Staples | Web Design: A Primer

Web Design: A Primer

Creating a Web site, whether as a platform for your business or as a spotlight for your passions and hobbies, can be almost as easy as cooking oatmeal. And if you take the quick and panicked route, the results will be thin gruel. Rather than rush the development of your Web site, research the competition and give serious thought to what you want your Web site to accomplish.

The benefits of being deliberate far outweigh the benefits of getting your site up quickly.

Make a plan

Before you make an investment, draw up a Web plan, just as you originally drew up a business plan. Will there be a compelling reason for customers to visit your site? Do you know how your Web site will drive sales? Are you offering a product or forum that is unique or will require specific functionality? If your aim is to promote your offline business, think about how you're going to drive traffic to your new site.

Spend some time on the Web and take note of features you like and dislike. Pay particular attention to your competitors. What are they doing that works? What are they doing that doesn't work?

Designing your own site

This, of course, is the most affordable route. Designing your own site can be accomplished by 1. learning and then using HTML, 2. using commercial Web authoring tools such as Microsoft FrontPage or Macromedia Dreamweaver, or 3. using Web authoring tools provided by your hosting provider (the company that provides the server where your Web site actually resides).

Though not particularly difficult, learning HTML (HyperText Markup Language, the code underlying all Web sites) can be time–consuming. For the second option, using Web–building commercial software, you can purchase or download software such as Dreamweaver or Microsoft FrontPage.

Hiring someone to design it for you

If your funding is limited, Wayne Batchelder, an Instrutor and Web Manager at the Art Institute of Dallas, says that you can probably call a local college or design school and find a student who, in order to build their portfolio for future work, will design your Web site for very little money. If you can afford it, however, it's preferable to employ an experienced designer.

Design essentials

Whether creating your own site, or hiring someone to design it for you, make sure your site adheres to the following basic principles:

  • Put business contact information (phone number and email address) on every page.

  • To build a brand, base the design of your site on your current logo and colors, says author and Internet consultant Shayne Gilbert.

  • Design with fast–loading in mind, says Eric Harris, President of OASYS Information Services and an 18–year veteran of the high–tech industry. Add dancing images, GIFS, and streaming video with caution. Use text instead of graphics whenever possible.

  • To encourage return visits, add updateable sections, such as newsgroups or a "What's New?" section.

  • Use Web–safe colors, says Batchelder. "Web–safe colors are a group of 216 colors that work identically across platforms. Anything outside of that range will be distorted from one type of computer to another." To view Web–safe color charts, Batchelder suggests visiting

  • Use light–colored backgrounds with dark text. White typeface on dark backgrounds is difficult to read.

  • Put the user in the driver's seat. What the customer wants might be quite different from what you want, says Batchelder. At the point–of–purchase, for instance, you might want to reassure customers by including a link to "Frequently Asked Questions," or to details about your site's transactional security.

Setting realistic expectations

"Think about your expectations," says Shayne Gilbert, author of 90 Days to Launch: How to Deliver Sites on Time and on Budget. Though a strong believer in Web sites and their power to communicate cheaply to customers worldwide, Gilbert warns against jumping on the bandwagon too quickly. "If you can't justify the business you're going to get, it might not be worthwhile. Don't create a Web site just for the sake of having one."

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