Your Website and You – Helpful Web Design Tips

As a sometime web designer (I prefer the term “web monkey” myself), I’d like to pass these helpful tips on to other sometime (and just getting into the game) web designers everywhere.

We get it – you built a website that looks nice on the front-end and that’s all the client should really care about. However – this doesn’t necessarily translate to “Easy to maintain”, especially if you get hit by a bus or your client calls you 6 months later and wants you to add more stuff to their website. This is one case where “vendor lock-in” (as they say in economics) is not likely to work out very well for you – the client probably knows “Some guy who does websites” who can help them out if you’re not available or don’t feel like maintaining the stuff you threw together 6 months ago without charging the client an arm and a leg.

– Please don’t design websites in a WYSIWYG editor. Yes, I’ve actually encountered “web designers” who do this. That may work for Joe User who just wants to build a simple website for Grandma, but every program insists on dumping an insane amount of unnecessary markup into the page. Take the time to learn HTML and CSS via a resource like or fall back on Google for the thorny issues – HTML in particular is stupidly easy to learn. A well-written page will be easier to maintain and from a search engine optimization standpoint – easier for the search engines to spider and index properly.

– Make sure your basic page design can expand gracefully if you need to add more content to a page. Sometimes this isn’t always possible, especially if your client comes back to you at a later time and wants to know if you can add X item in the sidebar or something. Been there, done that and sometimes you gotta break the bad news to the client that the design (that they were happy with up until now) won’t work that way – at least not without a complete redesign which will cost the client extra. It’s amazing how often the client will suddenly decide they don’t need the design changed that badly.

– If you’re using an external stylesheet – keep all of your styles in the same stylesheet or at the least, label your separate stylesheets appropriately (e.g. “TopMenu.css” and “Footer.css” – not “Styles.css” and “Stylesheet.css”). Not to mention, use clear and consistent name schemes for your styles and classes and comment them if necessary. You’re not going to remember the difference between TopButtons and TopNav in 6 months.

– Flash is the worst program ever invented. Well, maybe not the worst program but you catch my drift. It has its applications but otherwise it’s a completely unnecessary addition to the Internet that is bloated, insecure and annoying in general. Take an hour or two with Google to dig up a jQuery plugin or CSS hack that will probably do exactly what you need it to do without slaving for hours to build a 2+ MB slideshow in Flash.

– Don’t mix tables and CSS in the same page unless absolutely necessary. CSS will give you the most control over your layout and eliminate a lot of extra markup for all those table rows and cells but of course with the major browsers not totally in agreement on how CSS should be rendered (the infamous Internet Explorer “box model” problem comes to mind), sometimes throwing a table in there will save you from a coronary.

Thanks, folks. Your client may not appreciate you going the extra mile with their web design, but some of us will.