<website=ergonomic design> ®

To be fully appreciated, a Web page must be intuitive - the progression of ideas and images should have a logical flow, typically from top to bottom. I know that when I'm surfing, if I come upon a page which leaves a blank spot for graphics at the top, I'll usually amuse myself by reading what's down below, and then go on to another link, rather than cursoring back to the top to see what might (or might not) have finished loading up there. And if some text hasn't transferred to my screen in a few seconds, I'm either miffed at the site owner (assuming I'm motivated enough to wait for the content), or I'm off to see another URL. Netsurfers know when they're being jerked around; in the course of their investigations, they've all seen a well-designed page or two.

A Webmaster sets the program for his/her site, and it doesn't make sense to take the chance that a viewer might not experience the total impact of a page. The present state of W³ technology (specifically long load times for graphics on 14.4 modems) is temporarily dictating a different design aesthetic than in older media. If a page is constructed intuitively, by the time a reader gets to the bottom, graphics loaded there will have appeared. A more elegant total impression can be achieved by placing graphics below text, with the added bonus that it doesn't require retrograde scrolling from the user. It also ensures that the casual surfer will experience all the hard work that went into designing the visuals.

Audiences are often abused by Webmasters. Maybe they have the latest browser, and an ISDN connection, but that's no excuse for arrogance in design principles. Currently, W³ content needs more creativity than gadgets; a lot of designers will use technology as a crutch when they're out of real ideas. I especially take issue with the pompous "Designed for [browser]" notices that we see popping up everywhere. My first impression is that if these tunnel visionaries are good enough to put together a killer site, at the very least they should be capable of making sure all potential visitors can view it! I've been ignominiously booted out of pages in the past, just because I didn't happen to be using the chosen grail of browsers...

Then, when I finally went out and purchased the latest Scapegrace browser of netsurfing, I reported so many fatal bugs that I felt I had been unwillingly conscripted as an indentured beta tester for their product! Little wonder that I sometimes insist on foaming at the mouth. It's a good thing that I have an outlet in my writing; who knows how many poor dogs I'd bite?!

If a site is planned to be an intelligent, un-self-conscious piece of entertainment which blends thought-provoking text content and eye-catching graphics with reasonably efficient load principles, good topology, and most crucially - IT MAKES SENSE (!!), the designer is accomplishing something which is all too rare on the Net. Most Websters don't realize that they're really in *Show Biz*!

After I wrote and installed the F12 website, I discovered that there is a wealth of academic and technical support for these creative ideas. Dr. Jakob Nielsen, a Human Interface Architect and Distinguished Engineer at Sun, makes nine excellent points in his Top Ten Mistakes In Web Design. Ya gotta love a guy who knows his way around catch phrases like "gratuitous use of bleeding-edge technology"! Also, The Bandwidth Conservation Society and The HTML Writers Guild offer useful information, and links to numerous resources which erect a persuasive technical apologia for this project.

When discussing the importance of validation, I always religiously quote the anchored section "A Special Thanks", from Harold A. Driscoll's Some HTML Validation Tools:

I've used http://www.microsoft.com/, [Microsoft's] corporate home page, to produce the error displays in this article. When I ran their page through each of these validation routines, you might say that it almost lit up like a Christmas tree. [¶] Out of a sense of fair play, or something like that, I've avoided showing the many reports resulting from their non-standard extensions to HTML. The examples selected... [are] the type of HTML errors which can cause problems among various browsers. [¶] Thanks, [Microsoft], you saved me the trouble of making up a defective page to use for the examples in this article. You had one, yours, just waiting for me.

I try to adhere to the Internet Robustness Principle in these pages: "Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you produce". So every scrap of HTML is validated, either The Dr. is on...at WebTechs (née HaLSoft) or A Kinder, Gentler Validator. And Doctor HTML performs many useful online tests of these HTML documents, including link verification, spell checking and load time analysis. Word on the street is that the next version will examine cholesterol levels, too... Web-Counter runs the numbers for us, and the Yale Style Manual provides spiritual guidance.

Often, the most gratifying part of this process can be the hyperlinks: employing one's discrimination and taste to guide the viewer toward other high quality sites. A generation ago, I would've said "Here's something cool, let me turn you on to it." Today, with a point and click, you're encouraged to go see for yourself!

Well, shucks, if you've gotten this far, you might as well go ahead and sign the guestbook! Or, if your pages could benefit from ergonomic design, contact me.

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© Alan C. Baird ~ October's visitor load to Glendale, Calif. [time: images] ~ iA home