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Tip 5: Appearance Matters
Even though the content of a web site is centrally important, appearance also matters. Attractive images and snappy page layouts make the web fun to use, unless the loading time is excessive. Moreover, improvements to the appearance of a web site can help increase the number of visitors. In the case of Social Psychology Network, I have upgraded the general appearance of the site on three different occasions, and each time the visitor traffic increased by 10-20% soon afterward.
As mentioned earlier, one way to develop an appealing web site is to bookmark and learn from other sites that are particularly well designed. If you understand HTML, you can see how a page was written by using your web browser to look at the source code of the bookmarked page (just select "Source" or "Page Source" under the View pulldown menu of your browser). In this way, you can get the codes for pleasing background colors, font styles, and other design elements.
In addition to maintaining an extensive set of bookmarks, I recommend building your own "image library" by downloading attractive icons, bullets, lines, and other images from clip art sites that you visit. If you use Windows and want to download an image from a web site, simply position your mouse over the desired image, click the right mouse button, and select the option for saving the image or picture (Macintosh users can do the same by positioning their mouse over the image, holding down the mouse button until a pop-up menu appears, and selecting the option for saving or downloading the image). Then save the image to a folder named "images," "library," or any other name you prefer. One warning, though: Be sure that the images you download are free to the public. If you suspect that an image might be copyrighted, check with the site's webmaster before you download the image.
One last suggestion for improving the appearance of a web site is to consult with online style guides (such as the Yale Web Style Guide) or books on web design (e.g., Holzschlag, 1998; Siegel, 1997; Vasquez-Peterson & Chow, 1997; Williams & Tollett, 1998). These guides offer a variety of practical techniques for enhancing the appearance and user-friendliness of web pages. For example, here are a few do's and don'ts of particular relevance to educational web site design:
- Don't allow lines of text to run the full width of the computer screen. Long lines of text are hard to read. Instead, move the text away from the left edge of the screen by using a tables statement in the HTML code (professional web pages are usually formatted with HTML tables, even if the page has nothing that overtly looks like a table).
- Don't create tables or images that are wider than 600 pixels. Tables and images wider than this may display well on your computer monitor but may extend beyond the right edge of smaller monitors, forcing visitors to scroll horizontally in order to view your full page. Overly wide tables and images will also fail to print properly.
- Don't use white text on a dark background if you want visitors to print your pages. White text can be printed, but only if visitors know how to change the text color under "Preferences" or "Options" in their web browser. Because many visitors will not know how to change this setting, the safest route is to avoid using white text. Moreover, black text on a white background is easier to read than white text on a black background. In the words of one web designer, "Before you put a really dark background on your web page, ask yourself this: Why is it so much harder to drive at night than in the daytime?" (Karp, 1998).
- Do use upper and lower case letters rather than all capital letters. Text written in all caps is harder to read and should be used sparingly if at all.
- Do develop a consistent style from page to page. The idea here is to unify your pages with a consistent style in terms of background colors, fonts, navigation buttons, and layout. Consistency in style not only improves the aesthetic appeal of a web site, it makes the site easier to use.
- Do provide a link to your home page on each web page in your site. Otherwise, people who arrive at one of your web pages via a bookmark or remote link may not be able to find your other pages.
- Do make sure visitors have a way to contact you. The most common way to do this is by placing your email address at the bottom of your home page.
- Do provide an outline with internal anchors if a page is unusually long. Internal anchors work in much the same way that normal hypertext links do, except that they send visitors to a specific location within the same page, rather than to a different web page. For an example of how to use internal anchors within a page outline, see the Online Psychology Career Center in Social Psychology Network.