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Monday, May 08, 2006

Snazzy web design

Let's check out the Grizzly Peak Cyclists site. This is the sort of page I remember from surfing around in 1994. Nearly every page is static HTML without any frames, images, or even newfangled Netscape features like <font>. The pages have a very simple layout and format. The site is not eyecatching.

But that's OK - it's not snazzed-up, but it's designed well. The site practices excellent logical design. On the front page, for instance, the different areas of the site are grouped cleanly into headings. The current ride schedule also shows this off. In addition to listing the rides for this month, the page also links the rides that take place every week, which a user looking for a ride would be interested in, and links to a page explaining some of the club jargon in the listings. This sort of thoughtfulness makes the site very nice to browse, because the designer has considered carefully what a user would be interested in finding.

Further investigation reveals that this site isn't due to laziness or inability to create a site with flashier features. The site is plain-looking, but has some advanced features built in, such as a DOCTYPE declaration and an embedded mailto address. The site also uses the pedantic tags <em> and <strong> rather than the more common <i> and <b>, which are technically preferable in most situations. These sort of things are not options that a novice web designer uses or even knows about. It's clear that the simple presentation of this site is a deliberate decision.

I wanted to close with some words about the downsides of this design, but I'm having trouble thinking of any. It seems like a natural evolution to start adding photos of the members or maps of the bike routes, but I don't see that that would really improve things. I must admit a certain bias toward the simplicity at work here – I don't see why newer is better when it comes to many sites, and as we'll see thoughtful design is really more important than technological wizardy. The worst I can say about this style is that it doesn't scale forever – for instance, I can't imagine a big e-commerce site done in text with logical markup. However, it's worth noting that this is a site for a popular bike club, not some dinky homepage, and it's nice to see a webmaster who isn't just "upgrading" for no reason.