Site Design and Growth
Shirley Kaiser, Editor
Vol. 2, No. 3
Copyright © 2001. Shirley E. Kaiser, M.A. All rights reserved.
Welcome to all the new subscribers! This is an opt-in only newsletter, so if you're receiving this, it's because you subscribed through the SKDesigns Web site or by email. If you do wish to unsubscribe, you can unsubscribe via email or via our site.
I value and welcome your input. Send me topic suggestions, questions, comments, whatever is on your mind regarding this newsletter. Please contact me at any time.
Latest News at SKDesigns and WebsiteTips.com
WebsiteTips.com's Tips column Merged with SKDesigns' Brainstorms & Raves
Our almost daily column, Brainstorms & Raves, now has its own domain name at brainstormsandraves.com. The new site contains all the archives from last December to the current date, and also includes WebsiteTips.com's Tips & Tidbits archive, which merged August 1st with Brainstorms & Raves.
In addition to an almost daily article or short tips, the site itself is an evolving experiment in utilizing the latest W3C recommendations, WaSP, W3C's Accessibility Guidelines, and will have testing areas with samples of various approaches to design, implementation, and lots of information.
So whether you're a designer, developer, or own a Web site and let someone else maintain it, anyone can find helpful information there.
WebsiteTips.com at websitetips.com continues to grow in its own articles, tips, color and HTML charts. The site also has over 2,500 categorized and annotated links to many of the best articles, tips, tutorials, and resources on the Web related to web design, graphics, fonts, and for site owners, too.
We've also added several new categories, and many existing categories and sections have been expanded in the past few months.
Hope you continue to find WebsiteTips.com helpful!
On to this issue's newsletter....
What if you want to build your site now but you know you'll need to add some new sections in a few months or next year?
Perhaps you have a site that's been functioning fine for awhile but you need to add or remove a category or two. Can that be done without needing to redesign the navigation or the entire site?
How do you plan for site expansion and growth that doesn't look patchworked together, that remains well organized, the navigation continues to make sense, and the overall site continues to be top-notch?
While growth is often a welcome and positive sign, how the site's growth is designed and managed makes a major difference, of course. This issue will explore some of the points to consider.
Envision and Plan
If you're an architect designing a building to easily expand later, such as a hospital adding a new wing, there are lots of details to work out. You'll need to consider how and where to knock out walls, how to handle the plumbing, electrical wiring, parking, adding on to seamlessly blend in to the existing building, ensuring there's sufficient property available, and more.
Much like initially designing that building, when you initially design a Web site, envision how to expand the site's navigation and overall architecture to allow for growth.
- Consider the content and how best to organize, categorize, and expand, even if there are only abstract possibilities for the time being.
- If you envision tremendous growth and adding many categories, for example, consider that when you initially design the site.
- If you envision adding new articles and perhaps an online store later, consider how to expand those areas, archive the articles, and where you can later create the navigation spot for the new online store.
- Create mock-ups or sketches of possibilities to ensure that your earlier smaller design will grow into a larger, more expansive site with ease.
Keep in mind that consistent design is more user-friendly, too. Your long-time users grow accustomed to a certain interface for your site. If planned well from the start, you'll be able to modify it in smaller amounts to allow for expansion without having to do a major overhaul and reconstruction whenever you need to expand. Consider Amazon.com, for example. While this now gigantic company has grown dramatically during the past few years from initially selling books to now selling an incredibly wide range of items, the site design has grown and expanded while remaining familiar and easy to use.
Mathew Schwartz makes some valid points in his new article for ComputerWorld, Grow Your Site, Keep Your Users. Using eBay as a case study, Schwartz notes the dilemma with effectively categorizing millions of items for sale.
Even if you don't have an eBay size site, user-friendly design is a critical factor in a site's success.
Example 1: Course Technology textbook series sites
I designed and developed sites based on a series of college textbooks last year for Course Technology. The series of HTML and DHTML textbooks include Brief, Introductory, Comprehensive, a separate DHTML version, and more. The same design is expanded or contracted for the needs of the particular textbook within the series.
So these samples can give you an idea of expanding or contracting a site design. Note that the design and navigation have been intentionally kept simple.
Example 2: Attack on America section addition
After the September 11 attacks I scrambled to help relay information to help others. I quickly added a section to Brainstorms & Raves, listing resources to help victims, families, where to donate blood, money, volunteer, and more. I posted one page that listed everything, quickly adding links to this new page from the main page of the site.
I suspected I'd be adding information, which is exactly what happened. That meant adding more pages, which necessitated a sub-navigation within this new Attack on America section.
The initial one page I posted grew to 8-10 pages, all within a matter of a week or so. By categorizing all the information, I could fairly easily organize and divide up sections to maintain fast-loading pages while also keeping the navigation simple to understand.
I've also watched my statistics logs and search engine results to see what sub-pages have been most popular. I've used that information to re-evaluate the navigation if needed, making the most popular topics more prominent.
The flip side of that is that if I were selling products or services I'd want to make sure that these are prominently displayed in the navigation. So I'd base my navigation decisions on different criteria than the above site that's just for information to help people out.
For a site with products or services, by following the stats logs and search engine results I could then track the flow to see if that navigation is working effectively, if people are finding what they're looking for, and more.
As I write this newsletter, I still don't know where the Attack on America section is going since it's new, so this is a work in progress.
Example 2a - An Expanded Version of the Above
Five years ago WebsiteTips.com began as a small one page resource. Now it has hundreds of pages and over annotated 2,500 links. I never would have guessed that when it started out so long ago. Along the way the categories and sections have grown immensely, including new ones popping up regularly.
The key has been to very carefully consider and plan the additions to the site, considering the main navigation, the sub-navigation, the flow of the site, and the variety of ways users may travel through the site, including how they may look for information.
While a good sense of logic and attention to detail are helpful with planning navigation and site architecture, it's important to understand that people use sites in different ways. Make sure there are several ways to navigate through the site to allow for different possibilities.
(There are resources below for more information on this.)
The bottom line is to carefully plan the site. If you've already got a site that doesn't have good navigation and overall site architecture or can't be expanded or contracted without a major overhaul, it may take more effort to correct that.
Much like a home remodel, it's important to analyze what's needed and then decide if it can be effectively remodeled or not. Sometimes a bulldozer may need to level it with rebuilding being the better approach to allow for better site management and less cost in the long run.
Below are some resources to further information.
- WebsiteTips.com's section on Design, including Design and Layout, Information Architecture and Usability, and more.
- Related Links at Brainstorms & Raves
- AskTog: First Principles
- Ralph Wilson's Web Marketing Today:
Designing a Business Web site section
- Usable Web - 1000s of links
- Business 2.0:
Website Usability section
That's all for this edition. I hope you've found this information helpful. If you have questions, let me know. I'd also be happy to address them in future issues! I invite and encourage your feedback.
Tell your friends!
Subscribe, unsubscribe, or read the archives at SKDesigns, WebsiteTips Newsletter at http://skdesigns.com/newsletter/.