9 Things Any Web Developer Should Know

CW 9webdevMy list of Things Every Web Developer Should Know.

#1: Navigation

A website’s navigation plays a key role in the success or failure of a site. It allows humans and search engines alike to easily locate the desired information. Or it doesn’t. Navigations made up of Flash or JavaScript/DHTML may seem attractive at first, but ultimately can cripple a website by not allowing search engines to crawl and index the entire site. In addition, viewers that choose not to partake in these technologies can be left with no means to move within the site.

Most experienced webmasters have left such navigations back in the 90’s with all those AOL discs.

#2 CSS is Not an Option

In the past webmasters could choose to ignore CSS if they so desired. Those days are gone. CSS is no longer an option, it’s part of the trifecta (see The Separation of Concerns for the trifecta) that makes up a quality website. A good webmaster will use CSS exclusively to define the look and layout of a website.

#3 The Separation of Concerns

In days gone by web developers would meld HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code all into a single page; like a web page jambalaya. Inexperienced web developers may still do this, but the experienced ones took notice that the make up of any given page is defined by three elements: the content of the page, the presentation of that content and the behavior of that content.

Realizing this, competent developers have made an effort to keep these three layers separate from one another. Kevin Yank does a fine job explaining our three layers in his article: Simply JavaScript: The Three Layers of the Web

When building a site, we work through these layers from the bottom up:

  1. We start by producing the content in HTML format. This is the base layer, which any visitor using any kind of browser should be able to view.
  1. With that done, we can focus on making the site look better, by adding a layer of presentation information using CSS. The site will now look good to users able to display CSS styles.
  1. Lastly, we can use JavaScript to introduce an added layer of interactivity and dynamic behavior, which will make the site easier to use in browsers equipped with JavaScript.

#4 Cross-Browser Support

Any developer that has been building websites for awhile has the battle scars that you get when you try and make your website work on all browsers. Each browser has it’s own idiosyncrasies (some more than others) and designing and redesigning your site to function under each can be a battle; but it’s a battle that must be fought and won.

#5 It’s Not About You

A common trait of the rookie developer is they think the design of a website is about them. That through the design of the site they somehow get the chance to express themselves. The professional realizes that it would be a huge mistake to design the site in such a way that pleases them only to neglect the site’s visitors.

As a developer you must heed the words of Spock in The Wrath of Khan that the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or the one. You are the one, the website’s viewers are the many; make the website for them, not you.

#6 Standards Are There For A Reason

Let established web standards be your true north when you’re deciding which way to go. Users, when they visit a website, expect a standard convention. For example, the main navigation we expect to be along the top or left hand side of the page, a search box above the fold and vertical scrolling. These are a few of the design traits we have come to expect, been conditioned to expect in Pavlovian fashion. Don’t fight this, don’t make us think, remember these have become the standards because they work, not because they don’t work.

#7 Validation

Validation is not just a niceness, it’s a necessity. Paul O’Brien has done an excellent job explaining the significance of validation in his article Why Validate.

#8 Keep It Simple

The novice developer can often feel compelled to flex their design muscles in an attempt to prove themselves. Far too often this can be reflected in bloated pages that are not easy to read, navigate or load. It is a great challenge to design a site that is visually appealing and yet serves to enhance the readability, not take away from it. Sites that cannot be easily scanned or navigated that cause a slow down in the browsing process run the risk of losing audience. The experienced developer has come to learn this, often the hard way. The novice will learn this, in time.

#9 Nobody’s Reading This

Perhaps the biggest giveaway that a website was done by a rookie developer is the verbose content. The novice developer will often try and turn the company’s preexisting marketing material into the website’s context without efficiently editing it for the web. Good offline marketing doesn’t always translate to good online marketing where users are impatient and looking for instant gratification.

In a study done by Penn State University they concluded that web users are picky and impatient; one in five searchers spend 60 seconds or less on a document.

    “People make instantaneous judgments about whether to stay on a site, and if a site doesn’t give the right impression, users will bypass it,” said Dr. Jim Jansen, assistant professor in Penn State’s information sciences and technology (IST). “A page has to be well-designed, easy to load and relevant to a searcher’s needs.”

    Otherwise, by the time three minutes have elapsed, 40 percent of searchers will have moved on. While some may have found what they wanted, others may simply have given up and moved to a different site, said the faculty member in Penn State’s School of Information Sciences and Technology (IST).

Tags: web browser, usability, design standards, website development, CSS, navigation, validation, KIS, users