Web page design is a process of conceptualization, planning, modeling, and execution of electronic media content delivery via Internet in the form of technologies (such as markup languages) suitable for interpretation and display by a web browser or other web-based graphical user interfaces (GUIs).
The intent of web design is to create a web site (a collection of electronic files residing on one or more web servers) that presents content (including interactive features or interfaces) to the end user in the form of web pages once requested. Such elements as text, forms, and bit-mapped images (GIFs, JPEGs, PNGs) can be placed on the page using HTML, XHTML, or XML tags. Displaying more complex media (vector graphics, animations, videos, sounds) usually requires plug-ins such as Flash, QuickTime, Java run-time environment, etc. Plug-ins are also embedded into web pages by using HTML or XHTML tags.
Improvements in the various browsers' compliance with W3C standards prompted a widespread acceptance of XHTML and XML in conjunction with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to position and manipulate web page elements. The latest standards and proposals aim at leading to the various browsers' ability to deliver a wide variety of media and accessibility options to the client possibly without employing plug-ins.
Typically web pages are classified as static or dynamic.
With growing specialization within communication design and information technology fields, there is a strong tendency to draw a clear line between web design specifically for web pages and web development for the overall logistics of all web-based services.
As the Web and web design progressed, the markup language changed to become more complex and flexible, giving the ability to add objects like images and tables to a page. Features like tables, which were originally intended to be used to display tabular information, were soon subverted for use as invisible layout devices. With the advent of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), table-based layout is increasingly regarded as outdated. Database integration technologies such as server-side scripting and design standards like W3C further changed and enhanced the way the Web is made. As times change, websites are changing the code on the inside and visual design on the outside with ever-evolving programs and utilities.
With the progression of the Web, tens of thousands of web design companies have been established around the world to serve the growing demand for such work. As with much of the information technology industry, many web design companies have been established in technology parks in the developing world as well as many Western design companies setting up offices in countries such as India, Romania, and Russia to take advantage of the relatively lower labor rates found in such countries.
There are many aspects (design concerns) in this process, and due to the rapid development of the Internet, new aspects may emerge. For non-commercial web sites, the goals may vary depending on the desired exposure and response. For typical commercial web sites, the basic aspects of design are:
A web site typically consists of text and images. The first page of a web site is known as the Home page or Index. Some web sites use what is commonly called a Splash Page. Splash pages might include a welcome message, language or region selection, or disclaimer. Each web page within a web site is an HTML file which has its own URL. After each web page is created, they are typically linked together using a navigation menu composed of hyperlinks. Faster browsing speeds have led to shorter attention spans and more demanding online visitors and this has resulted in less use of Splash Pages, particularly where commercial web sites are concerned.
Once a web site is completed, it must be published or uploaded in order to be viewable to the public over the internet. This may be done using an [client]. Once published, the web master may use a variety of techniques to increase the traffic, or hits, that the web site receives. This may include submitting the web site to a search engine such as Google or Yahoo, exchanging links with other web sites, creating affiliations with similar web sites, etc.
Many web pages are still disconnected from larger projects. Special design considerations are necessary for use within these larger projects. These design considerations are often overlooked, especially in cases where there is a lack of leadership, lack of understanding of why and technical knowledge of how to integrate, or lack of concern for the larger project in order to facilitate collaboration. This often results in unhealthy competition or compromise between departments, and less than optimal use of web pages.
Some designers choose to control the appearance of the elements on the screen by using specific width designations. This control may be achieved through the use of a HTML table-based design or a more semantic div-based design through the use of CSS. Whenever the text, images, and layout of a design do not change as the browser changes, this is referred to as a fixed width design. Proponents of fixed width design prefer precise control over the layout of a site and the precision placement of objects on the page. Other designers choose a liquid design. A liquid design is one where the design moves to flow content into the whole screen, or a portion of the screen, no matter what the size of the browser window. Proponents of liquid design prefer greater compatibility and using the screen space available. Liquid design can be achieved through the use of CSS, by avoiding styling the page altogether, or by using HTML tables (or more semantic divs) set to a percentage of the page. Both liquid and fixed design developers must make decisions about how the design should degrade on higher and lower screen resolutions. Sometimes the pragmatic choice is made to flow the design between a minimum and a maximum width. This allows the designer to avoid coding for the browser choices making up The Long Tail, while still using all available screen space. Depending on the purpose of the content, a web designer may decide to use either fixed or liquid layouts on a case-by-case basis.
Similar to liquid layout is the optional fit to window feature with Adobe Flash content. This is a fixed layout that optimally scales the content of the page without changing the arrangement or text wrapping when the browser is resized.
Flash is not a standard produced by a vendor-neutral standards organization like most of the core protocols and formats on the Internet. Flash is much more restrictive than the open HTML format, though, requiring a proprietary plugin to be seen, and it does not integrate with most web browser UI features like the "Back" button.
According to a study, 98% of US Web users have the Flash Player installed. Numbers vary depending on the detection scheme and research demographics.
Many graphic artists use Flash because it gives them exact control over every part of the design, and anything can be animated and generally "jazzed up". Some application designers enjoy Flash because it lets them create applications that do not have to be refreshed or go to a new web page every time an action occurs. Flash can use embedded fonts instead of the standard fonts installed on most computers. There are many sites which forgo HTML entirely for Flash. Other sites may use Flash content combined with HTML as conservatively as gifs or jpegs would be used, but with smaller vector file sizes and the option of faster loading animations. Flash may also be used to protect content from unauthorized duplication or searching. Alternatively, small, dynamic Flash objects may be used to replace standard HTML elements (such as headers or menu links) with advanced typography not possible via regular HTML or CSS (see Scalable Inman Flash Replacement).
Flash detractors claim that Flash websites tend to be poorly designed, and often use confusing and non-standard user-interfaces, such as the inability to scale according to the size of the web browser, or it's incompatibility with common browser features such as the back button. Up until recently, search engines have been unable to index Flash objects, which has prevented sites from having their contents easily found. This is because many search engine crawlers rely on text to index websites. It is possible to specify alternate content to be displayed for browsers that do not support Flash. Using alternate content also helps search engines to understand the page, and can result in much better visibility for the page. However, the vast majority of Flash websites are not disability accessible (for screen readers, for example) or Section 508 compliant. An additional issue is that sites which commonly use alternate content for search engines to their human visitors are usually judged to be spamming search engines and are automatically banned.
After the browser wars subsided, and the dominant browsers such as Internet Explorer became more W3C compliant, designers started turning toward CSS as an alternate means of laying out their pages. CSS proponents say that tables should be used only for tabular data, not for layout. Using CSS instead of tables also returns HTML to a semantic markup, which helps bots and search engines understand what's going on in a web page. All modern Web browsers support CSS with different degrees of limitations.
However, one of the main points against CSS is that by relying on it exclusively, control is essentially relinquished as each browser has its own quirks which result in a slightly different page display. This is especially a problem as not every browser supports the same subset of CSS rules. For designers who are used to table-based layouts, developing Web sites in CSS often becomes a matter of trying to replicate what can be done with tables, leading some to find CSS design rather cumbersome due to lack of familiarity. For example, at one time it was rather difficult to produce certain design elements, such as vertical positioning, and full-length footers in a design using absolute positions. With the abundance of CSS resources available online today, though, designing with reasonable adherence to ,;;' standards involves little more than applying CSS 2.1 or CSS 3 to properly structured markup.
These days most modern browsers have solved most of these quirks in CSS rendering and this has made many different CSS layouts possible. However, some people continue to use old browsers, and designers need to keep this in mind, and allow for graceful degrading of pages in older browsers. Most notable among these old browsers are Internet Explorer 5 and 5.5, which, according to some web designers, are becoming the new Netscape Navigator 4 — a block that holds the World Wide Web back from converting to CSS design. However, the W3 Consortium has made CSS in combination with XHTML the standard for web design.
Another problem when using a lot of graphics on a page is that download times can be greatly lengthened, often irritating the user. This has become less of a problem as the internet has evolved with high-speed internet and the use of vector graphics. This is an engineering challenge to increase bandwidth in addition to an artistic challenge to minimize graphics and graphic file sizes. This is an on-going challenge as increased bandwidth invites increased amounts of content.
To be accessible, web pages and sites must conform to certain accessibility principles. These can be grouped into the following main areas:
However, W3C permits an exception where tables for layout either make sense when linearized or an alternate version (perhaps linearized) is made available.
Website accessibility is also changing as it is impacted by Content Management Systems that allow changes to be made to webpages without the need of obtaining programming language knowledge.
Taking into account the characteristics of the audience will allow an effective website to be created that will deliver the desired content to the target audience.
Another restriction on webpage design is the use of different Image file formats. The majority of users can support GIF, JPEG, and PNG (with restrictions). Again Internet Explorer is the major restriction here, not fully supporting PNG's advanced transparency features, resulting in the GIF format still being the most widely used graphic file format for transparent images.
Many website incompatibilities go unnoticed by the designer and unreported by the users. The only way to be certain a website will work on a particular platform is to test it on that platform.
First, the content is categorized and the information structure is formulated. The information structure is used to develop a document or visual diagram called a site map. This creates a visual of how the web pages will be interconnected, which helps in deciding what content will be placed on what pages. There are three main ways of diagramming the website structure:
In addition to planning the structure, the layout and interface of individual pages may be planned using a storyboard. In the process of storyboarding, a record is made of the description, purpose and title of each page in the site, and they are linked together according to the most effective and logical diagram type. Depending on the number of pages required for the website, documentation methods may include using pieces of paper and drawing lines to connect them, or creating the storyboard using computer software.
Some or all of the individual pages may be designed in greater detail as a website wireframe, a mock up model or comprehensive layout of what the page will actually look like. This is often done in a graphic program, or layout design program. The wireframe has no working functionality, only planning, though it can be used for selling ideas to other web design companies.