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Making sites easy for visitors

One hundred years, even thirty years ago, public buildings and churches were built with no thought for people with any disability. Sweeping flights of steps up to an imposing main entrance, more steps inside, no amplification. A lack of easy access excluded many people. Easy accessibility to public buildings is now mandated by legislation in most countries.

“Content is what you say, design is how you say it,” says Warren, a web evangelist. Both aspects are a key to the overall accessibility of a website. There are several interlocking aspects which contribute to accessibility. A book on website design suggests that we need three skills in order to create an accessible site - those of:

Information architect

The concept of ‘information architect’ is a very useful one because information can be organized and presented in ways that are helpful or confusing, clear or obscure, neat or cluttered, inviting or daunting. An information architect understands all this, and knows how to structure websites, so that they serve people well. Should something be organized alphabetically, or chronologically, or in order of size, or geographically, or in order of importance? How many points should be on a page? How much text? How much white space? What fits with what? Where should pictures be, and what kinds of pictures, and how big, and with what? An information architect knows how to work with all those kinds of questions.

To be effective web evangelists, we must learn to become information architects, by clear organized writing, attractive design, and an integrated presentation of information within an easy-to-navigate site.

1. Writing the content

Jumbled writing, poor spelling and punctuation, large blocks of text which lack white space, paragraph breaks or subheadings will all encourage the premature departure of visitors from your site. Individual pages should have a single focus. Don't try to develop several themes on one page – create separate new pages.

2. Design

Design falls into two categories – individual page appearance, and how all the pages relate together as a coherent whole.

a. Page appearance. Even if the written text is clear and understandable, a confusing page design will prevent easy reading.

b. Navigation. As important as the appearance of individual pages, is the way that they all link together. It is very easy to get this aspect of usability wrong. The web visitor does not, like you, know what all the pages contain. He or she is a stranger, navigating 'blind', and needs as much help as possible. However, the visitor wants to feel in control of the browsing experience. It is very important that those visiting your site know where they are, where they have been, and where they can go. This requires:

Learning from other designs

Before designing a website, take large amounts of time to look at other sites and learn from both good and bad ones: Make notes about good design features to use on your own pages and the bad things to avoid. Learn from showcase examples of bad design and good design as well as site critiques.

Expect that your website will grow – so build in space for easy and logical expansion right from the start.

At the planning stage, it is helpful to create a paper prototype to help you visualize the range of pages and how they relate to each other.

Site design and usability links

Check our book recommendations on web design and accessibility.

Read more Firefox iconrelated pages within the Websites that work menu links
book graphicrecommended books on web design, including free downloads
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