"Look and Feel" Issues in Course Web Site Development

No Cloning

When developing a departmental web site, there are a number of considerations which often conflict with each other. The challenge is to build attractive, creative, interesting web sites, but still make it clear that they are part of the university setting.

Setting up a campus-wide set of rules and regulations for departmental site design will not work. Even if such rules could be enforced, (which would be difficult if not impossible!) this would be undesirable for several reasons:

One size does not fit all. Different departments and courses have different sets of information that need to be presented. They also have different personalities. The Economics department site would not have the same look as the Art department--and there is no reason why it should.

Web site technology is changing too quickly. With a new HTML standard every year or so, and the major web browsers being updated even more frequently than that, it's too hard to pin web sites down to a particular style. It is best to let different departments experiment with their sites to see what works (and what doesn't).

Web site maintainers may put less effort into maintaining the site if they aren't allowed to contribute their ideas to the design. If all they can do is plug text into preformatted pages, they will get bored quickly.

Standards Aren't All Bad

However, this doesn't mean there should be no guidelines and parameters. There will be no "web police" to go after departmental web designers who don't obey. On the other hand, following them where appropriate could avoid a lot of problems and complaints from page visitors.

Also, a university web site is made up of multiple networks with thousands of pages. Some of these are official departmental web sites; others are personal pages posted by students. Not everything with "berkeley.edu" in the address is personally approved by the University of California! It is helpful if departmental sites have some way of indicating their connection and their official status. A useful way to accomplish this is to have some small but prominent visual cue on each site (much like the label on a pair of jeans we discussed on Friday.) This can take the form of a simple banner element, a line of text, a copy of the University Seal (following strict guidelines, of course!), etc.

Recommended guidelines

  • Keep page size small (stick to 50 k or less per page)
  • Use the web-safe palette (216 colors)
  • Design pages so that they will fit nicely on a 480 x 640 monitor
  • It is a good idea to make a list of elements that should be on a departmental site (course descriptions, schedules, contact information, etc.). However, these should not be rigidly enforced.
  • Suggest some kind of consistent visual cues across all pages of a class web site (can be a banner, a line, whatever...)
  • Pages should have a contact person listed (this can be a name or title) with an email link to them. There should also be an indication of when the page was last updated (this can be a server-side include).
  • "Child" pages should have a link back to the parent page.
  • Whatever you do and whatever changes you make, document them so whoever inherits your site can duplicate your steps if necessary. Set up page templates that will be easy to customize and update. This includes detailed procedural notes, descriptions of what fonts, font sizes, and colors were used in GIF images, and, especially if you use scripting, detailed comments in your scripts. (See Internet World's suggestions for how to set up templates at http://www.iw.com/daily/tips/1998/03/0201-template.html and http://www.iw.com/daily/tips/1998/03/1001-template.html.)
  • If a particular font was used to create any of the images (logo, banner, navigation bars, etc.), make sure that the host department has the exact same font so they can easily change the image without making it look funny.

Katherine Falk

Back to Reports page