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Borrowing Winning Web Site Ideas

All good Web sites grow and evolve. If you start with a strong design and pay close attention to some basic rules about interface, navigation, and style, you have a better foundation to build on. The following design ideas can help you create a compelling Web site that grows gracefully.

Make it easy

Creating a clear and intuitive navigational system is one of the more important elements in creating a Web site. Nothing is likely to frustrate your visitors more than not being able to find what they're looking for. Make sure that visitors can easily get to all the main sections of your site from every page in the site.

You can best do this by creating a set of links to each of the main sections and placing it at the top or side of every page. If the pages are very long, consider including a navigation bar, or footer, at the bottom of the page as well. Often the navigation bar at the bottom of the page is just a list of text links. The bottom of the page is also an ideal place to include basic contact information. A set of graphical icons can make this navigational element an attractive part of your design. Your goal is to make sure that viewers don't have to use the Back button in their browsers to move around your site.

White space is not wasted space

One of the better design features you can add to a page is nothing at all (also known as white space). Understand that white space, in this case, is not always white; it's simply space that you haven't crammed full of text or images. It can be any color, but it's usually most effective if it's the color or pattern of your background. White space gives the eye a rest, something readers need even more often when they're staring at a computer monitor. You can use white space to separate one type of information from another and to focus the viewer's attention where you want it most. Some of the most beautiful and compelling designs on the Web use only a few well-thought-out elements against lots of white space.

Design for your audience

No matter how technically sophisticated a Web site is or how great the writing, most people notice the design first. Make sure that you leave plenty of time and budget to develop an appropriate and attractive design for your Web site. The right design is one that best suits your audience — that may or may not mean lots of fancy graphics and animations.

Back it up

Make sure you have a system in place to back up your Web site. Always keep a copy of all the files that are on your server in a separate location and update it regularly to make sure you have the latest version of your site backed up at all times. Even the best Internet Service Providers sometimes have technical problems, so you should keep a backup of your site where you have easy access to it and can get it back online quickly if something ever does happen to delete any or all the files you have on the server.

Also keep a backup of your original source files, such as Photoshop images. For example, when you develop images for the Web, you usually start in a program like Photoshop, creating a high-resolution image that may include layers and other elements. Before the image goes on your Web site, those layers get flattened and the image gets compressed or reduced and converted into a GIF or JPEG. If you ever want to go back and alter that image in the future, you'll want the original source file before it was compressed and the layers were flattened. Whether you create your own images or your hire a professional designer, make sure you develop a system for saving all these original elements when they are created.

Small and fast

Despite all the promises that unlimited bandwidth was coming soon, the biggest problem on the Internet is still speed. Making sure that your pages download quickly makes your viewers more likely to keep clicking.

If your page designs take a long time to download, here are a few likely reasons and suggestions for how to make them load faster: First, take a look at multimedia elements and consider reducing the size or at least offering users the option to skip large multimedia files, such as Flash introductions. You especially don't want to make users wait too long for the first page of your site. If you suspect that static images are the problem, consider compression methods and use a program such as Fireworks or ImageReady that are designed for optimizing images for the Web. Finally, use Dreamweaver's code cleanup feature to get rid of extra tags that can contribute to a heavier page. To use this, choose Commands --> Clean Up HTML.

Follow the Three Clicks Rule

The Three Clicks Rule states that no important piece of information should ever be more than three clicks away from anywhere else on your Web site. The most important information should be even closer at hand. Some information, such as contact information, should never be more than one click away. Make it easy for viewers to find information by creating a site map and a navigation bar — a set of links to all the main sections on your site.

Map it out

As your site gets larger, providing easy access to all the information on your Web site may get harder and harder. A great solution is to provide a site map, which is a page that includes links to almost every other page in the site. The site map can become a busy page and usually appears best in outline form. This page should be highly functional — it doesn't matter if it looks pretty. Don't put lots of graphics on this page; it should load quickly and provide easy access to anything that your visitors need.

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