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Karen McGraw

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Designing Large-Scale Web Sites

Publisher: Wiley Computer Publishing (http://www.wiley.com/compbooks/)
Author: Darrell Sano
ISBN: 047114276X

Nearly every major corporation today either has a Web presence, or is in the process of developing one. Case studies in trade publications describe the use of the Internet and corporate intranets to share information, do research electronically, schedule meetings, search for information, shop, and make purchases. However, as any Web user can attest, not all sites are equal in terms of interest, quality, visual appear, usability, or potential impact on a corporation's `bottom line'. Designing Large-Scale Web Sites by Darrell Sano could greatly improve the Web site offerings you and I peruse. Sano's text provides at least three important types of information for Web site designers and developers. First, it outlines an efficient, workable process that can be used to design large web sites. Second, it walks the designer through the process of determining types of information, and thus, page types, that will comprise the Web site. Third, it applies established user interface techniques and guidelines to the visual design of Web sites.

A Process for Design

Most SIGCHI members are familiar with user-centered techniques for designing and developing the computer-human interface. However, many may not have had the opportunity to apply these techniques for Web site design. I recently used Sano's text to design a very large-scale intranet for a client, and found the process he presents easy to apply, very useful, and efficient. First, he suggests you develop the organizational framework, or foundation for the Web site. This includes analyzing expected content, discerning the structure of the content, and identifying opportunities to relate or link content. Next, you analyze content and group or organize it using an appropriate scheme, such as hierarchical organization. After you have a structure for the content of the site, you employ human factors techniques such as task flow diagramming and paper prototyping or page sketches. This provides a set of visuals that enables you to identify organizational design flaws before you design pages or develop HTML code. To ensure the design of the site will support the user, you conduct walkthroughs of the sketches with other designers and potential users, and identify necessary refinements.

Information Analysis

After the organizational framework for the site has been developed and refined, you analyze the different types of information that will be presented. By categorizing information in this way, you can identify the types of pages you will have to design. Page types may include:

  • Intermediate navigational pages
  • User login page
  • User registration page
  • Personal or corporate home page
  • Search query and results page
  • Help page
  • Layered content page
  • Terms and conditions page

Each of these page types vary in its requirements for information presentation, use, and navigation, and the goals of users viewing it. Once you have determined page types, you create a template for each, as well as an overall design `theme' that is consistent across pages.

Visual Design Specifications

Sano's text does a commendable job of applying established user interface techniques and design guidelines to the visual design of Web sites. I especially appreciate that Sano doesn't try to rename or recreate techniques or guidelines. Instead, he does an excellent job of explaining how to apply them in the context of Web pages. Of optimum importance is usability, and Sano suggests that this is best met by consistency and simplicity of design. For example, he suggests the development of a visual system for pages, which enhances consistency across pages.

One of the text's most useful sections concerns visual design for page elements. This section includes not only guidelines and suggestions, but also extensive sketches and graphics to illustrate design techniques. Topics include ordering page elements, sketching alternative layouts, using graphics and text elements for identification, and backgrounds. Basic page layouts are also described and illustrated.

Summary

Designing Large-Scale Web Sites is a practical `how to' and reference text whose content designers can apply immediately. It reads easily, and the major concepts and steps within the process are illustrated both with sketches and numerous screen captures. It even includes a full color section of Web pages, icons, and banners. I was pleased with the results when I applied the process and suggestions on my project, and highly recommend this text for others who are interested in designing large-scale Web sites.

Karen McGraw can be contacted at kmcgraw@clark.net

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