Internet

Future trends in web page designing

Future trends in Web page designing

At a time when businesses were trying to get online as quickly as possible while exploring all the possibilities of the Internet, there was little emphasis made on good Web page design. Just slap together a bit of text and some graphics on a Web page in a rough way and hope to hell someone will notice the page and read it (and, more importantly, do something like buy it!).

Many years have passed since then, and now there are literally millions of Web sites online. Internet users are literally swimming in a sea of information. Businesses (or any individual) can no longer expect others to read a Web page unless there is something special about it.

Perhaps the Web page has a clear and useful purpose? Or it has easy navigation buttons to move around to the more interesting pages (now that's really useful!), or the graphics look interesting (perhaps with a bit of a 3D element to it) and appear to change with the users' interaction.

Whatever the interest, it is clear the biggest problem businesses have is standing out from the rest of the crowd on the Internet. Thus there is a definite trend towards designing good quality and simple Web sites to help make the experience of browsing the Web for people an easy and enjoyable one.

With more and more businesses and individuals understanding the importance of good design when faced with a world bloated with information, the two main designing aims of IT companies today in developing the Internet software of the future to work in the way businesses and the consumers want are as follows:

  1. To create infinitely sharp interactive graphics using the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format; and
  2. To produce accurate colours online using the industry-standard ICC profiles and the colour-enhanced sRGB system.

The trend towards SVG-technology is certainly gaining momentum among the big players like Adobe Systems Inc and Microsoft Corporation. Why? With SVG graphics, people will soon be able to do a variety of flexible and creative things like resize graphics to fit any screen size without losing image detail as well as make them more interactive and constantly up-to-date with little or no input from anyone else other than the person viewing the graphics and the software running them.

As one person described SVG in the July 2000 edition of Webcreate on page 15:

"Scalable vector graphics is about to answer every Web designer's dreams."

And on page 17:

"SVG takes the best from traditional print designs: ICC colour-profile support. transparency, clipping paths, masks, gradients, anti-aliasing, kerning, and full-resolution printing. And it marries these qualities to the more dynamic, interactive potential of the Web."

As for the aim of IT companies to create accurate colours on the Web, this seems to be important for consumers who want businesses to show accurate samples of their products online before they can decide to purchase anything over the Internet.

Should one use the latest Web technologies to enhance a Web page?

It is good and fine for those pushing the new Web technologies to say there are a lot of benefits in using the new Internet technologies. One such benefit has to be without a doubt to put more money into the pockets of those pushing the change.

However, using the latest Web technologies to enhance a Web page is becoming an overrated issue by many businesses and IT companies involved in the development of the Internet. Yes, it is important to try to make Web pages and all their graphics resizable (although the Web page you are reading right now should be able to look good on almost any television, palmtop or computer screen size despite the use of the now antiquated GIFs, JPEGs and HTML technologies). And yes, it is a good idea to use a little animation and interactivity, and to be able to render photographs on the Web in an accurate way. But is it really all that important?

Perhaps if your job depends on creating new Web technologies, the answer would be a resounding, "Yes! It is important."

However, there are still many people who are happy to see good content from any reliable and reputable source presented in any easy and reasonable way. This is becoming especially true for people aged over 45 years.

How should I use Web technologies to enhance a Web page?

Although there are no hard and fast rules to apply in the world of Web page designing, it seems the trend at the moment is for you to use the latest Web technologies only if you want to show prospective employers in the industry what you are capable of doing on your own when designing a web page. But avoid using the latest Web technologies if all you want to do is find information quickly and easily and/or to sell a product to the most number of people online.

The problem with many new fancy Web technologies such as graphic rollovers, javascript, SVG and certain forms of "enhanced" animations is that they often require time to download, or for people to upgrade their browsers, or to download a new plug-in to make them work on older (but perfectly acceptable) browsers. Unfortunately for most people, this is a time-wasting exercise. Even if the new technology seems like a good one, people just don't care.

If you are a child faced with a new and exciting educational topic online and you want to learn in the most interesting way possible, or you just want to explore the web for fun, then a generous smattering of fancy Web technologies to enhance the experience of that information may be useful so long as they are easy to set up.

As for most adults who are sufficiently overwhelmed and perhaps even experiencing brain indigestion from the buckets of information available from the Internet and other sources, there is a general preference for the simple and well-established Web technologies that have proven time-and-time again the effectiveness of finding and presenting information online in the easiest and quickest way possible and which are usually already built into most older as well as newer browsers. In fact, most adults have found the use of HTML-formatted tables, small and high quality GIF/JPEG graphics and good, well-chosen hyperlinks are often more than adequate enough to do the job of finding, interacting and presenting information on the Web.

As for those businesses trying to make a buck or two online, the type of Web technology to be used should be determined by the type and number of customers they wish to target. Thus if your aim is to reach the most number of customers on the Internet, it only makes sense to use simple and readily available Web technologies to ensure the Web pages are readable on even the oldest browsers. But if you wish to target only a younger, technically-minded and computer-literate market for your products, such as selling the latest games or software, then go for the latest Web technologies.

As Personal Computer World has stated:

"...the way a website looks and feels must be tailored to its audience. If you're aiming for 16-25 year olds, a site still needs to be fast but musn't be boring. On the other hand, sites aimed at people over 45 should treat speed and simplicity as the overriding factors that contribute to a positive surfing experience. Those websites targeting senior managers in blue-chip companies, where the visitor is likely to have fast, leased lines straight to their desktops, can afford to use richer multimedia content." (1)

Further trends in the web world?

Yes there are further trends in this massive industry. Apart from getting information to look good, be consistent and show accuracy using the latest web technology, business professionals are also seeing the value of designing one good page template for holding content on a web page, and then having the content constantly and automatically updated to the latest information using various data capturing and information linking tools.

At present, the best software available to do this are databases. Publishing databases online (also known as Web applications) and getting them to link up to other information and/or permitting clients to update information on them is fast becoming the way to achieve this information management goal for many businesses.

From a web designers' point-of-view, a database helps to separate the content from the design. In that way, designers can concentrate on designing a good database, and then let someone else provide the content for the database.

The databases can be designed either on Microsoft Access version 95 or higher, or FileMaker Pro 4.0 or higher. With FileMaker Pro 5.0 or higher, the technology is now available to help databases link to different types of information outside of the database just like Microsoft Access.

Then to publish the database online, you can either ask your ISP to set-up your database-driven site. Alternatively, consider creating your own personal web server on your computer. Then use a software like Macromedia Dreamweaver UltraDev 3.0 or higher to prepare your database for online use.

When preparing your database for online use, the procedure is essentially as follows:

  1. Set up your personal web server software on your computer (use your Windows CD) and use the advanced features in the software to create a directory pointing to the right web site folder so that your Internet browser will notice your web site when you type a Web address like "http://localhost/[database name]/".
  2. Your copy of Microsoft Access or FileMaker Pro should also have installed a control panel called ODBC. Open this control panel and you should see an ODBC Microsoft Access or FileMaker Pro Setup page. Now select the database from your web site folder and give it a name (usually typed in the Data Source Name (DNS) text box).
  3. Launch UltraDev or some other similar tool to help create the necessary files in the web site folder to "drive" your database for online use.
  4. Tell UltraDev where your web site folder containing your database is located. You may also need to specify the type of server model you want to serve your database to people on the Web. In most cases, this is usually an Application Server like ASP 2.0. And while you are there, type the name of the database at the end of the URL address shown in UltraDev. It will have a Web address like "http://localhost/[database name]/".
  5. Next, we must connect this information in UltraDev to the DSN pointing at the database in the ODBC control panel before we can begin designing our web page containing the fields (or data elements) of this database. You will probably have to go into Modify>Connections and choose New>Data Source Name(DNS). Select the name you have typed in the control panel from the DSN pop-up menu. You may have to give it another name in UltraDev so you can refer to this connection later.
  6. Now you are ready to tell UltraDev to create the necessary ".asp" files designed to link up to the specific fields (or data elements) of your database and make them dynamic so to speak, which is another term for making them accessable and/or modifiable to Web users when you drag them onto your web page. Now use the other features of UltraDev to insert things like how many records your users are browsing, a navigation bar for moving through the records of your database, creating a filtering or search page to help users find records in your database and so on.
  7. If your database is designed on FileMaker Pro 5.0 or higher, you can avoid having to redesign the web page to look like your database and create those additional navigation tools simply by telling FileMaker Pro to publish the database online. Claris will then use sophisticated HTML, CSS and other web tools to make your online database web page look almost exactly like your original database design, including making your fields "dynamic". Compared to UltraDev, this has to be the easiest way of getting your databases accessable on the Internet.

Creating 3D images on a Web page

Another important trend for web designers and businesses is the creation of images having a realistic and significant 3D flavour about them. The popularity of 3D images is high as can be seen from the number of 3D software packages available commercially and given away freely on the cover of magazines such as Strata 3D Studio Pro 2.5.3.

Jens Karlsson of Chapter3 is a professional 3D content maker. His view on 3D images for the Web is quite unequivocable:

"In my current situation, uninstalling all my 3D applications would be equal to cutting off one leg. 3D visualisation and its possibilities has broadened my creative thinking a lot in terms of how to approach design challenges.

My initial reason for getting into 3D was excitement about a new technology, and the opportunities available—a new area to explore. As designers, we often find ourselves in the situation of wanting to create something contemporary, potentially award-winning, sometimes overlooking the actual design problem, and I think that this is where online 3D stands today. Clients see 3D as a possibility to build up that same excitement for their customers. Interactive 3D is no artifice, I think it's here to stay and grow with us, but right now it's very trendy." (2)

On the other side of the coin, creating stunningly realistic 3D images (especially if animation is required) takes enormous amounts of time. And for businesses, time means money, and so clients and customers are often required to pay a lot of money for the privilege.

Karlsson is aware of this problem when he said:

"It [3D] has its cons related to budget and time, as well as its pros in realistic visual output at a high wow level, especially on the Web." (3)

Another drawback to the technology is the large file sizes required to create a reasonably complex 3D movie. Even though the network of the Internet has progressed to the faster broadband option and the hard disks of computers can store large amounts of information, downloading 3D images as a complete online movie is still very difficult. If the images are simple, the movies are short, and the 3D software has a plug-in to allow the images to display on the Web (i.e. the Shockwave plug-in), it can potentially be a relatively easy and popular solution for clients.

Henry Brook, an interactive designer at DigitLondon, has spent years playing with his combination of 3D software called Discreet 3DS Max and Macromedia's Flash MX and Shockwave. He believes that with the right plug-ins and tight integration of 3D software with Macromedia Flash MX, 3D images are likely to be increasingly more popular on the Web:

"Personally, I use 3D a lot. Studio-wise, it depends on what we're designing, but with the new plug-ins it's increasingly a consideration." (4)

Macromedia Flash MX is a useful tool for creating vector-based animations for the web because of its ability to create small file sizes for the images and render images sharply and quickly at any magnification.

Another 3D interactive designer, Marco Di Carlo, agrees with the view that long and complex 3D movies found on television and the cinemas and not yet available for the Internet due to file size restrictions:

"When most clients hear 3D, they immediately think of the full-screen, broadcast-style animation found in television commercials or movies, which simply can't be done [on the Web] due to file-size restrictions and the client's lack of technical experience." (5)

However, if you do have a serious budget (at least A$10 million), more serious application of 3D is possible on CDs/DVDs, and on the large hard disks and special video graphic cards available on modern computers.

Making Hollywood movies such as Terminator 2 is one example. At the lower end of the budget (roughly A$5 million), you can create some stunning 3D games with the likes of Doom 4.

Because of the realistic 3D environments and first-player interactive technology capable with the latest computer hardware and software, 3D games have grown enormously over the past 5 years. Consumers aged between 15 and 24 years are the highest users of 3D games. (6)

In the scientific and research sector, 3D images are an increasingly popular solution to solving complex problems requiring lots of number-crunching and trying to visualise the data.

The trend suggests 3D work will get increasingly more powerful, simpler to design, and cheaper to build for the masses as time goes by. Just like the early days when 3D software tended to be complicated, unintuitive and very expensive to buy, in 2002, we will see a number of 3D software being given away to anyone interested in this area of the IT industry.

The software will be powerful and easy-to-use by everyone. The only ones who may have to pay a little more will be for those extremely complex 3D movie animations to be presented on the Internet or for research work, or to create more realistic and complex 3D games for the gaming market.

If you want to enter this area in a professional way, make sure you are fully proficient in using a popular, commercial-quality 3D software package, have a good knowledge of Macromedia Flash MX when transferring your 3D animations to the web, and be a good programmer to use the Director/Havok engine for creating quality animation in your 3D environment.