Yale C/AIM Web Style Guide




Purpose of your site

Design strategies

The first step in designing a Web site is to make sure you have defined a set of goals know what it is you want to accomplish with your Web site. Without a clear statement of purpose and objectives the project will begin to wander off course and bog down, or may go on past the point of diminishing returns. Careful planning and a clear sense of purpose are the keys to success in building Web sites, particularly if you will be working as part of a team to build the site. Before beginning to build your Web site you should:

Identify your target audience
Have a statement of purpose
Know your main objectives
Have a concise outline of the information your site will contain.

You should also begin to identify all of the content information and graphic resources you will need to collect or create to achieve the goals you have set for your Web site.

What are your ultimate objectives?
A clear, short statement of objectives should form the foundation of your site design. This is where you expand on the goals in your statement of purpose, and will be the tool you will use to analyze the success of your Web site. For example:

"We expect the association's Web site to accomplish these goals over the next twelve months:

The Web site will reduce the demands on the central office for routine information on association activities, deadlines, dues and fees, and information on association meetings. We expect that the Web site will also allow us to save a significant amount on postage and processing of routine member correspondence. The Web site will carry all of the content that currently goes into our association's quarterly newsletter, but will also carry more timely information as events warrant. After a year we will poll the membership on the success of the Web site newsletter, and explore the possibility of dropping publication of the paper newsletter."

The statement should go on to list a few more specific financial and other organizational goals the Web site is designed to fulfill, how long the evaluation period will be, and how the success of the site will be evaluated.
Building a Web site is usually an ongoing process, not a one-time project with static data. Long term editorial management and technical maintenance must be covered in your plans for the site. Without this longer perspective your electronic publication will suffer the same fate as many newsletters an enthusiastic start, but no lasting accomplishments.

Know your audience
The next step in the design process is to identify the potential users of your Web site, so that you can structure the site design to meet their needs and expectations. The knowledge, background, interests, and needs of users will vary from tentative novices who need a careful structured introduction to expert "power users" who may chafe at anything that seems to patronize them or delay their access to information. A well-designed system should be able to accommodate a range of user skills and interests. For example, if the goal of your Web site is to deliver internal corporate information, human resources documents, or other information that used to be published in paper manuals your site will be used by people who will visit many times every day, and also by people who only occasionally refer to the site.

Web surfers
Home pages aimed at browsers should be analogous to magazine covers. The objective is to entice the casual browser with strong graphics and bold statements of content. All the links on your home page should point inward, toward pages within your site. Provide a very clear and concise statement of what is in the site that might interest the reader.

Less than 10% of

Web readers ever

scroll beyond the

top of Web pages.
Novice and occasional users
These users depend on clear structure and easy access to overviews that illustrate how information is arranged within your Web site. Novices tend to be intimidated by complex text menus and may be tentative about delving deep into the site if the home page is not graphically attractive and clearly arranged. According to Sun Microsystems Jakob Nielsen, less than 10% of Web readers ever scroll beyond the top of Web pages. Infrequent users benefit from overview pages, hierarchical maps, and design graphics and icons that help trigger memory about where information is stored within your site. A glossary of technical terms, acronyms, abbreviations, and a listing of "frequently asked questions" can be helpful to first-time or infrequent users of your site.

Expert and frequent users
These users depend on your site to obtain information quickly and accurately. Expert users are very impatient with multiple low-density graphic menus that only offer two to six choices at time. Power users crave stripped-down, fast-loading text menus. Graphic fru-fru drives them nuts. Expert and frequent users generally have very specific goals in mind, and will appreciate detailed text menus, site structure outlines, or comprehensive site indexes that allow fast search and retrieval.

International users
Remember that you are designing for the World Wide Web. Your readers could be the people down the street, or people in Australia or Poland. To reach the maximum number of users in other countries you may need to provide translations, at least of your key menu pages. Avoid idiosyncratic local jargon or obscure technical acronyms in your introductory or explanatory pages. Don't assume that every reader follows your local date and time conventions. For example, don't abbreviate dates on your Web pages. To an American, "3/4/97" reads as "March 4, 1997," but users in most other countries would read the abbreviated date as "April 3, 1997."


December, J., and N. Randall. 1995. The World Wide Web unleashed. Indianapolis: Sams Publishing.
Copyright 1997 P. Lynch and S. Horton,
   all rights reserved. Yale University   Revised January 1997.