Website Design Standards, Conventions and Practical Considerations

Website design standards for internet development can be split into several categories:

  1. Best practices and general convention, including security
  2. Standards in posed by technology or design needs and limitations
  3. Those required by law

General Conventions and Best Practices of Design for the Internet

There aren't a lot of string conventions, but here are some of the basics:

You should:

  • use CSS (cascading style sheets, not tables, to layout your website
  • include a logo in the upper left corner of the page
  • include a search link at least on the homepage (on the top of every page is better) There is a free PHP-based search engine - see this page.
  • List breadcrumbs horizontally, if you use them
  • include a "site map" and call it this
  • Hyperlinks should be blue and underlined (that is the default)
  • Change the color of visited links
  • If you have a shopping cart, put the link in the upper right corner of page
  • If you have more than one physical store location, include a "store locator" on the home page and top of every page
  • Put links to pages at the same level in the left-hand column
  • Label links to large pages and files with the size of the file in brackets, like [1.6Mbytes]
  • Include an icon or text to indicate file types for links to downloads, like [PDF] and [doc]

You Shouldn't:

  • Use Flash or animation entry or landing pages
  • Have slow loading pages (pages over 200k in size) Of course, as high speed connections like DSL and cablemodem become more common, this number may increase, but you will lose slow adopters and those unable to afford a faster connection.

Standards imposed by technology or business needs

There are some things you just can't do unless you follow a particular standard.  For example, if you want to use a database to store and manage information such as mailing lists  product information, you will need some form of a database (even if it is a "flat file").

Standards required by law or regulation

There are very few of these.  The one that is most frequently applicable is (in the United States) Section 508 of the Workforce Investment Act Of 1998 which requires all United States Federal Agencies with websites to make them accessible to individuals with disabilities (beginning on 7 August, 2000). Note that this applies to government websites and contractors working for the government. It stems from the Americans with Disabilities Act. Section 508 applies to Federal departments and agencies. It does not pertain to recipients of Federal funds, nor does it regulate private websites. However, it does apply to state governments, in the states which receive Federal funds under the Technology Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988. And businesses covered by the ADA have the same legal obligations, including the "effective communication rule".

What does this mean? It means if you design websites for a government agency, be sure to follow this checklist and see Designing to meet the needs of visually impaired people.