My philosophy on website design

Your site, your business

I take the time to understand your business requirements before designing your site. Your site should tie in with the rest of your business and other systems.

Every organisation is different and has different requirements. I use different styles for different types of sites, depending on the purpose of the site. That doesn't mean I try to reinvent the wheel every time; the basics of your site may well be similar to another site, but it still needs to be customised to suit your requirements.

Useability

Your customers are not going to use your site if it doesn't give them what they want.

When I'm designing a website, my number one consideration is the user - the person who is requiring the site to do something for them. I follow the philosophy of useability experts such as Jakob Nielsen - who, it seems to me, only preaches common sense (which, sadly, is not so common among web site designers).

Content

The best looking site is useless if it doesn't have interesting and meaningful content. The content must be relevant to the user, who can easily find what they're looking for, and regularly updated to keep the user coming back.

It's also important that the content is written for the web, not just a printed book that's converted to html or pdf. Research (Jakob Nielsen or do a search on google) has shown that reading Internet screens is different from reading a book - Internet users scan rather than read. So the content has to be written to accommodate that behaviour - the most important content first, in short pieces, with links to more information so the user chooses where to go.

Maintainability

Your site should be easy to maintain by non-technical staff. There's no point creating the greatest web site in the world if you're not able to maintain it. You don't want every little change to be a complicated or costly exercise. Your site won't achieve anything if your content is out of date or pages won't load.

Simplicity

I believe in the KISS principle - "Keep It Short and Simple" (or "Keep It Simple, Stupid" - whichever version you prefer :-) ). I don't believe in creating sites to show off my programming skills - the site has to achieve its aims, whatever they may be.

I'm not into bells and whistles, unless the purpose of the site is to show off bells and whistles. I minimise the use of technology such as JavaScript, Java, Flash, plug-ins, and anything else that prevents the user from performing their required tasks on the site. There are times and places where this technology is required, but many websites overuse it or use it inappropriately.

Open source

I strongly support the use of open source software. I prefer to create sites using PHP combined with a MySQL database.

I don't like paying lots of money for a program that makes someone rich but doesn't always do what you want, when you can get better programs free of charge and you have access to the code so you can customise it to suit your requirements.

Accessibility and standards

Accessibility is an important consideration in the design of all websites. Government departments are required by law to ensure their site complies with accessibility guidelines, but all sites should consider those who have difficulty for any reason.

Such as people who are visually-impaired and rely on Braille or speech readers, or need to be able to enlarge the size of the print on their screens. Don't use colours that cause difficulty for those who are colour blind. Don't use flashing logos.

Remember that not everyone is using the latest version of Internet Explorer with a broadband connection and a large screen. Every site should be designed with consideration for those who have old browsers, browsers other than IE, slow dial-up connections, or old and slow computers.

There are standards and guidelines that describe how web pages should be coded. Following these help to ensure that all users should be able to access your site, regardless of any difficulty described above. Unfortunately this is not 100% accurate because different browsers interpret code in different ways - even code that complies fully with standards - so these differences also need to be taken into consideration.

Meeting standards and guidelines does not mean the site has to be harder to design or maintain, especially if you take these requirements into consideration from the start.

Ownership

I take ownership of every site I work on. I take personal responsibility to ensure that all stakeholders are happy - the users, the people maintaining the site after I hand over the completed or redeveloped site, and (of course!) whoever has to pay for the site.

Continuous learning

"Any day that you don't learn something is a day wasted." Web site technology is constantly changing and improving and I try to keep up to date with trends and technology by subscribing to a number of mailing lists, reading online articles and forums, and other web research. I learn with every new site I work on, both about website design and also, just as importantly, how different organisations work.


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