Design Consistency 

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April 23, 1998 




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Good Sites:  Design Consistency 

Imagine if every page of the phone book were different: Some  pages were listed in alphabetical order; some listed phone numbers first and names second; and still other pages read right-to-left -- aughh!  You would go crazy, right?  Well, the discerning web-browser finds it equally annoying when web site pages are not con- sistently displayed.  Web users like to be able to guess where information will be, based on what the previous page held.  For example, if you have gone through this entire site from the beginning on, by now you expect to find the contents on the left, the title above, a link to the rubric below, etc..  Good site design maintains consistency.  And, in doing so, maintains the sanity of its users.

          Finally, good sites are the result of planning.  Before even coming to the screen, the student should develop a general site structure. Of course, this site structure may be updated.  However, a site that merely grows as it goes can lose consistency, and become a nightmare for its users.  Thus, our first rule requires students to create a rough plan on paper, before they design on computer.

(1)  Site begins with a logical plan.

          Foremost, the student's site should have a constant, logical layout. Notice on this site you can always find the title above, the subtitle next to it, and the specific text below.  Imagine if on the next page I failed to put the title above.  You might wonder, "what page is this???"  Thus, our second rule (and it is a general rule) is this:

(2)  Pages have consistent, logical layout.

         Next, students should use consistent placement of links.  Often a browser wants to zip through your site -- like leafing through a magazine to find what interests him.  He or she should be able to almost unconsciously find and operate your link buttons.  Click-click-click. Making it consistent will make it easy for them!  Rule three:

(3)  Pages have consistent placement of links.

          Student authors should also present  a graphic theme.  For my pages, I have chosen a visual theme of "exploration".  Thus, I have the planet icon you see.  What if on my next page I had a soccer player as my main icon?  The reader might get confused.  This is not to say that you cannot have variety, but the main icon that defines your page (much in the same way "Golden Arches" defines McDonalds) should remain the same.  Rule four:

(4)  Pages have a consistent graphic theme.

          Fonts, headers, and subheaders should remain consistent.  Notice that I use the same font, and the same size for my heading on each page ("Good Sites").  Good design is pleasing, but it also something that quickly slips into the unconscious.  Think of a beach.  You do not at every moment stop and admire the sound of the waves crashing in. The sound drifts into your unconscious, but nevertheless, remains pleasing. Note:  we will discuss the use of fonts more directly under "typography". Rule five:

(5)  Pages use fonts, headers, and subheaders consistently.

Note:  students may say, "but that's boring!" or "variety is the spice of life!"  And, they are right to some extent.  Not everything on the page need be the same.  But, neither should everything be different merely because it gives variety.  Students may veer from their plan. However, they must do so with a specific purpose in mind, remembering how it will affect their user.

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