Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A Brief History of Web Design
When the Internet was first invented, Web design consisted of a basic markup language that included some formatting options, and the unique ability to link pages together using hyperlinks. It was this feature that characterized the Web among other communication methods, and characterized Web design among other design methods. Because of this unique behaviour of the World Wide Web, and the unique behaviour it encouraged in users, Web design would prove to be unlike any other form of design before or since, with the possible exception of interactive CD-ROM design.
As the Web and Web design progressed, the markup language used to make it, known as HTML, became more complex and flexible. Things like tables, which could 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 With the advent of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), table based layout is increasingly regarded as outdated.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 (see PHP, ASP.NET, ASP, JSP, and ColdFusion) and design standards like CSS further changed and enhanced the way the Web was made.
The introduction of Macromedia Flash into an already interactivity-ready scene has further changed the face of the Web, giving new power to designers and media creators, and offering new interactivity features to users.
As in all professions, there are arguments on different ways of doing things. These are a few of the ongoing ones.
Liquid Versus Fixed Layouts
Most Web designers initially come from a graphic artist background in print, where the artist has absolute control over the size and dimensions of all aspects of the design. On the web however, the Web designer has no control over several factors, especially the width of the browser window.
Many designers compensate for this by wrapping their entire webpage in a fixed width box, essentially limiting it to an exact pixel-perfect value, which is a fixed layout. Other designers say that this is bad because it ignores the preferences of the user, who might have their browser sized a specific way that they like best. These people propose a liquid layout, where the size of the Web page adjusts itself based on the size of the browser window.
It should be noted that there is a usability reason (rather than wanting control) for why a designer may choose a more fixed layout. Studies have shown that there is usually an optimal line width in terms of readability. One rule to appear from such studies is that lines should be between 40-60 characters long, or approximately 11 words per line.
- "Webpage building is a lot like bar tending. Build it right and it will work no matter the container." "Liquid is the epitome of good web design and the fluid that should be used to hold web pages together. A liquid page will resize to fit whatever size browser window (within reason) that the user has available."
– Glenn Davis, 15 Minute Interview
Most designers make this decision of which style of layout to use on a case by case basis, depending on the needs and audience of the website.
Interesting note: Wikipedia is a liquid layout.
Macromedia Flash is a robust graphics animation program used to create and deliver dynamic content and interactive applications to the web.
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 don't have to be refreshed or go to a new web page every time an action occurs. There are many sites which forego HTML entirely for Flash.
Flash detractors claim that Flash websites tend to be poorly designed, and often use confusing and non-standard user-interfaces. Up until recently, search engines have been unable to index Flash pages, which has prevented stores from having their products easily found. Also Flash websites cannot take into account many usability features, such as respecting the browser's font size and allowing deep-linking, and they outright fail any accessibility tests for blind users using screen readers. Although Macromedia has addressed these long-standing problems in the latest incarnation of Flash, it has yet to be seen whether it will lure over stalwart designers.
The final consensus is that Flash is simply a tool, and like all tools it takes a skillful craftsperson to know when, and how, to use it properly.
CSS Versus Tables
Back when Netscape Navigator 4 dominated the browser market, the popular (but now deprecated) solution available for designers to lay out a Web page was by using tables. Often even simple designs for a page would require dozens of tables nested in each other. Navigator 4 didn't support CSS to a useful degree, so it simply wasn't used.
After the browser wars were over, and Internet Explorer dominated the market, designers started turning towards CSS as an alternate, better means of laying out their pages. CSS proponents say that tables should only be used 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. Today, all modern Web browsers, including Netscape Navigator, now support CSS - with certain 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 codes. For some designers used to the creating table-based layouts, developing Web sites in CSS often becomes a matter of replicating what can be done with tables, leading some to find CSS design rather cumbersome. For example, it has proved rather difficult to produce certain design elements, such as vertical positioning, and full-length footers in a design using absolute positions.
These days most modern browsers have solved most of these quirks in CSS rendering and this has made many different CSS layouts possible. However, people still continue to use old browsers which do not get updated any more. Most notable among these 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 internet back from converting to CSS design.
- Computer accessibility
- Content management
- Faceted navigation
- Graphic design
- Information architecture
- Interaction design
- Knowledge visualization
- Separation of style and content
- Server-side scripting
- Web colors
- Web development
- Web indexing
- About Web Design
- A List Apart
- Boxes and Arrows: The Design behind the Design
- Computerlove: Connecting creative talents
- Digital Web Magazine
- Jakob Nielsen on Usability and Web Design
- Web Design Reference
- Web Style Guide, 2nd edition
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