Common Sense and Sensibility

As of December 2011, this topic has been archived. As a result, it is no longer actively maintained. For more information, see Archived Content. For information, recommendations, and guidance regarding the current version of Internet Explorer, see Internet Explorer Developer Center.

Robert Hess
Microsoft Corporation

April 20, 1998

Don't use technology for the sake of using technology

Just because you think some new technology is cool, doesn't mean everybody else will. In fact, in most cases everybody else will find it annoying. Many of the other points I raise here fall under this category. I can't stress enough how important it is to understand "what" you are trying to say to your audience, and then take your time making sure that everything on your pages is designed to improve how you get this point across.

Avoid unnecessary use of the <center> tag

Too many people enclose the entire page,

or a good portion of it,

within a <center> tag.


I don't know. Perhaps they think it looks cool.

What it really does is make it difficult for the reader's eyes to properly register and track the information.

And it shows that the person designing the page probably doesn't know what he or she is doing.

If you are doing this on your pages,

ask yourself if it really helps get across the information you are trying to present.

Avoid frames

Frames might look like a cool way to control the navigation and layout of your site, but they also make it difficult for the user to mark locations on your site as favorites. Think carefully before adding frames to your site, and do it only if frames truly add more benefit to the user then they take away.

The text in the status bar is there for a reason

That reason isn't so you can display a cute little scrolling message. Far too many sites put various types of messages in the status bar. I expect they think this is "cool," but, trust me, it isn't. If the message is important, why not display it someplace useful? If the message isn't important, why "replace" an existing message that the browser is trying to display?

Use animated GIFs sparingly

Animated GIFs are often referred to as "eye candy." I expect that some of you had childhood experiences, "post-Halloween," involving too much candy, that taught you the importance of moderation. Animated GIFs should be used to draw attention to something, or enforce a message. If you try to animate all of the images on your site, you not only present a confusing structure to the user, but you also add unnecessary, download-time-consuming "weight" to your site.

Avoid background sounds

People love to add sound to their pages, and, almost universally, users hate it. On many pages, the author simply adds a MIDI or WAV file of his or her current favorite song, and has it loop endlessly while the user is on the page. If you do add sound to your pages, make sure that it enforces your message, don't put it in an endless loop, and only use it on the pages that really need it.

Be careful about the fonts you choose

There are a lot of things I could say about font usage on Web sites, but here's one brief pointer: Just because Microsoft FrontPage (or some other WYSIWYG tool) "allows" you to select any font installed on your system to be used on your pages doesn't mean that font is what the user will see on your site. Any time you specifically set the font for a particular piece of text, consider it carefully, and try to choose fonts that the user is likely to have installed. Provide the appropriate "cascade" of alternate font names—just in case, and realize that there will still be cases where, despite your best efforts, the user might see your text in some other font.

Avoid message boxes

Using the alert function in JavaScript or VBScript to put up a message box is usually annoying to the user. Limit your use of this function to occasions when you really want to "annoy" the user.

Know how the HTML on your pages works

A lot of WYSIWYG tools on the market make it very easy to create a Website without ever looking at the underlying HTML. However, living in blissful ignorance of what HTML is, and what it can do, does you no favors. Not only does this make it difficult for you to understand how to design a site that is compatible to most browsers and platforms, it also prevents you from understanding both the capabilities and limitations of a Web page. You needn't start using Notepad to construct your pages, but try periodically to look at the HTML of your page, and make sure you understand everything it is doing.

How do your pages print?

A lot of users love to print out Web pages and read them later at their convenience. This makes it important that you think about how your pages print out, and, while it may not be necessary that they are as "pretty" as possible, at least make sure that the information on the page is readable. Often, conflicts in background color and font color will make all the information on the page totally unreadable when printed on a black and white printer.

Think about other browsers and platforms

Not everybody is using the same browser as you. It is important to remember this. How much effort you spend making your pages compatible with other browsers and platforms is up to you, but it is important to at least consider the implications. The number of permutations of platforms and browsers, and the different versions of each combination, is quite horrendous, but, at the very least, you should look at your pages on the latest versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator, using the Windows operating system as your platform. After you gain some experience with what these differences entail, it will be easier for you to design your pages so that they work better to a wider audience.

That Wouldn't Be You Now, Would It?

So, recognize yourself in any of these? If you'd like some more information on how "not" to design pages, check out Web Pages That Suck.

Robert Hess is an evangelist in Microsoft's Developer Relations Group. Fortunately for all of us, his opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Microsoft.