Reading Blog 3 (History 697): Going with the Flow . . . of Layout!

Of all the principles and elements of Web design that thematically dominated this week’s readings,  three of them have always been extremely important to me: color, focal point, and flow (or movement). Rebecca Hagen, Kim Golombisky, and Ellen Lupton all provide critical guidelines to Web design and layout that, in addition to the three I have already mentioned, are indisputably essential to what I want to see in a Web site that will keep me interested for longer than two minutes. These three principles and / or elements are what guided me in developing my Portfolio page; but, as I quickly learned, knowing what you want and making it a reality on a Web site are two different things.

Color is an important design element for me, but I dislike in-your-face, gaudy colorization that assaults the senses.  I like bold, striking, and contrasting colors. In a historical Web site, I want to see (and replicate in my own work) color schemes that evoke the period under examination. Moreover, if the theme is war ( in my case World War II), the site’s colors must reflect the gravity of that event and a sense of respect for the lives lost and sacrifices made by many, many people.  In my case, dealing with the subject of D-Day and media representations of that event, I feel torn between enhancing through color what the contemporary audience of 1944 could not see at the time or instead creating a pastiche of what “was.”  The black-and-white visualizations of that day — and the dreariness captured in grainy photographs taken on the assault beaches — have made me consider more subdued colors, like varying shades of gray. But eye-catching contrast is important, especially in coloring the typography. For the moment, I’ve settled on a color akin to cobalt blue; but, as a design principle, it seems to clash with Jakob Nielsen’s guidelines for visualizing links.  I have to rethink that design approach, because I don’t want my typography color to become a roadblock to the site’s flow and movement.

Focal point is equally important to me. I prefer photographic focal points that, in one image, capture the essence of the Web site’s subject matter and time period. Again, I don’t want a lot of images sprinkled across the page unless the page is intended to be an image gallery. If the page shares a good amount of text with the photograph, then one image will suffice as the focal point. And, for me, that image must be the entry point into the layout, a point reinforced by Hagen and Golombisky (H&G, 51). I prefer the focal point to be on the left or centered at the very top, because that image becomes the starting point for what I consider to be the third critical aspect of a good Web site: flow and movement.

Perhaps I’m getting lazier as I get older, but I don’t feel like doing a lot of work in order to figure out where I should go on  Web page.  I prefer to be led along the page by my “nose hairs” (sorry!) so that I read and grasp the nature and meaning of the content without bouncing around the page trying to figure it out. I don’t like “busy” Web pages, because I’m never sure after scanning them if I’ve understood what the Web-site author wanted to communicate. I like getting my information in “chunks” (an  adult learning principle, incidentally) that are easily digestible and crystal clear. Knowing that I can read everything on the page clearly and in the order the designer wanted me to see it is important to me. For me, the ideal flow is (1) title (masthead); (2) site outline (links that give me a quick sense of the site’s scale); (3) focal point for entering the text, preferably starting from the left side (because we read from left to right); and (4) the text in left-justified, ragged-right form, either straight across the page or in no more than two columns.

Web pages designed and organized along these areas — color, focal point, and flow — tend to work best for me. But I will admit that the more I read about good design and layout, the more I learn — and the more my preferences are likely to change and evolve.  I can’t wait to put these principles and elements into practical use!

Steve Rusiecki

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