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About Web Design for Schools
Web design is the design of web pages, school websites and web applications using HTML, CSS, images, and other media.
Web design is in contrast with web development, which includes web server configuration, writing web applications and server security.
School Website design
A school website is a collection of information about a particular topic or subject. Designing a school website is defined as the arrangement and creation of web pages that in turn make up a school website. A web page consists of information for which the school website is developed. For example, a school website might be compared to a book, where each page of the book is a web page.
A school website typically consists of text and images. The first page of a school website is known as the Home page or Index. Some school websites use what is commonly called an Enter Page. Enter pages might include a welcome message, language/region selection, or disclaimer. Each web page within a school website is an HTML file which has its own URL. After each web page is created, they are typically linked together using a navigation menu composed of hyperlinks.
Once a school website is completed, it must be published or uploaded in order to be viewable to the public over the internet. This is done using an FTP client. Once published, the webmaster may use a variety of techniques to increase the traffic, or hits, that the school website receives. This may include submitting the school website to a search engine such as Google or Yahoo, exchanging links with other school websites, creating affiliations with similar school websites, etc.
A relatively new technique for creating school websites called Remote Scripting has allowed more dynamic use of the web without the use of Flash or other specialized plug-ins. Leading the various techniques is Ajax, although other methods are still common, as Ajax is not a fully developed standard.
Things to think about with school websites
Lack of collaboration in design
In the early stages of the web, there wasn't as much collaboration between web designs and larger advertising campaigns, commerce, social networking, intranets and extranets as there is now. Web pages were mainly static online brochures disconnected from the larger projects.
Many web pages are still disconnected from larger projects. Special design considerations are necessary for use within these larger projects. These design considerations are often overlooked, especially in cases where there is a lack of leadership, understanding or concern for the larger project to facilitate collaboration. This often results in unhealthy competition or compromise between departments, and less than optimal use of web pages.
Liquid versus fixed layouts
Programmers were the original web page designers in the early 1990s. Currently most web designers come from a graphic artist background in print, where the artist has absolute control over the size and dimensions of all aspects of the design. On the web however, the Web designer has no control over several factors, including the size of the browser window and the size and characteristics of available fonts.
Many designers compensate for this by wrapping their entire webpage in a fixed width box, essentially limiting it to an exact pixel-perfect value, which is a fixed layout. Some create the illusion of liquidity by building the graphics for their webpage at a size larger than any current standard monitor size. Other designers say that this is bad because it ignores the preferences of the user, who might have their browser sized a specific way that they like best. These people propose a liquid layout, where the size of the Web page adjusts itself based on the size of the browser window.
There is a usability reason (rather than wanting control) for why a designer may choose a more fixed layout. Studies have shown that there is usually an optimal line width in terms of readability. One rule to appear from such studies is that lines should be between 40-60 characters long, or approximately 11 words per line. But users may choose their windows size and font selection to optimize other factors more important to them.
In some cases, it is difficult to create fixed layouts which work well given the amount of content needed, and the fact that one has to try to cater for the needs of all prospective users.
Adobe Flash (formerly Macromedia Flash) is a proprietary, robust graphics animation/application development program used to create and deliver dynamic content, media (such as sound and video), and interactive applications over the web via the browser.
Flash is not a standard produced by a vendor-neutral standards organization like most of the core protocols and formats on the Internet. Flash is much more restrictive than the open HTML format, though, requiring a proprietary plugin to be seen, and it does not integrate with most web browser UI features like the "Back" button. However, those restrictions may be useful depending on the goals of the web site design.
Flash as a format has become very widespread on the desktop market. According to NPD study, 98% of US Web users have the Flash Player installed , with 45%-56% (depending on region) having the latest version. Numbers vary depending on the detection scheme and research demographics.
Many graphic artists use Flash because it gives them exact control over every part of the design, and anything can be animated and generally "jazzed up". Some application designers enjoy flash because it lets them create applications that don't have to be refreshed or go to a new web page every time an action occurs. There are many sites which forego HTML entirely for Flash. Other sites may use flash as conservatively as gifs or jpegs would be used, but with smaller vector file sizes and the option of faster loading animations. Flash may also be used to protect content from unauthorized duplication or searching.
Flash detractors claim that Flash school websites tend to be poorly designed, and often use confusing and non-standard user-interfaces. Up until recently, search engines have been unable to index Flash objects, which has prevented sites from having their contents easily found. It is possible to specify alternate content to be displayed for browsers that do not support Flash. Using alternate content also helps search engines to understand the page, and can result in much better visibility for the page. This, however, does not enable search engines to read images used in the place of text for styling purposes, nor are the vast majority of Flash school websites disability accessible (for screen readers, for example) or Section 508 compliant.
CSS versus tables
For more details on this topic, see Web design (Tableless).
Back when Netscape Navigator 4 dominated the browser market, the popular (but now deprecated) solution available for designers to lay out a Web page was by using tables. Often even simple designs for a page would require dozens of tables nested in each other. Many web templates in Dreamweaver and other WYSIWYG editors still use this technique today. Navigator 4 didn't support CSS to a useful degree, so it simply wasn't used.
After the browser wars were over, and Internet Explorer dominated the market, designers started turning towards CSS as an alternate, better means of laying out their pages. CSS proponents say that tables should only be used for tabular data, not for layout. Using CSS instead of tables also returns HTML to a semantic markup, which helps bots and search engines understand what's going on in a web page. Today, all modern Web browsers now support CSS with different degrees of limitations.
However, one of the main points against CSS is that by relying on it exclusively, control is essentially relinquished as each browser has its own quirks which result in a slightly different page display. This is especially a problem as not every browser supports the same subset of CSS rules. For designers who are used to table-based layouts, developing Web sites in CSS often becomes a matter of trying to replicate what can be done with tables, leading some to find CSS design rather cumbersome due to lack of familiarity. For example, at one time it was rather difficult to produce certain design elements, such as vertical positioning, and full-length footers in a design using absolute positions. With the abundance of CSS resources available online today, though, designing with reasonable adherence to standards involves little more than applying CSS 2.1 or CSS 3 to properly structured markup.
These days most modern browsers have solved most of these quirks in CSS rendering and this has made many different CSS layouts possible. However, some people continue to use old browsers, and designers need to keep this in mind, and allow for graceful degrading of pages in older browsers. Most notable among these old browsers are Internet Explorer 5 and 5.5, which, according to some web designers, are becoming the new Netscape Navigator 4 — a block that holds the internet back from converting to CSS design.
How it Looks vs. How it Works
Since so many web developers have a graphic arts background, some may pay more attention to how a page looks, without considering how visitors are going to find the page via a search engine. Some may rely more on advertising than search engines to attract visitors to the site. On the other side of the issue, search engine optimization consultants (SEOs) obsess about how well a web site works technically and textually: how much traffic it generates via search engines, and how many sales it makes, assuming looks don't contribute to the sales. As a result, the designers and SEOs often end up in disputes where the designer wants more 'pretty' graphics, and the SEO wants lots of 'ugly' keyword-rich text, bullet lists, and text links. One could argue that this is a false dichotomy due to the possibility that a web design may integrate the two disciplines for a collaborative synergetic solution. Because some graphics serve communication purposes in addition to aesthetics, how well a site works may depend on the graphic designer's visual communication ideas as well as the SEO considerations.
Another problem when using lots of graphics on a page is that download times can be greatly lengthened, often irritating the user. This has become less of a problem as the internet has evolved with high-speed internet and the use of vector graphics. This is an engineering challenge to increase bandwidth in addition to an artistic challenge to minimize graphics and graphic file sizes. This is an on-going challenge as increased bandwidth invites increased content.
Accessible Web design is the art of creating webpages that are accessible to everyone, using any device. It is especially important so that people with disabilities - whether due to accident, disease or old age - can access the information in Web pages and be able to navigate through the school website.
To be accessible, web pages and sites must conform to certain accessibility principles. These can be grouped into the following main areas:
* use semantic markup that provides a meaningful structure to the document (i.e. Web page)
* use a valid markup language that conforms to a published DTD or Schema
* provide text equivalents for any non-text components (e.g. images, multimedia)
* use hyperlinks that makes sense when read out of context. (e.g. avoid "Click Here.")
* don't use frames
* use CSS rather than HTML Tables for layout.
* author the page so that when the source code is read line-by-line by user agents (such as a screen readers) it remains intelligible. (Using tables for design will often result in information that is not.)
Dynamic web design
The traditional method of laying out web pages, HTML, is static. There are two ways of delivering content dynamically:
A web server, running special software, constructs an HTML page 'on the fly', according to the user's request and possibly other variables, such as time or stock levels.
Suitable scripting languages include:
MySQL and PostgreSQL are popular free SQL databases, suitable for use with the above. They can be used to allow users, subject to password access if required, to update content.
Client side DHTML can pose major problems for Web accessibility and search engine optimization. Most software designed for assisting people with disabilities, and most search engine robots do not support client side DHTML.
School Website Planning
Before creating and uploading a school website, it is important to take the time to plan exactly what is needed in the school website. Thoroughly considering the audience or target market, as well as defining the purpose and deciding the content will be developed are extremely important. More information on school websites can be found at the Schoolshine site.
Real Website Traffic
Once your school website has been created and made live on the World Wide Web (WWW), it is important to know the difference between real website traffic and fake website visitors. Many times if you purchase a webmaster purchases cheap seo services they will be left with inadequate website traffic. Often it is not the fault of the webmaster him/herself but these problems do occur.
It is essential to define the purpose of the school website as one of the first steps in the planning process. A purpose statement should show focus based on what the school website will accomplish and what the users will get from it. A clearly defined purpose will help the rest of the planning process as the audience is identified and the content of the site is developed. Setting short and long term goals for the school website will help make clear the purpose and plan for the future when expansion, modification, and improvement will take place. Also, goal-setting practices and measurable objectives should be identified to track the progress of the site and determine success.
Defining the audience is a key step in the school website planning process. The audience is the group of people who are expected to visit your school website – the market being targeted. These people will be viewing the school website for a specific reason and it is important to know exactly what they are looking for when they visit the site. A clearly defined purpose or goal of the site as well as an understanding of what visitors want to do/feel when they come to your site will help to identify the target audience. Upon considering who is most likely to need/use the content, a list of characteristics common to the users such as:
* Audience Characteristics
* Information Preferences
* Computer Specifications
* Web Experience
Taking into account the characteristics of the audience will allow an effective school website to be created that will deliver the desired content to the target audience.
Content evaluation and organization requires that the purpose of the school website be clearly defined. Collecting a list of the necessary content then organizing it according to the audience's needs is a key step in school website planning. In the process of gathering the content being offered, any items that do not support the defined purpose or accomplish target audience objectives should be removed. It is a good idea to test the content and purpose on a focus group and compare the offerings to the audience needs. The next step in the process is categorizing the content and organizing it according to user needs. Each category should be named with a concise and descriptive title that will become a link on the school website. Planning for the site's content ensures that the wants/needs of the target audience and the purpose of the site will be fulfilled.
Compatibility and restrictions
Because of the market share of modern browers (depending on your target market), the compatability of your school website with the viewers is restricted. For instance, a school website that is designed for the majority of websurfers will be limited to the use of valid XHTML 1.0 Strict or older, Cascading Style Sheets Level 1, 1024x768 display resolution, and a size of around 32 KB. This is because Internet Explorer is not fully W3C standards compliant with the modularity of XHTML 1.1 and the majority of CSS beyond 1. The screen resolution and internet speed averages around 1024x768 and 768 kpbs, respectively. Since the ideal loading time of a webpage is 0.3 seconds or less, a connection of 768 kbps (DSL/Cable) would mean a size of 32 KB or less. The maximum time a webpage should load is around 1 second, so a max file size of 96 KB would be appropriate. This is part of the reason why Wikipedia pages are suggested to be under 32 KB, or else they are considered long. A target market of more alternative browser (e.g. Firefox and Opera) users allow for more W3C compliancy and thus a greater range of options for a web designer. With the availbility of broadband around the same prices as dial-up, faster connection speeds will allow pages to be larger in size and still load in a reasonable time.
Another restiction on webpage design is the use of different Image file formats. The majority of users can support GIF, JPEG, and PNG (with restrictions). Again Internet Explorer is the major restriction here, not fully supporting PNG's advanced transparency features, resulting in the GIF format still being the most widely used graphic file format for transparent images.
Storyboarding is the process of taking into account the purpose, audience and content to design the site structure that is most suitable for the school website. In this process the organized and categorized content is used to develop a diagram or map. This creates a visual of how the web pages will be laid out and interconnected which helps decide how the content is portrayed. There are three main ways of diagramming the school website organization:
* Linear School Website Diagrams will allow the users to move in a predetermined sequence;
* Hierarchical structures (of Tree Design School Website Diagrams) provide more than one path for users to take to their destination;
* Branch Design School Website Diagrams allow for many interconnections between web pages.
In the process of storyboarding a record is made of the description, purpose and title of each page in the site and they are linked together according to the most effective and logical diagram type. Depending on the number of pages the school website will include, methods include using pieces of paper and drawing lines to connect them or alternatively, creating the storyboard using computer software. Storyboarding can be considered like a creating a prototype for the school website – a model which allows the school website layout to be reviewed, resulting in suggested changes, improvements and/or enhancements. This review process increases the likelihood of success of the school website. Some people refer to this as a "tree" because it branches from the main page.
SOURCE: Much of the above content has been sourced from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_design as at November 9 2006 at 10pm GMT+10.
With thanks to Axiome Equities.