Website Design & Best Practice
Zimt Website Design believes in using the right tool for the right task. Standards are mature and continue to evolve and XHTML and CSS compliant websites are relatively easy to develop. This provides a core set of standards and components that are widely supported and will ensure the widest possible audience to your site.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Should I use Flash in my website?
- When is a Content Management System appropriate?
- Should I design for the mobile Internet?
- Browser Compatibility
- Accessability and the Disability Discrimination Act
With Flash you can do more than just display videos. You can create a stunning visual experience and offer your visitors incredible user interaction. Although Flash is definitely not the favourite medium for usability and accessibility advocates, it has its advantages and it empowers the Web with functionalities which make it an incredibly interactive medium. With Flash, designers can achieve results which simply aren’t possible with XHTML and CSS.
Most mobile devices offer you an option to browse the Internet; however, currently only selected devices ship with Flash Player 9. Many other devices either support older Flash Player versions or, no content created for the Flash plug-in at all. The Apple iPhone does not currently support content created for Flash Player (currently the biggest mobile phone market segment is the iPhone - see Should I design for the mobile Internet? for further details) and will display a Lego-like block if you use an outdated embed method (see figure 1). This is probably not something that you would like to show to your visitors.
: iPhone logo for non supported content
One of the arguments against Flash until recently was that it did not work well with Google, making it difficult, if not impossible to effectively index sites that were based on Flash. This is now not the case, and Google can now index content within a Flash SWF file. Further information can be found on the Google Webmaster site. Although very important, Google is not the only Internet search site, and remember that all other Search engines do not currently index Flash content, although Yahoo is purported to support this technology in a future release of its Yahoo search engine.
We view Flash as a valuable weapon in our arsenal, but it is definitely not a silver bullet. By using Flash judiciously your website content becomes more accessible and more SEO friendly. A well designed Flash site can convey a clients message, but what if the user does not have Flash? Well – no Flash, means no website, which means no customers, a bit of a problem, no? Well not really, a site can be written to gracefully degrade to a more accessible XHTML alternative. Finally, don’t forget what your websites goals are, if it is all about style and the look, Flash may be the correct choice of medium, however content is usually king.
A better question is why shouldn’t you use a CMS? For most organisations the ability to control and modify their own content is the ideal solution and implementing a CMS to manage your content will let you achieve this. By separating content from the presentation you can get the best of both worlds, a website designed to your requirements, but access to the all important content, negating the use of an expensive web designer for day to day content modification.
Sometimes, a CMS site is not appropriate, for instance if a sites content will be static, or very rarely changed then the effort involved in implementing and configuring a CMS system may not be worth the effort or cost. That said, modern CMS systems such as Joomla enable web designers to be up and running very quickly and at a minimal cost.
You may find that the typical look and feel of a CMS based website is not for you, and you require something more individual or bespoke, for example a custom designed XHTML, CSS and Flash website. In this case incorporating a CMS can be difficult and kludgy as you are trying to implement a CMS where one did not previously exist.
An interesting development is that of Konductor, which enables us to provide clients with the best of both worlds – i.e. a custom designed bespoke website and a Content Management System. We are currently reviewing this product to see if it is suitable for client release, however it promises much as it allows us to bridge the gap between traditional and CMS based websites. Konductor can be found at www.konductor.net.
Data from Market Share by Net Applications shows that a massive 67% of all mobile Internet browsing is done on the Apple iPhone, with its nearest competitor the Windows Mobile platform not even reaching 7%. Having used several manufacturers mobile phones over the past few years for web browsing I can understand why Apple has gained such a large market share in such a short time. Providing a great user interface with an easy to use and functional browser (Safari) has obviously paid dividends. Remember though that the mobile browsing market is still insignificant when compared to overall Internet useage, accounting for only 0.48% of web traffic.
Whether you should invest in the additional cost of providing a mobile specific website depends on the product and/or service you are offering. Is your business a good fit for mobile browser useage and can you see the public accessing your site or service via their mobile devices?
Update August 2011 - Since this text was written mobile browser use has increased massively, mainly down to the success of the iPhone and Android platforms providing a good user experience for mobile web browsing. Current statistics show mobile usage at 7% of total web usage. Further information from StatCounter.
A few years ago, web browser choice was limited. Fast forward to today and the Internet is a very different place with a more mature, and diverse market. The more savvy Internet users will install a browser such as Firefox, Mozilla, Safari, Chrome, Netscape (now defunct) and Opera, rather than accept the (previously) defacto standard of Internet Explorer. Developing a site and ensuring it is compatible with the nuances and quirks of these different browsers can be a challenge. When you take into account the different versions of individual browsers you can understand why it is enough to give any web developer a headache!
Many users use old versions of browsers, or do not keep their browser updated. This can be one of the biggest headaches for a web designer. Internet Explorer 6 is particularly disliked by web designers due to its quirks and several shortcomings, especially in regard to image handling. The fact is that for the time being IE6 can’t be ignored as it is remains in active use by end-users. Whilst the issues it causes are not insurmountable, it does reduce the end-user experience, and diverts time and effort away from web design and onto compatibility and browser specific issues. Still, with 15% (source – www.w3schools.com) of all web users still utilising it, it can’t be ignored.
Update April 2010 - It seems that users are at last getting the message and IE6 is being resigned to peoples trashcans. w3schools March 2010 statistics show IE6 market share has now reduced to 8.9%. and many web designers (ourselves included) have made the decision to stop actively supporting it.
Update August 2011 - IE6 reduces still further with only 2.3% usage as of June 2011.
As there has been no case brought to court (yet) in the UK, there is no set minimum level of requirement. It has been accepted that the minimum level required to comply with UK law is Priority 1 at the very least, which means you have at least removed some of the most obvious barriers to a disabled visitor to your site. The UK Government and the RNIB advise that you should be surpassing Priority 1 to at least Priority 2 to make your website truly useable by disabled visitors. The definitions of Priority 1, 2 (and 3) can be found in the W3C document Checklist of Checkpoints for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. The government guidelines TG102 - Delivering Inclusive Websites is also a relevant document and defines government policy toward Public Sector websites.