Whether it’s print or website design, designers go to great lengths to present information and imagery in a visually-pleasing way. However, where print design is rigid – every piece has a pre-determined size and shape – websites must work on tablets, laptops, phones, TVs and more. To make the website work for people across different devices and, there are three big behind-the-scenes things that we need to consider: accessibility, security and performance.
In the early days of the web, it was perfectly acceptable to restrict how visitors viewed your website. Messages like “Only available in Netscape Navigator” and “Must have Flash Player installed” were commonplace, but these days every website must be built to function properly on a wide variety of devices including screen-reading software.
Making it just work means the site must be built according to modern accessibility standards, such as providing an “alt tag” for every image – a short piece of text embedded in the webpage that explains what the image depicts. Screen-readers, search engines and other specialized software will read that text in order to understand what the picture is.
Similarly, the code should be structured semantically – for example: when a phone number & mailing address are displayed next to a persons name, the computer knows that the mailing address & phone number are related to the person if the code is written correctly. In print design, these relationships are easy to infer from the way they’re displayed on the page, but on the web those relationships need to also be defined in code so computers can understand and re-use that information.
Modern websites run on a wide array of complex software – from the content management system (CMS) you use to edit each page, to the operating system that’s powering the server that’s running the site. That software is necessary to build websites that are flexible, fast and easy to use but the extra layers of complexity make it more susceptible to more flaws. Good security practices encompass everything from website-users setting strong, complicated passwords to web-hosting companies maintaining secure servers that use the most up-to-date software.
Some in the web industry have argued that the speed and performance and websites isn’t as important as it used to be because computers and internet connections are faster than ever. However, as more people become connected to the internet, the variety of devices and connection speeds continues to expand. Many people use tablets, phones and other devices to access the internet, and they aren’t always using lightning-fast internet.
In building a website, there are many factors that affect performance. Designers need to be aware that adding things like slider galleries, videos and animations to a website increases the load-time and increases the drag that website has on the visitors device. Slow websites not only cause visitors (and potential customers) to leave the site and head back to Google, they can make the site unusable for people on slower internet connections.
As the web becomes even more important to daily life, accessibility, security and performance will only become more crucial to businesses that maintain an online presence.