Design is key to an effective Web site

Tricks include organization, direction, links

There are design techniques suited for every medium, and that includes the World Wide Web. "There are things you can do in a Web site you can’t in a magazine. For example, you can highlight words people might not understand, so when they click on the word [with the mouse], they’ll go to a glossary," says Billy Wedlock, director of Sky’s the Limit Interactive, a Web site design company in Sacramento, CA.

When Web sites are designed correctly, they are an effective educational and promotional tool. Yet, many people don’t know how to use the medium. To make the best use of Internet technology, take the time to learn the nuances of an effective site, advises Wedlock. Following are several techniques he uses when designing a Web site:

Categorize information.

Use a table of contents or some other means of organization to tell people what they will find on the site so they don’t just stumble over information.

"Imagine a Web site is like a library: If you can’t find the books, they aren’t much use," says Wedlock. Therefore, create categories so people can quickly find your section on cancer or diabetes.

Link to appropriate sites.

One of the benefits of using the Internet is the ability to link to other sites. This means that you don’t have to research and write all the information on your site. Instead, you can link to sites that have the latest research studies on cancer or other areas of expertise.

Create a frame

If you do link to other sites, make sure users can easily return to your Web site, advises Wedlock. This can be done by creating a frame.

"If a person is browsing on your Web site, you may let them link to the University of Texas so they can get information on cancer research. However, a window would pop up — in other words you would create a frame — so when they are finished browsing, they will close the window and be back on your Web site without relying on forward and back buttons," says Wedlock.

Tell people what to expect.

Make sure people understand where they are going.

"Some Web sites have arrows at the bottom of the page that say ‘next,’ and you aren’t quite sure what next means. I much prefer Web sites that tell me the possibilities and allow me to make a choice," says Wedlock.

For example, one company had photos and descriptions of their products running back to back, with "next" at the bottom of each page. Users had no idea how many products were listed. A better method of introducing products on the Web site would be to provide a list and allow people to choose, says Wedlock.

Make sure graphics don’t slow the site.

Graphics should relate to the text and not simply be used for entertainment value, says Wedlock.

"Entertainment value quickly disappears when it takes a minute or two for the page to appear," he explains.

Keep graphics files small

Also, when using graphics, it is not the size of the photo or illustration but the file size that keeps it from downloading quickly. A postage stamp-size graphic may be 100K (kilobytes) and take two minutes to download, while a bigger graphic is only 10K. Keep file sizes to a minimum because you want the graphics to download quickly, advises Wedlock.

Avoid techniques that are irritating.

Anything that distracts the user, is confusing, or makes him or her wait a long time for a page to appear is irritating and will drive the user from your site. This includes slow graphics and arrows at the bottom of the page. Also, flashing text often is used to draw attention to information but is actually distracting, says Wedlock.

[Editor’s note: For more information on how to design a Web site, contact: Billy Wedlock, Director, Sky’s the Limit Interactive, 3350 Watt Ave., Suite G, Sacramento, CA 95821. Telephone: (916) 485-7469. World Wide Web: http://www.stli.com.]