by Terry Young
Attending to these details is something
As I mentioned last month, it is extremely easy for designers to be eager to show off that they have learned how to do the latest thing happening on the internet.
This can be harmful when the latest development is not necessary to the theme or function of a website.
The greatest example of this is Shockwave Flash. Flash, whilst being an extremely impressive multimedia form, has to be used sparingly if you have any consideration for the viewing public. It is very easy for a designer to create your logo flying around the screen to the glorious booming cannons of 1812 Overture. All this showmanship is totally wasted if 70% of users click away, or worse, exit the whole site before it even loads.
One thing to keep in mind when developing your site is that not everyone has a super-high-speed Internet connection. In fact, only a small percentage do. The people using 56k dial-ups will probably not wait two minutes for the "Loading Flash Intro" animation to complete. Even worse, some designers try to make whole web sites Flash based. If this is not done extremely carefully, the site can take over five minutes to load at 56k.
Unfortunately, designers may show you their work on their much faster computers. That means that you might not even realize how slow your site is until the first time you view it using a 56k connection. By then the site is signed off and has gone live and it is too late. You would probably be charged to replace the pages with something that loads faster. There are also other dynamic elements, such as drop down navigation menus, animation, and text effects that need to be carefully considered before being implemented on a site.
Although compatibility is getting better, there are still several differences between all the browsers and browser versions being used to see your site (Netscape, Internet Explorer, AOL, etc.) This means that some elements won't work if the browser a visitor is using to see your site does not support the functions built into it.
One of the first questions we ask is are the features of these browsers consistent with the things you want your site to do? If the answer is no, we have two choices. We can either play it safe and not use these elements, or we can create versions without these elements in them. We put in the extra time and effort necessary and opt for the latter. This is of paramount importance when it comes to site navigation. If a potential client cannot see the menu your designer has created, he will only be able to see a small portion of your site.
As a standard, when we use drop-down menus (usually for sub-categories), we also make duplicate links in normal form so everyone, regardless of their browsers, can use them. If Flash is used for navigation, as we do quite often, we design alternate versions of the pages to make navigation easy for anyone viewing your site, again, regardless of their browsers. Visit www.internetmark.com/noflash/ to see where someone without flash would be redirected upon visiting our site.
Ironically, attending to these details is something that we do that is not noticed by the end user. Our clients are often oblivious to the extra effort we put in to ensure easy viewing and navigating unless we show them direct comparisons.
When it all comes down to it, user-friendliness is one of the most important parts of the web development process. The simple fact of internet business is that if people can't see parts (or all) of your site, or have trouble navigating around it, they are not going to tell you they have had a problem. They will simply leave and go to one of your competitors.
Remember, on the Internet, your first impression may be your last chance. Take the time and effort necessary to have a site developed (by us of course) that is visually pleasing as well as functional. You'll be glad you did!
Next Month - The mysteries of the search engines
Terry Young is the founder and CEO of Internet Marketing and Design. Since 1997,