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ACCESS  November 1997

ACCESS November 1997

Subject:

Divide and conquer: Designing for three types of Web users

From:

Joe Clark <[log in to unmask]>

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[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sun, 23 Nov 1997 19:58:14 -0500

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<http://www.zdnet.com/macweek/mw_1145/op_dinucci.html>


     Opinion
     NOVEMBER 20, 1997

     VOLUME 11 ISSUE 45

     DESIGNING THE WEB DARCY DINUCCI

Divide and conquer: Designing for three types of Web users

    To many Web designers, breakthroughs such as style sheets are as
     tantalizing and out of reach as a new BMW roadster. We can appreciate
     the spiffy details and tight handling offered by the new technologies,
     but we have responsibilities to our families -- the varied,
     unpredictable installed base of old browsers -- that keep us tied to
     the commodious, trustworthy HTML 2.0.

     Meeting our responsibilities is a tough job, but maybe not as tough as
     it seems. One strategy is to stop thinking of the audience as divided
     into constituencies based on browser make and model, and try a new
     breakdown, defined by each user's relation to Web design itself.

     Divide it by three
     The first group -- whose numbers most designers overestimate --
     includes the people who actually care about design and look to a site's
     designers to provide the best possible experience. Because these
     surfers are excited by the latest design technologies, you can pretty
     much assume that they'll have the latest browser version.

     The second group -- too often ignored -- is made up of those who like
     to control their own Web experience. These folks are known for setting
     unpredictable font defaults and doing things such as surfing with
     images off.

     The third group is what you might call "Web-agnostic." These users may
     have better things to do than monitor the latest Web news and mine
     their menus for customization features. They will probably have older
     versions of browsers and absolutely vanilla defaults.

     The wisdom to know the difference
     In a practical sense, the only group you're really designing for -- in
     terms of
     how-much-white-space-what's-the-best-font-size-does-this-illustration-w
     ork-here graphic design -- is the first.

     There's nothing you can do to impress the second group, the
     individualists. Here, your job is to just stay out of their way. Keep
     your HTML basic, supply ALT text for images and make sure you have a
     text-based system for navigation. (By following these rules, you'll
     also meet the needs of special-needs users such as the sight-impaired.)
     Don't try to enforce a standard view of the page by constraining line
     lengths with tables or page sizes with window-resize scripts. You'll
     just annoy those users.

     Your responsibility to the third group is twofold: Provide a page they
     can read without the latest technological hoo-ha, and participate in
     their education. If your page is optimized for the latest browsers, let
     them know and give them a chance to upgrade. (After all, the more
     people you can bring into the first group, the better for you.)

     It's usually safest to assume that visitors to your site fall into all
     three categories, and with smart coding you can often meet the needs of
     all three groups with one set of HTML. (One of the cool things about
     style sheets, for instance, is that they do no harm in browsers that
     don't support them but work magic in browsers that do.) The tripartite
     division doesn't necessarily make coding easier, but it should help you
     decide how to use what's available. And its simple rules remain
     effective no matter how many browser versions pile up.

--

     Darcy DiNucci ([log in to unmask]) is co-author of "Elements of
     Web Design." She consults on electronic information design from her
     office in San Francisco.


     Copyright (c) 1997 Mac Publishing LLC. All rights reserved.
     Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express
     written permission is prohibited. MacWEEK and the MacWEEK logo are
     trademarks of Mac Publishing LLC.




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