Design Considerations For Web Designers

Web designers rarely have a free choice to do whatever comes into their mind when it comes to the design of a web page or a website. Graphic designers, web designers and web developers are constrained by a number of factors other than the visual appearance of a site and the clients requirements. Whilst a website owner may be  able to choose between a variety of hosting platforms running various operating systems they have no influence over the software and the hardware that the website users will utilise whilst visiting their site.Unfortunately due to the constraints of time, cost  and other resources, it is practically impossible to create a design that is suitable and effective for all users. Consequently it is necessary to identify the hardware and software used by the websites  primary and secondary audiences and to undertake the design to maximize the effectiveness of the site within the constraints.Operating System
One of the biggest considerations that a designer should have is to design the web site so that it will work well with the most popular operating systems. Nowadays (June 2009) the most common operating system is Windows (86% of users), with Windows XP users accounting for 56% of website traffic. Window Vista (Longhorn) which was introduced after XP now accounts for approximately 25% of traffic. Mac OS X users come in at about 6% and  Linux desktop users come in at a risible 1%.Designers should, as a rule of thumb, attempt to accommodate about 95% of all users wherever possible. Consequently they will need to design a website and check it works on multiple versions of Microsoft Windows and Mac OS. This will normally require a web designer who has access to and uses various types of computer in their offices.Web Browsers
It is important for the web designer to design for and check there work on all the major browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome. Examining recent figures (June 2009) for web usage shows that MSIE accounts for 57.6% of users and Firefox accounts for 24.2%. Within those figures MSIE 7 is used by 37% of users and MSIE 6 and 8 accounting for 13.9% and 6.3% respectively. The browser shipped by default on the Mac, Safari, accounts for 5.2% of web users. The problem for nearly all web designers is that each browser can interpret what is required differently although the Cascading Sheet Style (CSS) is compliant with the appropriate standards. Every competent web designer will not only produce designs that are compliant, but will check them on the browsers that account for 95% of users.Monitor Resolution
The next design consideration for the sagacious web designer is the monitor resolution the users may have. Whilst many users may have high resolution displays there are still a large proportion of website users that have their screen resolution at 1280×1024 pixels or less. By designing for 1024×768, web designers will accommodate this most common resolution, as well as those which are set at any higher resolution. The Web designer should ensure that all testing of Web sites is done using the most common screen resolutions.Connection Speed
Connection speed is another big issue when it comes to design. Whilst superusers may have ultra fast broadband with connection speeds approaching that which you would expect on a LAN, the majority of users don’t. In the UK many users have a home speed of 2Mbit or less (although they may have faster access at work), with a large number still using lugubrious dial-up. Research based investigations into System Response Time (SRT) have consistently identified slow page downloading as an important problem with the web. Although this factor alone is worth careful consideration by the web designer, perhaps more important than users’ feelings of dissatisfaction with slow page downloading is the effect of delays in system response on the web site users’ performance. In one study, people using a computer system made significantly more errors when there were delays of more than 12 seconds in the system’s response to their actions. These results have been interpreted to mean that long delays may strain users’ working memory and therefore impairs their ability to complete tasks. Page downloading speed is determined primarily by the size of the page and the connection speed at which it is being downloaded.  Consequently it is important to keep in mind the overall size of a the page – that is the size of the html file and all the assets (e.g. images, CSS files, JavaScript file), is kept low, preferably to under 30k.Usage figures for browsers, operating systems and connection speeds are fairly ephemeral, with what is correct today undoubtedly will be out of date in the near future. A good web designer  will therefore always be aware and take advantage of new technology, but won’t forget the large number of users who don’t have the latest hardware and software.