Old-School Web Design - Fagetaboutit!

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Web design in the early days was full of potential pitfalls. You couldn't make pages too wide, or people would have to figure out how to scroll left and right. You couldn't make pages too long - people would miss information that fell "below the fold". You had to limit the colors you used, or what you thought was blue might show up as red on a user's screen. And creating multimedia was often a waste of effort, because most people had slow web connections.

As technology has evolved, the guidelines that many of us learned to deal with the Web's early limitations are becoming less important, and in some cases, even liabilities. Here are three aspects of old-school Web design that it's time to put to rest.

Limited Screen Resolution: Fagetaboutit!

If you had a computer ten years ago, you probably had a VGA monitor with a massive 640 x 480 screen resolution. If you were really lucky, you might have had an 800 x 600 pixel screen. This meant that Web sites had to be significantly limited in width, or users would have to scroll around. A user with a tiny screen could even get lost scrolling around a big Web page!

Many sites and web builders are still working with these old-school resolutions in mind. Unless you're building pages for your local Windows 95 user group, it's probably time to move on to designing for bigger and better resolutions.

The majority of Web surfers now use screen resolutions 1024 x 768 or higher. At most Web sites, less than 10-20% of the visitors use lower screen resolutions. It's time to make life easy for most of your users, and take advantage of the bigger screen resolutions that they are using.

A high-profile example of this happening is the recent redesign of the New York Times' site. The layout is built for 1024 x 768 screen resolution, putting an index of the major site sections along the left and using four columns to provide news highlights. The most important content fits in an 800 x 600 pixel area, but the design basically assumes that users are running at higher screen resolutions.

The Browser-Safe Color Palette: Fagetaboutit!

Along with low screen resolutions, those VGA monitors gave us limited color depths, dithering and the dreaded Browser-Safe Color Palette.

The Browser-Safe Color Palette was a collection of 216 colors that were supported by early browsers. You could organize them by hue! You could organize them by color! But, no matter how you organized them, they were 216 colors that never seemed to include the colors you needed, like the colors of your company's logo.

At this point, 95% or more of the people browsing the Web are using higher color depths:

* 256 colors - 5% or less

* Thousands of colors - 13%

* Millions of colors or more - 82%

If your web statistics software captures user screen resolution, check it; it's likely that users with 256 color screen resolution account for only a tiny portion of your site's traffic. It's time to design for the majority of your visitors, rather than the exceptions to the rule.

Multimedia Avoidance Syndrome: Fagetaboutit!

Back in the days, multimedia could kill your website and even your company. The most famous example of this was probably Boo.com. Boo.com relied heavily on JavaScript and Flash, making it extremely slow to use. Most Web users, at the time, had dial-up connections and would simply leave before Boo's pages would finish loading. Because of experiences dealing with slow sites and dial-up connections, many web builders avoid using multimedia.

Times have changed, though. Most US Internet users connect using a broadband Internet service. About 70% use a high-speed connection, a jump of about 40% from last year. Broadband is a popular choice for new Internet users now, too.

While this isn't license to create bloated sites, it does point out that avoiding multimedia not only is no longer necessary, it may be a mistake. Some of the most popular sites on the Web, such as YouTube or MySpace, are real bandwidth hogs. On-demand multimedia is showing up at all types of sites, and podcasting and video podcasting are letting publishers create multimedia channels that visitors can subscribe to.

If your site is still avoiding bandwidth-sucking features, it's time to give this another look. If you keep your Web pages relatively lean, while incorporating on-demand media content, you can expand your options for interacting with the majority of your site's visitors, while keeping dial-up users happy.

Old School Web Design

As the Web evolves, some of the basic guidelines that many web designers take for granted will become anachronisms. If you're still worrying about low screen resolutions, browser-safe palettes and slow Internet connections, your site could get stuck in the past. It's time to rethink these assumptions and use current technology to make the most of your visitors' experience at your site.


Web Page Screen Resolution Simulator

WWW FAQs: What screen resolution should I design for?

Browser Trends

Times Site Redesign Shaped by the Web

Web Statistics and Trends

US Broadband Penetration Nears 70% Among Active Internet Users

Home broadband adoption grew by 40% (pdf)

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