Web Publishing for Genealogy

Designing Your Web Site

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Good and Bad Web Design

Even if you've never designed anything before, you will have been exposed to information in printed form which draws upon over 1,000 years of tradition and experience in how to present information on the physical page of a book, so understanding what makes a word-processed document look good is not particularly taxing.

On the other hand, no one has more than 10 years experience of designing Web pages, or more than 20 years of designing hypertext systems. This means that the art of Web design is still in its infancy. Nonetheless, it's clear that there are really two components to it:

  • the individual pages should be well designed -  they should be visually clear and information should be easy to read.
  • the site as a whole should be well designed  -  it should be easy to see what's on the site and how to find one's way around.

The important question to keep in mind is: who is your site aimed at? Since the purpose of a genealogical site must be to provide information, any purely graphical elements should serve that information and should not be dominant. Also, remember that many visitors will still be coming to your site over a phone line and a modem rather than via a broadband or faster connection, so you shouldn't have anything on your pages that causes them to download more slowly than they need to. Experience shows that people simply don't wait for pages that are slow to download -  at least, not unless they are sure that the information will be of interest.

Most books on Web publishing will offer some guidance on design issues. Of the material freely available on the Web the Yale Web Style Guide is highly recommended, while Web pages that suck will show you some of the things to avoid.

Some of the basic things to avoid in page design are:

  • Excessive use of bold or upper case
  • Excessive use of headings or large font sizes
  • Backgrounds or colour combinations that make the text hard to read
  • Using a different background or colour scheme on every page
  • Lots of unnecessary graphics
  • Adding a feature just because you know how to do it and want to try it out.

In both page and site design, the best advice is: keep it simple and keep it clear. It is possible to pack a lot of information on a Web page and have complex graphic design, but a glance at a few corporate Web sites should convince you that even professional designers find it hard to do this well.

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4. Designing Your Web Site