This web site was designed for usability i.e. it should be very easy to use and very easy to navigate. Additionally, the intention was to avoid some, if not all, of the annoying or frustrating "mistakes" that you may encounter regularly in the internet or even your company intranet.
Response times rule the web! Users (most particularly business users) do not want to "twiddle their thumbs" waiting for "beautiful" pages to download. They want information and they want it fast. How many times have you tired of waiting for a page to download, clicked the "stop" button of your browser software and moved on elsewhere?
All the pages on this web site were designed to download in less than one second — for the sake of your thumbs, patience and sanity!
Graphics are only used when they add true value or meaning to the content. Yes, there is a graphic on every single page — my logo — which is approximately 7KB. It is more or less an excepted, international standard that a logo with a link to the home page be placed in the top left corner. As the same graphic is always used it is only downloaded once and should be cached (kept in storage) by your browser software.
Have you ever clicked the "back" button of your browser only to find that you did not go "back" to the previous page or that part of page strangely disappeared or changed? You probably had a page consisting of frames. Frames have some advantages (for the web designer), but none of these are related to navigation. Most browser software and more importantly users become confused or frustrated when trying to navigate through framed pages.
Frames are strictly forbidden on this web site!
This web site has three main navigation elements, which should always enable you to answer the following questions :-
In the "header" area, which appears at the top of each page, my logo in the top left corner is a link to the home page. The "header" area also contains other links that are also intended to be available from all pages.
To the left of each page is the most important navigation area, which contains the links to the main sections of the web site. Each section adds additional links to the same area to ease navigation to the sub-sections of that section. This is a form of contextual navigation.
Below the "header" area is a so-called "breadcrumb trail", which is surrounded by a border to distinguish it from the text of the page. This "breadcrumb trail" should tell you where you are and how deep you are within the hierarchy of the web site and also provides navigational links to the higher levels in the hierarchy (or along the "breadcrumb trail").
Additionally, all links are intended to be self explanatory and are supported with "titles" (descriptions) so that you know what to expect if you choose to follow the link.
Because of the navigational problems caused by frames they were not a consideration for controlling the layout of the pages. Another popular technique, which made up for the deficits of HTML and browser software, is the use of tables to control the layout of the entire page. However, tables are intended to contain tabular data and not to control the layout of a screen so that graphic "x" appears where the author or designer wanted it to. It is worth bearing in mind that HTML is a language for structuring documents and not a page layout language.
Most tables on the web are defined in pixels using the lowest common denominator (i.e. the lowest level of display technology still available on the market), which is an amazing waste of your very expensive 21" super flat display — if you are lucky enough to have one! Better use of tables (with percentages rather than pixels) does allow you to take better advantage of the viewing space available, but still has some drawbacks and limitations. Using tables to control layout results in very complex pages, which are exceptionally difficult to maintain. Furthermore, tables alienate minority groups such as the blind, who "hear" table, but get completely unrelated "data" and graphic elements.
This web site only uses tables for their intended purpose i.e. to represent tabular data.
The layout of all pages on this web site is controlled by Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). This has the advantage of separating structure and layout i.e. the same structured document can be used in a number of different ways and for different media with layout appropriate to that media. Additionally, I could change the whole look and feel of this web site without having to change any of the content.
The external style sheet is an additional file, which your browser software will have to download, however your browser software will usually only download the style sheet once and cache it.
Have you ever tried to print something from your browser only to find that the information you were really interested in had been cut off the page or that a number of pages were printed with fragmented information? You were probably the victim of frames or tables. The use of CSS for this web site enables the use of different layout for display and print. The result is that all pages will hopefully print perfectly and you never lose the information you really wanted.
Usually when someone prints something from the internet, they are interested in the information and not the graphics, logos or navigational elements — nobody needs help navigating around a piece of paper! If you print anything from this web site, you should receive only the information you wanted, specifically formatted for print.
The main drawback of CSS is that mainstream browser support is very, very inconsistent and a number of functions are not yet supported by any of the mainstream browsers. There is a CSS declaration, which would "fix" the position of the "header" and navigation areas of this web site, which would be perfect! Unfortunately, none of the mainstream browsers support this declaration as yet. For this reason I have added an additional link to the bottom of longer pages, so that you can go back to the top of the page, where the navigation area is, with a single click.
The design of this web site is also intended to put the user (you) back in control. Have you ever been annoyed by web sites where the font size was so small that you could not read the information available comfortably and your attempts to increase the font size were ignored (over-ridden)? Or you resized your viewing window and lost some of the information and you were forced to resort to "dreaded" horizontal scrolling? That should not happen to you on this web site.
The pages of this web site are designed to dynamically adapt to your environment. If you want to increase or decrease the font size you can — no problem. If you want to change the size of your viewing window you can — no problem.
There are, of course, some technical limitations e.g. if you increase the font size dramatically (72pt) and reduce the viewing window to 1cm high by 1cm wide the page will not be very legible. However, it is left entirely up to you to find the font size and viewing window size to best suit you.
Future browser software should hopefully provide better "fine tuning" for font sizes compared to the relatively large "jumps" they provide today.
This web site is intended for people who work in information technology. Therefore, I allowed myself to assume that you would have a relatively modern monitor display and did not use the lowest common denominator still available on the open market.
Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of every browser software and version still available on the open market. This web site has been fully tested with Microsoft Internet Explorer™ version 5, 5.5 and 6.0.