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Design notes for WWW authors

Use lists efficiently
How to avoid acne-vision
Communicate clearly and efficiently
Apply a way with words to sculpt a viewing experience
Use different styles for different effect
Be nice to your readers
Maintain interest

save money There is plenty to read on this (35K) page and all the links to other pages ( shown as >link> ) are at the end so you may want to go off-line while reading it.

For those of you who don't know Essex, there are many miles of flat marshes with corrugated creeks, the cries of geese and constant chafing of the wind in the reed beds. With hurricane lamp we trudge to the pub and pass evenings in front of the range swapping gossip and secrets of the old marshland crafts. In these notes I hope to pass on to you many of the words of wisdom handed down from the likes of Sam Allen, Potty Lightfoot and 'Monkey' Brougham.


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Dear GOM,
What do you think of the choice of graphics on my home page? It advertises my dads boatyard. Mark, Kent

Answer Dear Mark,
You have tried to make this interesting by adding some graphics, but really need now to rethink the logical structure of your pages. You might also benefit from a bit of brainstorming when it comes to the psychology of turning WWW visitors into boatyard visitors.

Opening graphic

Does you opening graphic stand out enough to identify your page in the minds of the visitor? I think it is an excellent attempt.

While your opening graphic is not an actual trademark it is like the sign hanging outside the shop. It needs to be instantly recognisable, DESCRIPTIVE of the trade, describable in one or two words and only as a bonus distinctive. The big boys have spent millions of dollars on getting the public to associate some graphic with a product or a company. You can't hope to compete on the same level, so limit yourself to the equivalent of a pub sign that tells people what you do.

Your trademark needs to be bold so that it is RECOGNISABLE. If you want a guide to what is instantly recognisable then consider:

For a boatyard, a few flags might be colourful enough to stand out and give enough nautical flavour to the page. Your choice of a coxswain at the helm of a boat has the personal touch to recommend it and is difficult to improve upon.

TIP Instead of using 256, colours try reducing the number of colours to 16. This halves the number of bytes required per image, or doubles the size of image for the same wait while downloading. Be considerate to your viewers.


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Question Dear GOM,
What do you think of the choice of graphics on my home page? Carl, London

AnswerDear Carl,
I was not impressed. It is one of the great benefits of civilisation that we have given up playing the game "my acne is better than yours". Unfortunately your page is covered by acne-vision. Pointless graphics everywhere look like a pizza that has seen better days. Neither do I want to wait for ever for boring pictures or recycled copies of record companies marketing.

I suggest you think of your page as a carnival float.

This is where a spark of imagination pays handsomely. For example you appear to want everyone to know all the things that you get up to. Why not present your home page as seen by the mice behind the skirting board, peeping out and commenting on what's happening? This provides an opportunity for a narration of the images which means that the images themselves don't have to tell the full story and can be reduced in size, number and colour depth.

Remember that visitors want entertainment or information. Try and give both and you won't go far wrong.

Every picture should convey an image to the viewer. Be particular about that image. As they say in Tillingham: "Donkeys aren't stupid, just easily led".
TIPUse the cat-kitten test: Ask yourself is this a photograph of a cat or a kitten. The two are entirely different creatures - one frisky and naughty, the other wary and crafty. Thats what cats and kittens are about. The same applies to people. Is this a party animal or an athletic champion? To tell we need more than a mug shot. If you haven't got the material then you can't publish it - so go out and collect some.

TIP We have all seen acne-vision WWW pages, and not all are private home pages either! A 'cool site' shouts 'go faster stripes and wide wheels'. Is that a recommendation or a fair pointer to self important graphics making up for lack of content? As they say in Dengie at lambing time, "Pretty face, poor price"

What makes a graphic stick in the mind? The answer doesn't lie in factuality but

Remember there are some trigger images that are fairly good bets with a) people in general, b) men and c) women. If you want the details rush off to the library and leaf through the books on marketing. In brief though, you have to stimulate a bit of dreaminess which in turn is associated with pleasure.

TIP Look at the split between text and pictures in newspapers and magazines.


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Dear GOM,
What do you think of my first attempt. Jill, Cornwall

AnswerDear Jill, You have at least had a go and put a sort of domestic business card on the WWW. If you were really advertising then this level of plainness might be ideal. It is basically factual but any reader can tell you have a 'green' outlook. A local councillor might use exactly this sort of "I'm 45 and here's what's important to me" in an election leaflet.

But is that really what you want to convey? Surely you want to put a personality into your page. Think of your page as your front garden. What does it say, or what would you like it to say, about you? Neat and tidy. Garden gnomes? Pretty borders and well mulched roses? Lively bird table or tarmac? How are you going to get across those important but subtle personality traits?

By the use of imaginative design and what I call Radio Voices. The opening paragraphs to this document are an example of RV. I'm painting a picture with words and I'm speaking to you.

Here's how you make up your own:-

  1. Think of a topic of conversation
  2. Think of a suitable context for it, use artistic licence
  3. Can you describe that context easily in the contents page? Or will it mix in with other topics in a self-describing context?
Simple eh? let me give you an example.
  1. [Topic] quote start Wasn't it awful what they did to those trees in Humber Road. quote end

  2. Some possible contexts
    What's been going on this month
    This could be a chat over a cup of tea. The immediate impression is a comfortable, non-confrontational, civilised gossip.

    The council is out of control
    A headline from a political pamphlet distributed to the residents? Fire, calamity and outrage! Sit up and listen.

    Wildlife under threat
    Something in between the other two contexts. The appeal of fluffy animals and pretty birds. Concern. Facts to follow.

  3. Here are some ways of presenting these contexts in a WWW page
    1. quote start I was only saying just the other day to Mrs Harris as we sat sipping (what a difference you can make with "gin / tea", "verandah / beach / by the pool / on the bus / in the Goat and Compasses" here) cocktails at the golf club...quote end This can be placed in the middle of a page with no introduction or title. Gossip flows - it isn't headings and sub-headings.

    2. quote startTHE VOICE OF REASON 
          1) Aren't men bastards  (a link) 
          2) Fascist council vandalises park (a link)
          3) etc..quote end
      Well, you get the idea. Punchy points. This style might apply perhaps to a sales brochure. (If you were selling your house and wanted to "set out the facts")

    3. quote start This year there don't seem to be as many song birds as in previous years. What is nicer than the calling of the cock sparrow in an English garden? Nationwide they seem to be in decline. The trees in Humber road...quote end This is in the form of an article or essay. You have fine control over the essay style. The conventions of the form expect you to present facts and opinions hopefully woven together to make a cast iron case. The style depends on your skill as a writer and your success in your skill as a judge of your readers.

You might find that a mix of these styles is needed to balance your pages. Certainly for a personal home page, a single style shouts lack of imagination and hints at poor presentation of whatever is 'inside'. This is a turn-off no matter how worthy the content.

TIP Use graphics.


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Dear GOM,
My company, a brewery, has asked me to look at having a WWW page. Where do I start. I would also like to know how many people will see it. Sarah, Norfolk

AnswerDear Sarah,
Initially look upon this as an experiment. Putting together something is not difficult, but the 90-90 rule applies (The first 90% of the job takes 90% of the time and the remaining 10% takes the other 90% of the time.) You can throw something together, but as people look at it you'll want to improve it and show the world a presentation with smooth edges and nice design.

Consider your WWW page as a sort of advertisement in the yellow pages. How would you go about getting one of those organised? Almost certainly you'll want your company logo present so, as a practical matter, think about getting artwork scanned and touched up.

OK so you want to do more than tell the world that you exist. Well what do you want to tell the world then? List your objectives on a piece of paper. Let us assume that your objectives, in a nutshell, are: "Presenting our company name, products and friendly face." The first bit is just the yellow pages exercise in colour. The second bit is like a brochure. Colour pictures are a great asset. The third bit, in your case I suspect that the family firm aspect is one you want to promote, is news slanted towards gossip. Big corporations like to put press releases in here - gosh how interesting!

TIP Don't normally put press releases on your WWW pages. The format is so corny that all it shows is that ABC corp. thinks that the man on the Clapham surfboard wants to spend their time being spoon fed this unreadable bumf. A press release is designed for editing before reading. The marketing book formula is designed for rapid processing through an editorial office. Thrill to the excitement of quotes for quotes sake. quote start Vice president Hiram G. Clueless said "This third quarter result is a boost to our stockholders" quote end As they say on Osea island: "Big tides move a lot of mud."

Consider paying me to advise. A long term helping hand with strategy won't cost you much.

As for counting visitors, you can easily put a counter on your page. This is more like embedding another URL of a site that specialises in doing this in your page and is fairly painless. However that is a technical matter and only tells you the number of times your page was accessed. It doesn't tell you either how many people will visit, or what they did then. If you want to sell product through your page, or encourage people to book visits, the tangible success is measured not in the 10's or 1000's that visited but those who reacted with money or e-mail.

TIP Treat this as you would an advertisement on the side of a bus:

  1. Make it attractive
  2. See that it is brought to many people's attention.
There are plenty of resources telling you how to get your web page known. What you have to do is to get people to visit and stay for as long as it takes to get your message across. If you don't know what to say and don't know who you're saying it to, then you'll have yet another boring or incomprehensible web page.


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Question Dear GOM,
I'm stuck trying to decide how to structure my pages. Can you help? Jane, Manchester

AnswerDear Jane,
There are no laws. There is a compromise between having single units and avoiding lengthy and unnecessary downloads.

TIP If the subsidiary components are maintained independently from the core pages then it makes your life much easier if you keep these as separate pages. You'll be able to change one without having to update the whole thing.

The standard structure is:

Tree hierarchy

If you can use the standard structure and avoid multiple levels of a tree hierarchy then your viewers will have less chance of getting lost. If this really is the best structure then here are a couple of design tips:

Contents page

Should the contents page be the home page? Almost always yes. However since the home page is normally the first point of call make sure that any surfers who get washed up on it have a proper introduction. (You know what you're trying to do, but visitors need an explanation.)

TIP You might sketch out a few possibilities for sub-dividing your pages. One way of deciding if you have got it 'right' is to think about the titles (or better little logos, they add to the visual interest of the page and can be a good shorthand for jumps) for links. The simpler these are the more likely you have hit on the right structure.


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Question Dear GOM,
I have tidied up my home page, got the links into a nice list and moved the picture of the boat to an 'inner' page. Now the presentation is better, what do you think of the site as a whole? Mark, Kent

AnswerDear Mark,
Your home page is now nice and smart without being too formal. Simple wasn't it.

Ahem, you omit to say in one paragraph what your boatyard does. Do you build or repair boats? Are you agents for engines or suppliers of yacht varnish? Do you have a crane? and so on. You have assumed that your readers know all this! You don't really give a very good idea of where the yard actually is, how about a map?

TIP Now here is another reason for a brief statement of what you're about. Catalogues to the web are built up by robots that automatically scan the first part of the page and index the words found. So if you say "Agents for Chug-Chug engines" there is a fair chance that someone who needs a gasket for a Chug-Chug engine will be able to find you through such a search. (You might be tempted to just put an image of the Chug-Chug Company trade mark on the page - if you do then the indexing robots will not pick it up.)

Try this I know you would like people to keep visiting your page as the advertisements for boats change. The fact that something has changed might not be exciting enough on its own to tempt people to reload you page each week just to see if something has changed. If readers know that there will be some significant change each month then they will be more likely to visit once a month just for catching up with this months news, cartoon, events diary or whatever.

If your page is updated regularly, then set a date eg "1st of each month" and let readers know. This saves fruitless visits which are turn-offs.

In your case I can think of at least two monthly items:


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Question Dear GOM,
I know you are a pub person. I welcome feedback from viewers, what do you think of my pub and brewer listings?

This answer is representative of catalogue listings. Don't worry if specific pub references don't mean much to you. Locating, presenting concise details and maintaining accuracy are issues for all lists.

Who are you?

There is no indication who you are. Scottish Courage, B.L.R.A. or Jim Smith and his cat? Pubs are not supermarkets - so your style must be a pubby one not a formal one. No need for going OTT, but half a dozen words can place you, 'where you are coming from' and 'where you are going to'.

There should be a proper introduction explaining the purpose, how it is run and what to look out for. Perhaps how to use it. quote start I found the instructions for using the browser's find facility poor a) because there was no sign to say 'Handy hint' and b) because it was immediately followed by the A-Z letters which drew my attention. quote end

Opening page contents

This was a bit bare and hardly told me what I needed to know. Make it clear from the home page that there are lots of links to related stuff. quote start Perhaps "Links to drinks index" is this but this is rather like Alice's bottle that says "drink me" I haven't got a clue what it means and with a browser/WWW server that wants to time out at the drop of a hat, I'm not going up dead ends.quote end

Instead try a more compact format without nesting details

     Find a pub by name   (25K Updated 2/2/96 150 Pubs)
     Brewers              (10K Updated 2/3/96 10 Brewers)
       Brewers products   etc
       Brewers pubs       etc 
     Pub chains 
You can perhaps use the <DL> construct to put the DT element as the anchor and section title with the DD element being a sentence of text describing it.
   Find a pub by name
     Alphabetical listings of 145 pubs 
     National, regional and micro.   Quick reference to 
     many other sites.

The contents should be compact, informative, contain good signposting information and if possible give a good idea of the underlying structure of the site.

Tools for the job

This is an application that is crying out for a search engine/database. There are 1600 pubs in Essex alone! It so happens that Essex CAMRA branches are building a database so that perhaps in a year's time this might be on-line. But now consider that we will want to be able to take input from a click on a map run by the County Council to work out which pubs are in a geographical area. So a database is the only multi- purpose solution. Of course it makes maintenance and importing easier as well as avoiding having to download huge amounts of html. You might find some university department is willing to have a go at supplying just such a server.

Rethink the format of pub listings

Typically a lot of the information in a list is highly structured. You might find that a < PRE > ... < /PRE > listing makes reading easier.
  COUNTY  TOWN      NAME      RUN   OWNER       BEERS  
  Essex   Maldon    Red Cow   Man   Trust Hse   Adnams
  Essex   Stisted   Sealion   Ten   Ridleys     IPA,Mild
  Kent    Ivy Hatch Patchwell Ownr  Free        Varies

On the other hand it is often free form information that is most interesting and can be much better at 'hooking' a reader. eg. Garden is ideal on summer evenings If you're trying to interest people you must have 'colour'. This essential ingredient is very difficult to get out of people to write into their lists. Simply threaten to put "none" in the 'features' column it your information supplier won't deliver. Readers will take one look, get bored, say "so what?" and never visit the page again.

Tables can be useful so long as you remember that not all browsers support them. Also consider that complicated tables are not easy for a tired or unmotivated person to construct and maintain. If you have fixed data then spend the time on a table, but lots of variable data might be too complicated. Tables need testing after even the slightest alteration.

Do you want your page to look like a bus timetable? Probably not if you can help it. How can you help it? By breaking it up into sections (on the same page if you want readers to use the Find. . . facility on their browser) and adding images or blurb. With a paper version of a bus timetable you have a physical reminder where you are in the list as you leaf through. This sense of position can easily be lost in a long web page. Try to combat this with either an obvious (eg alphabetical) order or some other mileposts.


How are pubs selected for 'featuring'? You need to make this process clear so that readers can add their views. How are pubs selected for inclusion?

Men at work

Make it clear that you have only just started. Say what assistance you want from the public. If you want structured responses than work out how to get the information efficiently.

Is the whole idea flawed?

I wouldn't go to a pub just because it appears in a list. The books, including GBG and The Good Pub Guide that 'recommend' pubs need careful reading and a second choice if things have changed or the pub was always crap. You are really producing a yellow pages which I can get in any library. Duplication existing information without adding to the sum of human knowledge.

I suggest a completely different approach. All lists, whether pubs or 78rpm records have sub-classifications and interesting distinguishing features of the specialised subject. For 78rpm records what does everyone want to know about? Scratches and how to minimise their effect. OK so write an article on the subject which calls on items in the list as examples. For pubs try:


Try this Why not save yourself a lot of time and get a database strategy. 61,000 pubs is rather a lot of work. You could do a deal with one of the firms that does electronic versions of the phone book or yellow pages. Either advertise them if they give you the raw data on all pubs in the country, or get them to put up a WWW page that can be searched for pubs as their way of showing off how useful their services could be.


If you can delegate producing lists of pubs to the owners then you get them to do the boring factual work and they can get blamed when they fail to maintain their bit of the data. The obvious way is to give them WWW space that you can search. This then gives you the opportunity to concentrate on editorial and organisation rather than pissing in the wind trying to list pubs.


A copyright notice, disclaimer and address block at the bottom of the home page might be a good idea. If a salesman for a pub chain wants to get in touch but hasn't got e-mail then they are stuck without some other contact information.


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If you want to get in touch with the Guru of the marshes send an e-mail.


Commercial arrangements apply for commercial sites

1 Get in touch first and we'll see if your ideas are suited to the medium.

2 I'll try to get you organised. (I've been consulting for a long time!)

3 Then we'll craft a design.


Mail the following three items:
1: Your name and organisation 
2: Your URL if it already exists
3: Your question
email address image

Here is a >cautionary tale> for those of you who rush into publishing without checking your spelling, checking your facts and exercising restraint. First impressions count, and your page and your name will be dismissed into the blackness that lies beyond the deepest reaches of cyberspace. If you want people to take you seriously then you'll need to show a basic degree of accuracy and coordination.
Here is a >a good argument> for having amusements on your web pages. It was written over 300 years ago but is hard to beat as a clear statement of case for why smiles are good for business. Remember there is nothing special about publishing on the internet. You are carrying on the tradition of cheap pamphlets, broadsheets and chapbooks with your current web publication. Will your site be a pimple on the backside of publishing or a rosy blush on the face of civilisation?
Author: Peter Fox
Address: 2 Tees Close,Witham,Essex CM8 1LG
Telephone: 01 376 517 206
Copyright: Peter Fox
E-mail:email address image

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