Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Functional Design Considerations

This is part of Kate's Guide to Author Websites.

Functional Design Considerations

As I've said before in this series, I assume you are not a web developer and that you are using some sort of tool to create your author website.  I've actually already talked about a lot of functional considerations in my discussions of visual and informational design.  There are just a few more aspects to be aware of.

Browser vs Website

Let's have a little thought experiment.  You have a room full of people, each of whom has pencils and paper.  Now you issue them the following instruction:
Draw a happy face.
What do you think will be the results?  Some people will draw two dots and an arc for a mouth inside a circle, and some will just draw the two dots and arc.  Some may also draw noses, or eyelashes, or eyebrows.  But even the ones who draw the same elements will draw them a little differently.

Your website is just you, issuing the instruction, "Draw a happy face."  The many different versions of many different brands of browsers and other internet-enabled devices will all interpret that instruction a little differently, and each will express it according to its own capabilities.

Hopefully the website you generate will have specific and sufficiently unambiguous instructions that all major browsers will display it acceptably if not identically.  But the only way to be sure is to test your website on as many browsers and other internet-enabled devices as you can, and on multiple versions of those.  Test it with zooming on, testing it with a screen reader, test it on a mobile phone, test it on an iPhone.  You get the picture.


Of course you will test all your links, on every page. But unlike the rest of your site, you need to test your links, especially test links to other sites, on a frequent basis, in case those external pages get moved or taken down. Broken links not only make your site look stale and abandoned, they also make it less interesting to search engines crawling your site.


A web page, as it is received by the browser, is made up of some version of HTML, CSS, often Javascript, and possibly some other technologies.  You should be aware that very old and very new technology will be the least well supported by your visitors' browsers.  HTML and CSS are universal (though there are different versions), and Javascript is virtually universal except where users have disabled it (usually for security), so you generally don't need to worry about these.  However, anything that requires the user to install a plug-in might cost you some visitors.  Flash is a prime example.  Not only do several percent of users refuse to install Flash on their browser, but many can't even if they want to.

Last week I was headed to a new restaurant, and Google maps on my iPhone amazingly gave me the wrong location.  So naturally I went to the restaurant's website for directions, and crap, I couldn't open the site.  It was a slick animated Flash site, and Apple doesn't support Flash on the iPhone (or iPad or iPod Touch).  So I went to a different restaurant.

The restaurant used Flash for their entire site because they wanted that cool factor.  Cool is great, but they made the mistake of putting cool ahead of business.  You can make your site cool in a way that doesn't eclipse or block access to the real content.  If you use Flash, use it in addition to - not in place of - all regular content.  This goes for any technology that requires a plug-in.

Well this marks the end of Part III: Design Considerations.  Next up is Part IV: Working with a Professional.


  1. For others who read your comments, my plug for you: Kate is great! Just did my author website and it is beautiful. First review from someone who knew my old site and saw the renovated site..."Fantastic!"

  2. Wendy, I'm so glad you like it!

    For those following along at home, Wendy's is the first of two site redesigns I offered to do for free in a blog post a few weeks ago.

    Check it out at and then buy Wendy's books!

  3. That's beautiful, Wendy and Kate!

    I love the bright colours and the contrast with the black background, but all the text is on white and easily readable. And you can see Kate following all her own advice, with the pictures of books on each page to make buying easy.

    When something works that well, it looks much more simple and easy than it really is.