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Say What?

Structure and Content

Say What?

The following definitions deal with the underlying structure of web pages and the concepts surrounding that, and also the content of web sites.

HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language)

HTML is the most fundamental part of a web page. It defines the structure of the information by identifying each different type of information with a set of tags. For example, a paragraph is identified by enclosing it in a <p> and closing </p> tag. Headings are identified by a hierarchy of tags, i.e. <h1></h1>, <h2></h2>... <h6></h6>. Lists, tables of data, captions, addresses, strong or emphasized text and labels all have tags associated with them, so itís possible to build quite complex pages using this very simple page markup language.

So we see that all the information on the page is identified by what kind of information it is, and thus the basics of a web page are built. Unfortunately, web pages can be built that look fine, but completely ignore this basic tenet of page structure. This is what makes some WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors such as Microsoft Frontpage, and even Adobe Pagemaker so frustrating for web designers and non-standard users of the web, as they simply donít build the underlying structure of the page in the proper way. The code created by these editors is so awful that Iíve had trouble updating sites built with them, and at times have simply rebuilt pages from scratch to avoid dealing with them. When Iíve done this, the size of the page in memory has always become considerably smaller, sometimes up to one tenth of the size.

Web Accessibility

Refers to the concept that information on the web should be ďavailable to all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographic location, or physical or mental ability.Ē (World Wide Web Consortium)

This is achieved by applying the HTML standards as they were intended to be applied. This allows all the various browsers and tools used by people with poor vision to interpret all web pages the same way.

The following examples are from Wikipedia, and should give you a much clearer picture of the importance of web accessibility:

  • When a site is coded with semantically meaningful HTML, with textual equivalents provided for images and with links named meaningfully, this helps blind users using text-to-speech software and/or text-to-Braille hardware.
  • When text and images are large and/or enlargable, it is easier for users with poor sight to read and understand the content.
  • When links are underlined (or otherwise differentiated) as well as coloured, this ensures that color blind users will be able to notice them.
  • When clickable links and areas are large, this helps users who cannot control a mouse with precision.

Information Architecture

Information Architecture, as it applies to web design, refers to the design and structure of the information on a website in order to allow it to effectively achieve the goals set for it. For example, if a websiteís purpose is to communicate the corporate identity, services and portfolio of a consultancy, the information displayed on the website must focus itself towards that purpose. The preparation and organization of that information is known as Information Architecture.

On simple websites, this process is not difficult, and might simply involve advising clients on the kinds of photos to source, and what sort of copy to write and how it should be written.

On more complex sites with vast amounts of information, this process is vital, and becomes quite involved. Understanding not only what the purpose of the information is, but how people use websites is very important, and structuring navigation and the breakdown of information into pages and sections falls somewhere between an art and a science.

Web Usability

Web Usability defines how well most visitors to a site can perform tasks and find the information theyíre after. So where Information Architecture defines how the navigation is structure, considerations surrounding usability help to defines how it functions. Usability also deals with how readable the content is to the target audience (i.e. no small text on websites dealing with old-age pension or glaucoma medications) and how simple ordering processes, enquiry forms and similar functions are to perform.

Iíve mentioned before, but itís worth mentioning here as a solid resource on learning how to build usable sites by reviewing sites that arenít usable. If you can get over the sometimes dramatic language and understand what heís getting at, youíll be on your way to understanding web usability.

One final note to people that manage websites that receive a lot of traffic: the single call you got from the odd sounding man about how difficult your website is to use does not count more than the many hundreds of orders or website hits youíve received since the websiteís inception. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT ask your web developer to make drastic changes to the siteís layout or navigation based on the comments of one hapless user.

Jason Harper
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Jason Harper

Jason Harper

Run Web Design is a Geelong based company committed to providing businesses with a complete, professional web site development service.

With services covering all aspects of web site development, including website design and construction, search engine optimisation, domain registration and web hosting, and online advertising advice, Run Web Design is able to provide clients with a web site that works for their business.

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