Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Color Me White 

A couple of days ago, I happened on this story in Internet Retailer. It is a discussion of the use of white backgrounds on online retail sites. It seems customers feel white loads faster, and white is better for displaying some types of goods.

I find this interesting because white was the background color I chose when I started online-pr.com back in 1997, and I have never changed it. I selected white because it made type more readable, and it is fast. Online-pr.com was and is built for speed. I originally designed it when dial-up modems were running at 28.8 Kbps, and I tried to have every page load in 15 seconds or less. This was hard because I had to sacrifice a lot to get it to work. But, the design loads instantly.

A month or so ago, I changed the masthead for a day to a new design that I hoped would freshen the site, but it bogged the home page so badly, I removed it and went back to a design close to the old one.

I have learned over the years that usability is the most important part of a Web site. You don't see many flash openings anymore. That was a fad that passed away mercifully. You see design now that is less and less complicated. That is a triumph of function over useless form. I'm in favor of the new and simpler approach to Web page design.

This is not to say I love the design of online-pr.com. It is clearly the work of an amateur who could have done better. I've messed with the site for years trying to make it present better and stay as quick as it is. So far, I haven't succeeded. Maybe some day.

Look at your organization's site and ask the following questions:

1. How fast does it load?
2. Can users find where to go without hunting through the home page?
3. Is there decoration that you can cut out of the page and still have it work and present well.
4. Can you omit needless words and design?

Call this the "Strunk and White" guide to Web style.


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