principles of good design, navigation, and usability
This is a guide to Web site design, not to HTML coding. In fact, it will be entirely suitable for someone who has a basic grasp of HTML, but who wants to learn about the strategic issues of how to communicate via this amazingly cheap and democratic medium. The Web Style Guide began its life as advice to users at the Centre for Advanced Instructional Media at Yale University. Lynch and Horton start out with basic design concepts and information architecture, and wisely advise following the principles of good navigation which arise out of centuries of print culture – whilst making plenty of subtle distinctions between different applications and user groups, such as web sites for training, teaching, and reference.
They deal with issues of page length, typography, information chunking, and the use of frames; and they spell out the advantages of cascading style sheets. There is even a chapter on editorial style – on how to write most effectively for Web pages: summary first, short sentences, and chunked information. They go into a lot of detail on graphics and multi-media, and they end up with really useful tips on animation, audio, and compression.
Even though they take a ‘No HTML’ approach, it might have been useful to show how some of the effects can be created. On the control of vertical and horizontal white space on the page, they are fans of the David Siegel one-pixel spacer trick, where a small graphic spacer is stretched out to create indents, half line spacing, and even empty vertical columns. It’s a shame that Yale University Press has not decided to do justice to the original of this publication by reproducing some of the pages in colour. The section on graphics for instance is undermined by grey-toned pictures.
There is a consistent stress on user-friendliness and web-centred design, and their advice comes in the form of compressed wisdoms which suggest they’re based on a lot of experience. The style is wonderfully concise: almost every sentence is a well-crafted digest of advice.
Hypertext links pose two fundamental design problems. They disrupt the flow of content in your site by inviting the reader to leave your site. They can also radically alter the context of information by dumping the reader into unfamiliar territory without preambles or explanation.”
I first read most of this book by downloading PDF files from their website. At that time the text actually looked more attractive on screen than it did in print. However, this has been rectified in the latest edition. This is now a very attractive book, and an excellent publication which combines the basic principles of information architecture with well-informed tips on website design.
© Roy Johnson 2002
Patrick J. Lynch and Sarah Horton, Web Style Guide: Basic Design Principles for Creating Web Sites, New Haven: Yale University Press, second edition 2002, pp.164, ISBN 0300088981