How many organisations, departments, groups and individuals throughout the country do you think are planning to redesign their Web pages during the Summer? Are you? Is your university? What is the best design for your Web pages? If there isn't a "best design" how do you avoid a bad design - and anyone who has spent any time surfing the Web will know there are many examples of bad pages around.
There has been an evolution in the design of Web pages. Institutions which made an early commitment to the Web tended to go for a simple text based interface for their entry page (now widely but incorrectly known as a home page - the expression home page originally meant the default page displayed by a browser). Indeed in early 1993 it was not possible to include inline images on Web pages. Once NCSA released Mosaic For X (in autumn 1993) with its support or inline images, organisations started to make use of images in a number of ways. We began to see home pages (I feel I'm forced to admit defeat in my battle for this term to retain its original meaning) containing university or departmental logos, and the use or coloured balls for bulleted lists.
In October 1994 the Netscape browser was released, which provided greater control over the layout of documents. We began to see documents with centred headings and text with a variety of sizes. We also saw blinking text on pages. A little later the user interface began to change with the advent of the FRAME tag. Microsoft's belated entry into the browser market saw the continued development of layout facilities, with pages containing background sound and inline video clips on display at the Microsoft Showcase pages (for the patient!)
All of this new technology looks very exciting. But before we start writing Java applets and VRML logos for our home page perhaps we should reflect a little. Remember when the Apple Macintosh first became popular. Who can forget those newsletters and posters? For the first time it was feasible for end users to begin desktop publishing. It was possible to use a wide variety of font faces and sizes - and many people did. The end result was not attractive. Using all the new technologies on our Web pages will similarly not guarantee a pleasing result for the viewer. Even worse, unlike paper technology, it can result in the Web pages not being visible by end users who do not have the plugin software to view the pages.
If you are thinking about redesigning your Web pages, the following checklist may be useful.
If you get it right, who knows - you may win one of the UCISA Web Awards!