Few us working in academia are trained to be web designers. But most of us can visit a website and decide whether or not we feel that the site is designed intelligently or not. We may now even know what criteria we use to make that decision. And even there we know that many of these sites use professional designers to create the site. So what can we do?
Bell (1) starts with one thought in mind: content before design. By this he means that you should gather all the content you want to place on your site and use that to guide your design decisions. So if you are building a site for your class, consider the content first. What information do you want your students to have? Would you include your syllabus, background readings, links to pertinent websites, study guides, even your CV? All of this will guide how you design your site.
One suggestion offered by Bell is to visit sites that link to winners of web designer awards, to provide you new ideas you can incorporate into your own website. All of these will link you to sites that are creative and easy to use. He suggests you look at:
- Webby Awards: www.webbyawards.com
- Website Design awards: www.websitedesignawards.com
- LevelTen Interactive: www.leveltendesign.com
- Avenue A/Razorfish:www.avenuea-razorfish.com
Bell discusses the importance of color. Color creates mood and can make a site interesting and bold or dull and boring. Beyond that, our eye will find some color combinations more appealing and easier to read than others; also, some of your students may potentially be color blind. I will not mention here how to locate the Html hex color, but will note that what you want to have is a color scheme, a set of colors on your site that complement one another. There are websites which can aid you in developing color schemes, and among them are:
- Colorcombos: www.colorcombos.com/
- Color Palette Generator: www.degraeve.com/color-palette/
- ColorBlender: www.colorblender.com
As for fonts, Bell recommends that you avoid all fancy fonts and select system fonts that display well on web pages. I know that some of us like to use fancy fonts because they are different, but remember that different does not necessarily mean good or better. It is still best to use black text on white backgrounds; moving to the use of color here can easily make your text harder to read unless you ensure a reasonable amount of contrast (such as green text on a black background, instead of yellow text on an orange background).
A few short rules: include images, but not an excess amount. Keep the design simple so you don’t overwhelm your visitors. Don’t use attention grabbers, such as flashing text. And be consistent from page to page. This is just a start on good design, which is critical to usability.
1. Bell M. Build a Website for Free. Indianapolis, IN; Que Books, 2009