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Using Graphics 
Design Consistency 

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Last Updated: 
April 23, 1998 


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Good Sites:Using Graphics

For several years I have been telling students not to worry about the cover sheet of their papers until the very end; I am concerned more about content than appearance. Certainly, we want the students' web sites to have high-quality content, but in web page design one has to think of the graphic design a bit earlier than in the traditional paper -- sort of like the crusty newspaper editor who tells his reporter, "You've got five-hundred words, and no more!" He is concerned about the graphic presentation of the newspaper as well as content.

Above all else, style guides tell us DO NOT OVERUSE GRAPHICS! The word "balance" dominates the discussion of graphics:

         (1) Balance GRAPHICS with SPEED! Remember that the average user will give a site about ten seconds "max." to load before they will get frustrated and look elsewhere for information. A good rule of thumb for students then is this:

1. Your pages -- under normal circumstances -- must load in  no more than ten seconds.

         This will encourage them to use graphics sparingly and purposefully.

         (2) Balance graphic power with graphic use. The neat thing about graphics is that they can grab attention right away -- something we musty teachers desperately need more of! However, purposeless graphics (graphics just there because they are "cool") according to the style guides quickly bore the more experienced users. In my own experience, when I first began using the web I was awed by people who had flashy gold backgrounds, zippy green animated frogs, and even (if you were willing to wait a few minutes) snappy music.Wow! Now, however, I find most of that stuff merely annoying.Graphics should enhance the use of the page. A second good rule of thumb is as follows:

2. Students should be able to give three solid reasons why  they chose to incorporate the graphics that they did.

       To take a bit of my own medicine, I chose the graphic in the upper left-hand corner because (1) It captures interest; (2) It directs the browsers eyes to the beginning of the page; (3) The space theme adds to the theme of discovery I want to incorporate into these pages.

         (3) Next, use graphic emphasis to guide the reader through the text. Graphics naturally draw attention to themselves. Notice how I use this graphic to draw attention to the beginning of the page. Thus rule number three:

3. Use graphic emphasis to guide the reader.

         (4) The top of the page is where readers look first. At least one style guide notes that the top four inches is "crucial" to effective page design. Two things that this space should do are (1) capture interest, (2) quickly communicate the purpose of the page. Thus rule number four:

4. Use the page header to capture interest and communicate purpose.

         (5) Taste. Of course, we cannot completely codify "taste".  However, students should match their graphic choices with  the "feel" of the page, and the "feel" of the audience. For  example, if I am doing a page on the assassination of Rev.  Dr. Martin Luther King, having a smiley face link is not only  out of "sync" with the purpose of the page, but is out  of "sync" with the likely feelings of the audience. So,  we have rule number five:

5. Match graphics with the "feel" (purpose) of the page, and the "feel" (needs) of the audience.

Overall, effective graphics use considers download speed, purpose, graphic emphasis, header space, and "feel". Remember, a page that is simply "gummed-up" with graphics will not only be slow, but incomprehensible. Graphics emphasize. And, as others have suggested, if we emphasize everything, than we really emphasize nothing.

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