Guidelines for Web consultants

"You have some funny outfits in the info business these days: two or three boy geniuses and a receptionist, or hundreds of people and a macrobiotic cafeteria, CEOs whose resumes include past lives as goatherds and shamans."

"I had no idea."

"Half of them aren't corporations at all. They're cults."

Barbara Ehrenreich, 1994, Kipper's Game.

When you hire people to create Web pages, give them some solid guidelines to work with:


You should ask them not to use frames. More than anything else, frames will cripple your site.

If you only tell these people one thing, tell them NO FRAMES. But don't just take my work for it, read Why Frames Suck, by Jakob Neilson. Jakob is an interface design expert at Sun Microsystems.

Frames are usually used for navigation. Use text links at the bottom of each page, instead.


I recently saw a site where a front page link said Labour Mangement System. Now they might have been saying that their labour management is mangy but I imagine that it wasn't the intent... :-)

Your final site will grow pretty big, I imagine. If no editing has been budgeted for, you may have a problem.

This brings me to my next point...


Three choices here:

I reckon that you are best off with the second possibility. That way, if you see a minor typo, you can go in and fix it immediately. It means that some people from your work need access to the server though.

Ideally, I reckon that (eventually) everyone at your organisation who can publish paper to the outside world should have access to the Net and the site. But that's just me.


For documentation purposes, the consultants should be encouraged to treat your Web site in the same way that programmers work on a computer program.

There should be enough documentation so that the next group of consultants can work with the site without having to rebuild it to understand it.

They are the major points. All the rest are good advice, but you can probably live without it.

Minimum requirements

Conform to HTML 4.0 specifications. At the very least, every page must start with the <!DOCTYPE> declaration and must have a <head> (with a <title>) and a <body>.

Follow an agreed template. At RMIT, the minimum is "a title, white background and a footer on every page which includes the small RMIT logo linked to the RMIT home page, an e-mail link for enquiries and the date of last modification". And still some people do things differently.

Identify its position within the company. At this stage, this may be as simple as having a logo on each page. Here, I use 'RMIT | Faculty of Art, Design and Communication | Department of Visual Communication | Sunrise Research Laboratory', which is tiresome, but necessary. The Web is a confusing place. It is easy to get lost, so you should help people pinpoint where they are.

Here, I have combined the two by putting 'Copyright (date last changed) Jonathan O'Donnell' at the bottom of every page. The word "copyright" is a link to my copyright statement, the date is the date that the page was last updated and the "Jonathan O'Donnell" is a mailto to me. One simple line.

Have descriptive alt tags for ALL images. This is for people on slow connections who have images turned off. It is really frustrating, for example, if you cannot tell that the images on the left hand side are navigation buttons.

A link to a search engine which provides a search of the entire site.

Size of pages

Pages should either be navigation pages or content pages.

Navigation pages should not be more than one screen big. No scrolling should be required. This is a severe challenge for designers, but a reasonable one.

Content pages (the actual materials) can be longer, but should be split up into logical short chunks if possible. You might want to make some of your content downloadable as RTF or MSWord files, as well. That way people can play around with it on their own machines.

Bells and whistles

No <blink> tags.

No animated gifs, unless there is a sound educational purpose (ie demonstrating a sequence of events).

Speed before beauty (ie only use images where necessary).

Last, but not least, don't let them put an advertisement for themselves on the first page. It should go on a credits page (along with your name), not on the front page. See the previous comments about the copyright notice for a better way to deal with this.

These pages should be examples of what I am trying to explain. As you can see, I am still working towards the ideals, but I'll get there.