Web design is a broad term covering many different skills and disciplines that are used in the production and maintenance of websites. The different areas of web design include; web graphic design, interface design, authoring; including standardised code and proprietary software, user experience design and search engine optimization. Often many individuals will work in teams covering different aspects of the design process, although some designers will cover them all. The term web design is normally used to describe the design process relating to the front-end (client side) design of a website including writing mark up, but this is a grey area as this is also covered by web development. Web designers are expected to have an awareness of usability and if their role involves creating mark up then they are also expected to be up to date with web accessibility guidelines.
Although web design has a fairly recent history, it can be linked to other areas such as graphic design. However web design is also seen as a technological standpoint. It has become a large part of people’s everyday lives. It is hard to imagine the Internet without animated graphics, different styles of typography, background and music.
In 1996, Microsoft released its first competitive browser, which was complete with its own features and tags. It was also the first browser to support style sheets, which at the time was seen as an obscure authoring technique. The HTML markup for tables was originally intended for displaying tabular data. However designers quickly realized the potential of using HTML tables for creating the complex, multi-column layouts that were otherwise not possible. At this time, as design and good aesthetics seemed to take precedence over good mark-up structure, and little attention was paid to semantics and web accessibility. HTML sites were limited in their design options, even more so with earlier versions of HTML. To create complex designs, many web designers had to use complicated table structures or even use blank spacer .GIF images to stop empty table cells from collapsing. CSS was introduced in December 1996 by the W3C to support presentation and layout; this allowed HTML code to be semantic rather than both semantic and presentational, and improved web accessibility. In 1996 Flash (originally known as FutureSplash) was developed. At the time it was of a very simple layout basic tools and a timeline but it enabled web designers to go beyond the point of HTML at the time. It has now progressed to be very powerful, enabling it to develop entire sites.
During 1998 Netscape released Netscape Communicator code under an open source licence, enabling thousands of developers to participate in improving the software. However they decided to stop and start from the beginning, which guided the development of the open source browser and soon expanded to a complete application platform. The Web Standards Project was formed, and promoted browser compliance with HTML and CSS standards by creating Acid1, Acid2, and Acid3 tests. 2000 was a big year for Microsoft. Internet Explorer had been released for Mac, this was significant as it was the first browser that fully supported HTML 4.01 and CSS 1, raising the bar in terms of standards compliance. It was also the first browser to fully support the PNG image format. During this time Netscape was sold to AOL and this was seen as Netscape’s official loss to Microsoft in the browser wars.
Web designers use a variety of different tools depending on what part of the production process they are involved in. These tools are updated over time by newer standards and software but the principles behind them remain the same. Web graphic designers use vector and raster graphics packages for creating web formatted imagery or design prototypes. Technologies used for creating websites include standardised mark up which could be hand coded or generated by WYSIWYG editing software. There is also proprietary software based on plug-ins that bypasses the client’s browsers version, these are often WYSIWYG but with the option of using the software’s scripting language. Search engine optimisation tools may be used to check search engine ranking and suggest improvements.
Other tools web designers might use include mark up validators and other testing tools for usability and accessibility to ensure their web sites meet web accessibility guidelines.
Usually a successful website has only a few typefaces which are of a similar style, instead of using a range of typefaces. Preferably a website should use sans serif or serif typefaces, not a combination of the two. Typography in websites should also be careful the amount of typefaces used, good design will incorporate a few similar typefaces rather than a range of type faces. Most browsers recognize a specific number of safe fonts, which designers mainly use in order to avoid complications.
Font downloading was later included in the CSS3 fonts module, and has since been implemented in Safari 3.1, Opera 10 and Mozilla Firefox 3.5. This has subsequently increased interest in Web typography, as well as the usage of font downloading.
Most layouts on a site incorporate white spaces to break the text up into paragraphs and also avoid centre aligned text.
Web pages should be well laid out to improve navigation for the user. Also for navigation purposes, the sites page layout should also remain consistent on different pages. When constructing sites, it's important to consider page width as this is vital for aligning objects and in layout design. The most popular websites generally have a width close to 1024 pixels. Most pages are also centre aligned, to make objects look more aesthetically pleasing on larger screens.
Fluid layouts developed around 2000 as a replacement for HTML-table-based layouts, as a rejection of grid-based design both as a design principle, and as a coding technique, but were very slow to be adopted. The axiomatic assumption is that readers will have screen devices, or windows thereon, of different sizes and that there is nothing the page designer can do to change this. Accordingly, a design should be broken down into units (sidebars, content blocks, advert areas, navigation areas) that are sent to the browser and which will be fitted into the display window by the browser, as best it can. As the browser does know the details of the reader's screen (window size, font size relative to window etc.) the browser does a better job of this than a presumptive designer. Although such a display may often change the relative position of major content units, sidebars may be displaced below body text rather than to the side of it, this is usually a better and particularly a more usable display than a compromise attempt to display a hard-coded grid that simply doesn't fit the device window. In particular, the relative position of content blocks may change, but each block is less affected. Usability is also better, particularly by the avoidance of horizontal scrolling.
Responsive Web Design is a new approach, based on CSS3, and a deeper level of per-device specification within the page's stylesheet, through an enhanced use of the CSS @media pseudo-selector.
When creating a site it is good practice to conform to standards. This includes errors in code, better layout for code as well as making sure your IDs and classes are identified properly. This is usually done via a description specifying what the element is doing. Not conforming to standards may not make a website unusable or error prone, standards can relate to the correct layout of pages for readability as well making sure coded elements are closed appropriately. Validating via W3C can only be done when a correct DOCTYPE declaration is made, which is used to highlight errors in code. The system identifies the errors and areas that do not conform to web design standards. This information can then be corrected by the user.
Good visual design on a website identifies and works for its target market. This can be an age group or particular strand of culture thus the designer should understand the trends of its audience. Designers should also understand the type of website they are designing, meaning a business website should not be designed the same as a social media site for example. Designers should also understand the owner or business the site is representing, to make sure they are portrayed favourably. The aesthetics or overall design of a site should not clash with the content, making it easier for the user to navigate and can find the desired information or products etc.
For a user to understand a website they must be able to understand how the website works. This affects their experience. User experience is related to layout, clear instructions and labelling on a website. The user must understand how they can interact on a site. In relation to continued use, a user must perceive the usefulness of that website if they are to continue using it. With users who are skilled and well versed with website use, this influence relates directly to how they perceive websites, which encourages further use. Therefore users with less experience are less likely to see the advantages or usefulness of websites. This in turn should focus, on design for a more universal use and ease of access to accommodate as many users as possible regardless of user skill.
Further jobs, which under particular circumstances may become involved during the creation of a website include: