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Designing Web Pages that Work

by Laura Gieseke

There are a lot of "how to" books on Web page design; the problem is finding the right one for you. Even if you do find a good book, remember that "there are no rules in Web design, just strong suggestions” (Flanders, 2002).

If you surf the Net, even just a little, it's not hard to run into a poorly designed site. These sites detract from the user’s online experience. Here are some "strong suggestions" every Web designer should follow to avoid adding more poorly designed sites to the Web.

Many researchers agree on the usefulness of some basic design techniques. Researchers advise Web designers to standardize the navigational tools on each page and avoid using a "busy" background. Most "how to" books dwell on the fundamental principle that less is more: a busy background can distract the user from the words on the page as well as make content difficult to find (Williams, 2000).

"Son of Web Pages that Suck" by Vincent Flanders, suggests that by viewing poorly designed Web sites, designers can learn how to improve their own. This book teaches one how to recognize poor design, and how to avoid the same mistakes.

Another important fact to keep in mind when designing a Web page is how people read online documents. Unlike paper documents, people are more likely to scan the online document for information. To make people read what's on your site, make things simple and stick with as few words as possible. Make the text "scannable." The following, from "How Users Read on the Web" by Jakob Nielson, is a good design technique to follow when writing online documents (Nielson, 1997).

  • highlight keywords
  • use meaningful sub-headings
  • use bulleted lists
  • use one idea per paragraph
  • start with the conclusion
  • use half the word count of traditional writing

The number of sites on the Web is increasing every day, making the World Wide Web an enormous database. With the number of available sites, if a site is poorly designed, surfers won’t stay long enough to see what it has to say. Making a site usable and well-designed will attract more long-term visitors.


Flanders, Vincent. "Son of Web Pages that Suck." San Francisco, 2002

Nielson, Jakob. "How Users Read on the Web." Alertbox, October 1997,

Williams, Thomas R. "Guidelines for Designing and Evaluating the Display of Information on the Web." Technical Communication 47, no. 3 (2000): 383