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Web Style Guide

Preface to the first edition

THIS BOOK IS FOR ALL THOSE who wish to publish durable content on the Web. Durable content is not guided by trends; good design will withstand the test of time, whereas trends quickly become frivolous. Success in Web design goes beyond technology and fashion. To create Web sites that endure you need only to communicate your ideas clearly and effectively to your readers.

Though still young, the World Wide Web has already undergone several transformations. The framers of the Web were scientists who wanted to create a device-independent method for exchanging documents. They devised HTML (HyperText Markup Language) as a method for "marking up" the structure of documents to allow for exchange and comparison. Their focus was on the structural logic of documents, not the visual logic of graphic design.

But the Web quickly caught on as a publishing medium; no communication device is more inexpensive or far-reaching. As a tool for communication, however, Web authoring with HTML has limitations. With their focus on the structure of documents, the originators of the Web ignored those visual aspects of information delivery that are critical to effective communication. Once the Web was established as a viable publishing medium, these limitations became obvious and cumbersome. Pages that conformed to HTML standards lacked visual appeal, showing little evidence of the past five centuries of progress in print design. Graphic designers took this relatively primitive authoring and layout tool and began to bend and adapt it to a purpose it was never intended to serve: graphic page design.

The Web viewing audience was also beginning to refine its tastes. The pioneering Web "surfers" who were content to skim the surface of Internet documents are now outnumbered. People are turning to the Web for information — information with depth, breadth, and integrity.

Our purpose for writing this book is to offer basic design principles that you can use to make your content as easy to understand as possible. We explain how to use design as a tool, not as an objective; your Web design should be almost transparent to the reader. We show you how to create a user interface that will allow visitors to your site to navigate your content with ease. We offer suggestions on how to write Web documents; this is a new genre with its own style and guidelines. We delve deep into Web images — color, resolution, compression, and formats — and discuss the benefits of publishing images on the Web. We cover the stylistic and technical issues surrounding the addition of dynamic media to your Web site. All the guidance we offer shares a single purpose: to make your message clear to your readers.

This is not an HTML manual, nor is it a book on graphic design. It is a practical guide to help you design Web sites for the long run.

Many people have given generously of their time and advice during the preparation of this book and of the Web site that preceded the book. At Yale University Press we extend our warmest thanks to Jean Thomson Black, Laura Jones Dooley, and James J. Johnson. We also thank Craig Locatis, Donald Norman, and Edward Tufte for their valuable contributions.

I extend heartfelt thanks to my friends and colleagues at Yale University Center for Advanced Instructional Media: Carl Jaffe, Phillip Simon, Sean Jackson, Kimberly Pasko, Marsha Vazquez, and Jeff Colket. In particular, I'd like to thank Carl Jaffe for over ten years of friendship, wise counsel, and practical advice, much of which now appears on these pages. I'd also like to acknowledge and thank my co-author and good friend Sarah Horton for her friendship, for her partnership in this enterprise, and for convincing me that converting our Web Style Guide site into a book was a good idea.

I am especially grateful to the following individuals for their comments, suggestions, assistance, and counsel over the development of this book and companion Web site: Anne Altemus, Emmett Barkley, Richard Beebe, David Bolinsky, Stephen Cohen, Frank Gallo, Kathryn Latimer, Howard Newstadt, Noble Proctor, Lynna Stone-Infeld, Jan Taylor, Mi Young Toh, Tom Urtz, and Cheryl Warfield.
— PL

I thank my co-author, Patrick Lynch, for asking me to join him as co-author of the second edition of the online Web Style Guide. Little did he know where that invitation would lead, and I am grateful for his unfailing friendship and good humor throughout the development of this book. I am deeply indebted to Pat and his colleagues at Yale University Center for Advanced Instructional Media for taking me in some years back and teaching me how to see.

I am indebted to my many colleagues and friends at Dartmouth College for their support, suggestions, and counsel, especially John Hawkins, Sheila Culbert, D. Randall Spydell, Ned Holbrook, and Robert M. Murray. I also thank the faculty whose sites appear in this book: Joan Campbell, Eva Fodor, Sally Hair, Allen Koop, Thomas Luxon, and Gerard Russo.

I also thank Malcolm Brown for his steadfast support.
— SH