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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the September 4, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Dissecting Good Website Design

PageHealer is a website about websites that is just

about as good as a website can be. A sales tool of a company by the

same name, PageHealer lays out the do’s and don’t’s of smashing website

design with elegant simplicity. Much of this instruction comes in

the form of advice — free advice! — that Emily Holmes,

PageHealer’s co-owner, dispenses to those who submit their websites

for evaluation.

Holmes speaks on "Shopping for Website Design" on Tuesday,

September 10, at 5:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn in Clifton at a dinner

meeting of the Somerset/Hunterdon NJAWBO chapter. Cost: $28. Call

908-806-0679.

A graduate of Duke, where she studied art history and design, Holmes

has been designing websites since 1995. Her company, based in Bloomsbury,

offers custom web design for a client roster that includes Columbia

University, the Soros Foundation, Hunterdon Hills Playhouse, and the

Albert Schweitzer Institute. The company also offers web design packages,

which are built around templates, but include substantial customization,

and allow for unlimited content update.

For $749.99, for example, PageHealer’s Super Site offers domain setup

and hosting, professional design, customized colors and logo, and

10 E-mail addresses, and five editable regions. For $550 more, PageHealer

offers 25 E-mail addresses and unlimited editable regions. More details

are available at the company’s website, www.webhealer.com

Also at the website is that advice section. It is extensive, and is

one fine way for website owners to figure out if they are on the right

track. It also serves as an instruction booklet for anyone thinking

of shooting a business into cyberspace.

Located, logically enough, under the heading "Advice," this

section lists requests for website evaluation on the left. Click on

any one and see a page from the website being critiqued (gently) along

with detailed commentary on what is wrong — and right — with

the website.

Looking over the website of an online wine retailer, Holmes points

out that there are a number of typos, that text links at the bottom

of the page don’t match the graphic at the top (Wine List and Wine

list), and that the order form feels "very separate" from

the rest of the site. She ends her analysis by asking: "Is it

possible for you to build the site so people can purchase wines directly

from the wine list page? If not, you might consider at least repeating

the page in the order form section so people can see the full list

and choose from it. As it is now, I have to click an awful lot to

place just a few items in my cart."

Among the suggestions Holmes makes to the owner of a baby products

website is that she give her site a more professional look by developing

her own shopping cart system, rather than using PayPal.

She questions whether the owner of a Private Investigation website

really wants to use a purple typeface. "Is that your logo?"

she asks. "If so, you might want to re-think it, or at the very

least, consider the contradiction created by the purple text and the

old-English style text in the nav bar. You are sending mixed messages

about your corporate identity, and this can subconsciously lessen

your credibility in the minds of your users."

Right off the bat, she questions whether a technology school should

use a splash page to introduce its website. Often dramatic and sometimes

beautiful, many users consider these intro pages — which can take

forever to load — a giant pain. Of splash pages, Holmes says:

"As a usability advocate, I haven’t yet seen one that was really

necessary."

Holmes signs her website analyses "Doctor of Design." Judging

from her critiques, she is a knowledgeable doctor with a fine bedside

manner, mixing praise with constructive criticism and never condescending.

While many web designers talk about the elements of good web design,

peeking over Holmes’ shoulder provides a unique vantage point from

which to understand how the smallest elements affect the success —

or failure — of a website.


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