How to Design a User-Friendly Website


Your prime consideration should be who is going to access your site, and how they are going to use the information it contains. Always assume that your readers have short attention spans, basic browsers and small bank balances!

Try to keep your site consistent. Don't use too many fonts, especially specialist fonts that may not be available on the computer of the person viewing your site.

Once you have decided your colour scheme, create a page in that scheme and save it (call it something like 'template'). This means that whenever you need to create a new page, you can open your template and save it as your new page, with all the formatting already there. This is the best way of ensuring that your site remains consistent.

Try to keep FrontPage extensions and other fancy stuff to a minimum. The same goes for animated gifs, large graphics or Java applets. Remember that the person using your site is interested in the content, not the capabilities of your web design software. Whilst animations etc make a site more interesting in moderation, they can obscure the content, take aeons to load, and some don't work with particular browsers. If you have to use them, try to make sure they are not on pages which are constantly reloaded - extra time reloading graphic-heavy pages is going to make your viewer very cross indeed.

Never assume that the viewer has the latest browser and if you have to include anything that will only work with the latest version, try to make sure that it is not crucial to the workings of your site. The exception to this is probably frames, although you should probably include some other means of navigation for those luddites still in the browser dark ages, perhaps at the bottom of each page (which at least ensures that people must GET to the bottom of the page...)


Frames are one way to organise navigation, with a top, bottom or side bar containing links to the major parts of your site. They can be confusing and hard to set-up, so an easier compromise is to use a table to acheive the same effect. Don't try to make links to all the pages, because the last thing people want to do is scroll along a navigation bar. If you have to list all your pages, try to do this on another page, and have a link to it in the navigation bar ie 'Full Page Listing'. Also, make sure you have a 'home' button on the navigation bar so that people can get back to the beginning of the site without hitting the 'back' button a thousand times.

Keep track of the hierarchy of your site and try to organise the files within it into sensible sections. There's nothing wrong with having lots of folders in a site if this is the best way for you. Also, try to keep all your graphics in one folder, perhaps called 'images'. This makes it easier for you to find graphics without trawling through the rest of the site.

Try to call your pages by names that you will be able to remember. Using 10.html or page1.html is fine, but only if you can be certain you will be able to remember what you called it when you come to update your site! Far better is something like kinship01.html, which gives you some indication of what is on the page.

As in all computer things, if you want a group of pages, ie called kinship01.html, kinship02.html to run in sequence when you view your site, make sure that you number them with 01, 02, 03 etc and not just 1, 2, 3 otherwise kinship2.html, for example, will come between kinship19.html and kinship20.html.

Colours - try to keep the overall colour scheme consistent (see basics section). This means that you don't assault your viewer with a veritable rainbow of clashing colours.

Background images are fine as long as they are small, unobtrusive and don't distract the viewer from the content of the page. Plain backgrounds can look very effective. On the Net, black backgrounds tend to be associated with computer games and porn sites, so try to avoid them if you can!


It is tempting to put your whole thesis on your site in page after page of plain text, but that is not making the most of the web's capabilities. Instead, pick out a few themes and build the pages and subpages around them. Keep text short and to the point on each page. Illustrate with images (small ones!) and be sure to break up the text somehow. Using different colours to highlight important elements, quotations, words, names etc is also a good way of making the text look interesting. If you still want to include a major chunk of plain text, consider including it as a downloadable file, or at least warn your audience that they're about to take a trip to planet Plain Text.


You could consider compiling a quiz on your site, for the viewer to take part in at the end, or as a quick 'refresher'. Each question could have a link to the answer on another page, or even a bibliographical suggestion (or both). You can also use this method, along with bookmarks, to create a glossary of terms, a list of people and their backgrounds, a list of placenames etc. In each case, putting the extra information on a different page means that the original text flows better, is shorter, and is consequently easier to understand. If people want more information, they can simply hit the links.

Graphics and Images

Keep images as small and low-grade as possible unless you are sure that everyone who might view your site is going to be using a T3 connection! If you have large graphics which you want people to be able to view, use a smaller version as a thumbnail link to the larger one, and make sure you warn people that the link contains a large image. This means that viewers don't have to spend precious and expensive time downloading images they don't want to see, and stops them getting cross with you and your site.

Movies and Audio

These are a great way of adding interest to an otherwise plain site, and are especially well-suited to anthropology subjects. If you are going to include video or audio, it might be best to have only one example per page, to shorten download time and reduce the risk of browsers crashing. If you do include more than one example on a single page, make sure you set autoplay to 'off' so that they don't all start playing at once!

Come Out with your Hands Up!

Identify yourself. Have a page explaining who you are, what your background is, and add any acknowledgements (research assistants, funding sources etc). Try to include your e-mail address so that people can contact you with comments about your site, problems, or even more information about your chosen subject!

More information, including details of using CGI and some specially developed programs, can be found on the main ERA website at the following address: