Tips for Using Graphics on Your Web Page

Designing your Web site isn’t rocket science, but you need to use common sense with graphics. Avoid these three big mistakes when designing your site and read on for additional tips:

  • No images: Sorry, but having no images on your Web pages means boring pages, no matter how good the text.

  • Too many images: Using too many large, slow-to-download images may be the biggest newbie Web-author mistake. (A lot of old hands make a similar mistake — everything is well-designed and compressed, but one uncompressed or too-lightly compressed photo sneaks through, making the whole page download slowly and shaking the user’s confidence in the entire site.)

  • No text alternative: An increasing number of vision-impaired people use the Web, and some users surf Web pages on text-only or slow-connection devices (such as a cellphone’s Web browser). You need to accommodate these users by creating your page in a way that supports text-only access as well as graphical access.

Try an experiment: Go into your browser, turn off the graphics display, and load your Web page. If you can’t tell what’s on the page or what links go where, you need to redesign your page. (Then, just to blow off steam, or if you don’t have a Web page up yet, try the same experiment on some other people’s pages and send them a polite note if you encounter problems.)

The usual way to redesign your page for text-only access is to include a textual menu linking to the same places as your graphical menu. Some sites provide a whole parallel set of Web pages that are purely textual rather than graphical. Providing parallel, text-only pages lets the user choose whether to go for the attractive, bandwidth-sucking graphical pages or for the very fast text-only pages, and enables those with visual impairments (or those using other devices such as cellphones) to enjoy the full benefits of the Web.

In the past, many have chosen text-only access because of slow download times. However, because the percentage of users with non-broadband access continues to drop, providing a complete set of text-only pages may be overkill. Consider providing a text-mostly version, with limited use of images, simpler layout, and alternative text for images. This option may be just the ticket for users with visual impairments or those who are visiting via limited clients such as cellphones.

Here are the most important rules for supporting text and graphical access:

  • As you design and create your page, think about how your page will look with all graphic access turned off as well as on.

  • Test your page with graphics turned off.

  • Test your page in different browsers.

  • Include the ALT attribute within the IMG tag in all images so that explanatory text appears whenever a graphic isn’t displayed.

  • Provide text-only menus in addition to icon-based selections and image maps.

  • If you want to make everyone very happy, consider creating a separate, text-only version of your site.

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