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Comments on Site Design

Initial Confusion
Designing a web page, at least for a neophyte like me, is difficult. Except for struggling to learn a web-authoring program, site design has been giving me the biggest headache. I have been educated in a print-based environment, and my subject area--English Studies--until very recently, was bound to the book and to the essay. Ask me to write an essay, and I know what to do. Ask me to create a web page and I suddenly feel as confused and scared as a high school freshmen faced with writing a multi-page typed essay for the first time.

Part of me wishes I had just decided to write a traditional essay because when writing an essay I not only have my own extensive experience to rely on, but a long tradition of essay writing to study. In short, there is a clear structure for me to follow. But with hypertext, given the infinite possibilities of linking, the structure seems virtually limitless. Rather than write through a linear beginning, middle, end, I suddenly have to think in more directions. (See Writing with Hyperlinks.)

While groping for a design structure to use, I felt lost and found myself clinging to guidelines found at web sites with names like "Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design" (Nielsen, 1996). I attended numerous web design workshops offered by the Office of Information Technology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and I studied their handouts as if they were sacred texts. I also paid more attention to the design of the pages I visited, as well as picking the brains of various "techies" I know.

A Double-Ring-Satellite Structure

Finally after many false starts and chaotic uses of bits of paper, I settled on what I think of as a double-ring-satellite structure.

The home page is the center, controlling both rings of interconnected, yet separate threads of discourse, the monument pages and the metacognitive pages.

Because all monument pages are connected, a person can simply follow that thread without ever being interrupted by metacognitive pages. Similarly, someone visiting this site who is interested in composition issues can simply follow the metacognitive links without having to go to the monument pages. And, of course, the structure also allows for what I think of as grazing, being able to nibble here and there while roaming through the site.

A thumbnail image of a graphic representation of the site design Click on the site map for a larger image and a key.
What I like about this structure is that it enables a reader to hop into any of the revolving circles at any point, moving from page to page within a thread, moving back and forth between the threads, or moving back to the home page to redirect their attention to a different area.

Initially I wanted to have different color web links for monument pages and metacogntive pages, but I realized that people have become used to certain colors for links and that if I had two different colors for links then people would not be able to figure out what links they had visited and what ones they had not. So I decided to follow standard colors which seem to be blue for unvisited and purplish-red for visited, using the difference between standard font and italics to distinguish at the link level between the threads. (I think it's interesting how quickly normative pressures come to bear on new genres of discourse. Of course I could disregard those pressures, but as is probably evident from this site, I want to gain a sense of the expected in web design before I get experimental. And one of my main goals is to create a visitor-friendly, easy-to-navigate site, which many cutting-edge experimental sites often are not.)

I chose two different color backgrounds for the pages on the two different rings of this project because I want people to be able to determine easily where they are in the site.

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