web as the supreme authority in web design.

They might even believe you.

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