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Web Page Design Priorities: Purpose vs. Presentation?
A little introspection call: do you design with set goals or to showboat?

 3:35 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Okay... here it is, the million dollar question: what kind of coder are you? Do you code with specific priorities focused on attaining set goals such as information dispersal, search engine indexing, accessiblity, increased marketshare and sales. Is your coding and core design structured around these concepts? Or, do you allow a bit of "coding ego" to get in the way and take precedence?

In other words, do you opt for DHTML, Flash and complex graphics when a more straight forward design would serve the actual purpose of the site better?

Be honest now: Have you ever added code to a page or site simply to flex your coding skills in a "look what I can do" frame of mind and then tried to justify it by convincing yourself that everyone will be soooo impressed that they will automatically buy your products, sign-up for your mailing lists and bookmark each and everyone of your pages.

We discuss many topics in this forum, we certainly have no lack of "how to" discussions; I doubt if there is any other location on the Internet better suited to solving technical issues better than the forums here at Webmaster World.

We also do an exemplary job of discussing usability issues: I've seen others try - try, mind you, to emulate our tack and recreate our dynamics (as if!). The members here interact with such high caliber and over-all quality that many of the discussions achieve instant "classic" status.

But at the core of it all we need to ask: what are the goals we wish to achieve when we code? Do we always consider the true purpose of a project and the best way to attain it. This demands a bit of soul searching and honest introspection; leave the half-hearted justification attempts behind: do you allow your ego to take precedence over the actual goals of a project?

Presentation, design and content: what are your proirities? Honestly.

[edited by: papabaer at 5:22 pm (utc) on Aug. 6, 2002]



 3:58 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

purpose...I'm not good enough to showboat


 4:02 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Same here. I know very little about coding. I would be very hard pressed to hand code an HTML page let alone do any javascript or Flash.


 4:03 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

You're a funny old stick papabaer, we can certainly see which way you go... ;)

And you all know, I'm pretty similar...

  • Functionality
  • Useability/accessibilty
  • Content written around keyword goals
  • Seperation of style from content, I'm a 'clean coder' evangilist just like Papabaer and a number of others on this board.
  • Seperation of presentatin from code logic and backend content (PHP, MySQL, Smarty, XHTML and CSS)
  • The respect of my peers

I threw that last in there because no matter how humble you are (and I'm not in the least bit humble, I know I'm great ;)) the respect of your peers is important. Who else understands?



 4:11 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'm lazy -- well, maybe I just have too many things to do, so each one gets only an economy of attention.

That means I don't get any fancier than I have to. I'll spend more time thinking about finding a simple way to do things than it would have taken me to do it the complex way.

Seriously, my site designs are getting downright minimalist. I tell myself that it highlights the content rather than overshadowing it. I wrrte posts to justify my approach with phrases like "slick ain't sticky".

But maybe I'm just lazy. I go for what someone I revere once called the "minimum optimum" level in all things.


 4:18 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Definitely focused on goals when coding for clients' sites. I mean that's what they pay for and that's what they get and I'm not confident enough to just go ahead and try something I'm not completely certain of. And there usability comes as a big number one goal.

OTOH, I have a couple of pages on one of those free hosting services which I just use to experiment with the cool and funny and challenging stuff :) (still have to find a free hoster where I can use SQL though). Kind of a way to vent my frustrations after a couple of hours plain old HTML with the odd javascript.

Respect of my peers: yes of course. But I don't count every webmaster on the web as a peer. But better to stop here, else I'm going to start ranting ;).


 4:20 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

I don't count every webmaster on the web as a peer.

Yes. Shocking isn't it? There should be a license or soemthing!



 4:36 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

There should be a license or soemthing!

There IS [microsoft.com] :):):)


 4:41 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

"Minimum optimum" ... I like that!

I am so far down the techie learning curve that I don't have a hope of coding anything just to show off. The most I can hope for is not to make too many obvious mistakes or shoot myself in the foot.

I get my affirmation from affiliate checks in my mailbox.


 4:51 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

I start with function. I view the web as a publishing medium so both code and presentation are important. Coded properly the subject is accessible. Presented properly it is understandable. Clean code, clean presentation.

I edit with Edward Tufte's "chart junk" in mind; let content speak for itself. I have coded some work purely for the hell of it, just to see if it can be done, but if it's of no use it doesn't get published. It just stays in the curio cabinet, an interesting specimen. My background is in art. 30 years now an artist and photographer. And I have a lot of curios!


 4:54 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

"Simplify, simplify, simplify!" said Thoreau.

I'm a minimalist by nature (that's what my art teachers always told me, anyway). That's why I like designing for the web, because IMHO this is the best approach to design for this medium.

I'm not all that good yet, but I want to become a great javascript and php programmer only so that I can write simple, elegant and easily-understood code. Any fancy DHTML stuff I would ever do would only be in the interests of simplifying the visitor's ability to find what they want.

So I guess in my case I can showboat and present information and meet goals all at the same time.

Anyway, that's my view.

[edited by: moonbiter at 4:57 pm (utc) on Aug. 6, 2002]


 4:56 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'm with tedster on this one. I think my designs could be construed as too minimalistic sometimes. For example, I recently did an ecommerce site that only had 3 graphics on the entire site (minus the product images and thumbnails). There is no JS anywhere, except for some client-side form validation. The average page size (not including graphics) is around 8k. The client, however, loves it and the site has been really successful. Although I have to admit, he wasn't too impressed with the design upon first looking at it. But after a little brainwashing, he's very happy. :)


 5:01 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

My bias is content. Then design and format. Then everything else. SEO comes very low on my scale of priorities, as I feel with good content SEO is not all that important. At least, that's my experience. In fact, I find viral marketing, link exchange and email campaigns to be much more effective at gaining traffic than SEO.

Richard Lowe


 5:12 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Nick hit on the key point, separation of style from content, but even here we have some issues to contend with: can presentation, even efficiently controlled, still get in the way of content and hinder other goals?

When doe presentation cross into "fluff" territory? Tedster notes his design philosphy is moving towards a minimalist approach. Less is more! More often than not...

Clutter and "noise" are distractions, not enhancements. How much of these do you allow to creep into your design? Sure, this is somewhat subjective; but if the rules of application are applied, the subjectivity becomes easier to approach.

I feel very strongly about the sometimes confusing opions than "dynamic html" and "dynamic design" are one and the same. They are not. I've seen sites with flyouts, dropdowns, popups and every flavor of rollover that are so stagnant and unappealing it is ridiculous.

I've also seen sites presented with "static" design that are incredibly dynamic because of the reactions and emotions they evoke.

One approach might require a great deal of code and achieve very little, while the other may take the minimal approach but deliver great impact.

Do you really need eight font variations, flyout menus, and multiple versions of rollovers? Do these add to, or subtract from? Yes, I am aware of demographics and "targeting" markets - BUT! Are you working off of proven statistics or mere assumtions?

Before we go further here, let me state that I work in a young "entertainment orientated" sector and my own user surveys tell me that this group is much more interested in the "meat & potatoes" (please hold the parsley) than many would believe. The appeal of "Flash, flyouts and popups" is not as strong or important as some marketing directors believe. "To the point" presentation works in the "hip" market just as it does anywhere else.

Does your design approach "get to the point," or does it overwhelm it?


 5:58 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Some famous writer (Somerset Maugham??) said that the way to edit your writing is the following:

Reread your text and every time you come across a phrase that you really like, delete it.

I suspect that the same could be said for web code.



 6:04 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Reread your text and every time you come across a phrase that you really like, delete it.

I don't understand the reasoning behind that ... could you elaborate?


 6:26 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Basically, if you really like something, then chances are that it's in there because you like it, not because it needs to be in there.

Many writers (both amature and professional) like their own voice too much, and write more verbosely than necessary because of it.

Here is a nice essay [writingguide.geneseo.edu] on good writing. Strunk's The Elements of Style [bartleby.com] is available online.


 6:49 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Many writers (both amature and professional) like their own voice too much, and write more verbosely than necessary because of it.

Many writers like their voice: they become verbose.

Moonbiter's argument is valid. The philosophy can be applied broadly: I like css, I'll style everything! or, I know javascript, rollover this!

Here is a hint. The two most powerful sentences are: Yes. No.

Point taken.


 7:02 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

The GUI: at what point do "enhancements" become "noise?"

Brett has the Webpage Size Checker where we can measure the the Text to HTML ratio, but what about the "relevant content" to "noise" ratio? Is it considered in your designs?


 7:09 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Enhancement is noise. Necessity is the only rule you need to go by. Is it necessary?

(this does not apply to Christmas trees)


 7:27 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

<<The two most powerful sentences are: Yes. No. >>

You can get a lot of mileage out of "Maybe ... " if you flutter your eyelashes just right while you say it! ;)

Regarding necessity and noise: which is which may vary considerably depending on the site's goals. As an example, sales copy that is good at getting customers to open their wallets might not be particularly good spider food. Adding phrases here and there might be redundant from a human / sales point of view, but might be very worthwhile from the SEO / promotion point of view. For any website there will be numerous variables to juggle. It's really important for the whole design team to have a clear vision of the site's goals and priorities, so everything they do can support that goal -- or at least keep out of the way!


 7:32 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

It's a question of getting the whole package right, and minimalism (or [insert opposite to minimalism here!]) is far from any guarantee that that's what you're going to get.

I think it's important that a site looks and feels good, making using it an enjoyable experience. It's almost impossible to put your finger on the factors that play here but somehow, when they all come together, you've got a great website. You know when you come across one. It does seem that minimalism has the upper hand here as there are less mistakes to be made* and "Constraint breeds creativity". Though it must be said I've come across many a 'minimalist' site which is still a total displeasure to use.


 7:33 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

You can get a lot of mileage out of "Maybe ... " if you flutter your eyelashes just right while you say it!

Shameless hussy ;);)

I'm currently using css positioned optimization text that is valid in it's own right, if a little keyword heavey, and leaving my sales stuff geared to just that: Sales.



 7:38 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

> important for the whole design team to have a clear vision of the site's goals

Everyone asking "what is necessary to achieve that goal?"

> many a 'minimalist' site which is still a total displeasure to use

Because it was an enhancement, a self-conscious attempt at style, not a result of the "necessity" rule.


 8:33 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)


I code everything in MS notepad.exe. This is my little ecentricity.

I hate WYSIWYG editors (including UltraDev and FrontPage). I have never created a page in one of them that doesn't come out to less than 60k and has less than 1000 <P></P>'s that don't belong - so I've given up on all WYSIWYG editors.

Over the last six years I've taught myself...

HTML, JavaScript, ASP (VBScript), XML, DHTML, and CSS.

...through about 10-12 books.

I like to code graphic-light pages using tables and paragraphs with colored backgrounds to brighten up the pages. Basically, wherever I can put text instead of a graphic, I do.

I usually place no more than 5 1-6k graphics on a single page.

For my own site, I'm designing it to: 1. Load fast; 2. Immediately present the theme of the site to the user; 3. Make navigation as simple as possible (scraping the usual side-nav); and 4. Conform to W3C HTML 4.1 Validation rules.

The bells and whistles of the site aren't flashy, but give personality to the site itself...

- Random comments when you log in or log out. ("Oh, you again...")
- A "User Status" readout that keeps track of your activity on the site and rates you accordingly. ("You're becoming extremely popular!")
- Easter Eggs in the code and strewn throughout the site.
- The ability to create or join a group with your friends so that you can work together to raise your individual levels of access by submitting content and contributing to the growth of the site.

If your site's design doesn't have the fundamentals in place like a fast loading time, easy nav, and tight code-based design - all the graphics and flash animations in the World won't help you.

How's the saying go? "You can dress up a pig, but it's still a pig."


 8:39 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

On the subject of writing copy for the web:

Doug Lavender's Webbed eCopy [www3.sympatico.ca] is an excellent resource.


 8:40 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Reread your text and every time you come across a phrase that you really like, delete it.

Someone else on this site once quoted:


STEP #1: Create without criticism.
STEP #2: Murder your little darlings.



 11:48 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Reread your text and every time you come across a phrase that you really like, delete it.

I don't understand the reasoning behind that ... could you elaborate?

Wow, there's been a lot of traffic in the couple of hours since I posted that. Basically Moonbiter nailed it though - if you come across some turn of phrase that sounds just so brilliant to you, then it likely sounds affectatious and unnecessary to the reader. More importantly, however, unless you are writing poetry, you probably don't want your reader to get stuck on the mechanics of your expression, but rather on the message. That's what made me think of the analagoy to Papa's original post, not to mention certain very lengthy previous discussions....


P.S. I just created the most amazing new kind of drop-down list. Check it out at ...


 12:05 am on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

Toadhall said

Enhancement is noise

I just have to wheel out that other old saw...

La perfection est atteinte non quand il ne reste rien ajouter, mais quand il ne reste rien enlever
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Which means... Perfection is attained not when there is nothing to add, but when there is nothing to take away.


 12:11 am on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

Reread your text and every time you come across a phrase that you really like, delete it.


I really liked the way I used the phrase "disagree". It was succinct and conveyed my thoughts exactly. I refuse to delete it, sir!

I think one should be careful about absolute rules. While they might suit computer programming, they don't suit other endevours - like writing. An individual "voice" is important and often occurs when the writer breaks established rules.

One rule I always follow, however, is to read things aloud. If it sounds crap when I talk it, my writing needs revision.

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