Reader as User: Applying Interface Design Techniques to the Web


HTML is a markup language, and designers are supposed to code what the page consists of (headers, paragraphs, citations), not what the page is supposed to look like. If you want your documents to be read by machines, follow these HTML guidelines to the letter. If you want your documents to be read by people, take care with the appearance of your site. ( Siegel 1996 )

Users will view your pages through a variety of browsers on a variety of operating systems. While designers cannot specify the exact appearance of the finished product with the same level of precision as can be achieved with phototypeset pages, designers can create pages which support users across platforms and browsers.

Designers can make decisions about the layout and presentation of images and text. Designers can use tables, transparent GIF's, and other work-around solutions to extend the capabilities of HTML and the Netscape extensions. Designers can also import small pieces of text as images when a specific font is needed. However, care must be taken when resorting to these techniques so that the document will be attractively presented on every browser.

Designers are responsible for checking their documents through a variety of browsers on a variety of systems. Do not assume that because a work-around solution looks good viewed with Netscape that it will look good everywhere. Providing multiple versions of the site which are designed to be viewed with different browsers is one solution, but a more elegant solution is to design a site which looks good through any browser. While this requires additional commitment on the part of the designer to meet the needs of users, no one ever said user-centered design would be easy.

Finding solutions to the problems of layout and design in HTML can be challenging. It is often easier for writers who have little experience in design to make decisions about images and colors.

The typical screen is a little too wide for comfortable reading of text. It is difficult for the eye to keep its place as it moves from the end of one line to the beginning of the next line. Rehe (1974) recommends that a text line should contain no more than 40-60 characters. Lichty (1989) suggests the line width should be even less, 1.5 lower case alphabets or 39 characters. For greater screen efficiency, it may be desirable to consider two columns of text, each about 30-35 characters wide. (Galitz 1993)

introduction | conclusion | references