This is an archived site.
Please see or WiredPen or

  design philosophy
(an answer to "which browser to design for?")

About Us
About this Site

Trick question. Answer: design for your audience and, to insure widest accessibility, make the code HTML3.2 (or HTML4.0) compliant.

This answer is not intuitively obvious when taking a Sunday stroll around the Web. Visiting too many web sites reminds me of early desktop publishing -- when just because it was possible to put 14 typefaces on a page -- some folks did. (Yes, I was around back then. I have the dubious honor of having used Pagemaker since the beginning ... as I made the transition from x-acto knives, wax and T-squares to digital layout and imaging.)

The Web does promise multi-media -- sound, words, pictures, interactivity. And for those with direct Net access ('big pipe,' TI connection, etc.), the promise can be delivered (sometimes). Average users, however, use a modem to dial up to the Net; huge files often test user patience, even in the age of 56K modems.

Many web designers push the edge of the technology envelope, using frames, animations, shockwave and a host of other plug-ins that may or may not be available for all browsers. Many "bend" HTML, a language that was designed to display information, not to be the Pagemaker of the online world.

The question to ask before adding "extras" or using non-compliant code: Does this technology aid communication or is it the use of technology for technology's sake? Not all designers leap at the chance to load up a page with gizmos. A summary of a discussion of "pet peeves" among women who design web sites may surprise you.

Many sites cut off half (or more) of their potential visitors -- early Netscape, old AOL, Lynx, braille-or-speech output. For a government site this is more than a shame -- it's cutting off access for a large portion of the citizenry who access the Net via public libraries, universities and other text-only vehicles. Some say this is an ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) violation. Why wait for a court injunction when designing for accessibility is so straightforward?

If Accessibility Is Your Goal
Sites that are accessible by Lynx are, in general, going to be accessible (readable) by all software, including that for the visually impaired. These sites are also friendly to anyone with slow modem access. In simple terms, a Lynx-accessible site requires:

  • Using ALT tags so that images have text explanations (this is also useful for the 20-30 percent -- estimates vary -- of users who browse with graphics off. Like me.) ALT tags are now required for code to be HTML 4.0 compliant.

  • Provide text hotlinks as navigation alternatives to image maps and buttons. This courtesy provides important user feedback that enhances site usability (so long as you haven't completely distorted visited and not-visited link colors).

  • Alternative site entries to frames! And at the top of the page! While frames may now be "spec" (they were incorporated into HTML 4.0), they still require No Frames options to be universally accessible.

  • Proper use of HTML codes -- that is, using Heading tags to denote headings, not to attempt to manipulate the "look" of a page. Some folks, believe it or not, do use the "outline" view for which the headings were designed.

  • Reasonably-sized documents, that is, less than 50K (maybe 75K with graphics). Better have really sizzling content or art if pages are larger than this (to get repeat visits).

Links To Other Sites
I've collected links to online discussions, net magazines and web sites which deal with web design issues as well as human-computer interaction.

dotParagon, web services
specializing in content, design, research

Copyright Kathy E. Gill, 1996. Comments?

Last Modified: