3 Mistakes Web Programmers Need to Stop Making

Jonathan Goldford is a partner at JG Visual, an Internet strategy company that works with organizations to develop and implement their online presence. You can connect with Jonathan on the JG Visual Facebook page.

Sometimes as programmers, we forget that 99.9% of the population doesn’t care how a piece of text, a button, an image or a video ends up onscreen. Most people just care that it’s fast, easy to use and gives them the content they want. Otherwise, they get upset — and rightfully so. Here are three common mistakes we programmers make, and what we can do to fix them.

1. Forgetting About Conventions

Ever since they started using the Internet, users have been trained how to interact with a website. Therefore, they often get frustrated when websites don’t meet their expectations. Here are some examples.

  • They hover over an object they think is clickable, but become confused when they see an arrow instead of a hand pointer.
  • They click on blue, underlined text, but find it’s not a link.
  • They click on the logo in the top left, believing it will return them to the homepage, only to find it takes them nowhere.

Web design doesn’t always meet our expectations. However, developers and designers should always maintain certain rules to avoid user confusion. Here are three.

Clickable Elements Should Have the Pointer on Rollover
Everything clickable should switch to the hand pointer when a user hovers over it. You can accomplish this using simple CSS. The code would look like this

div:hover { cursor: pointer; }

Style Links Appropriately
Links should look different than regular text, and should be underlined within a page’s main content. If you really want to stick with convention, make them blue — research found users engage most with blue links.

Make Logos Clickable
The logo in the header of your website should be clickable, and should take the user to the homepage. This is pretty simple: Just wrap your logo in a tag.

<a href=%u201Dhttp://www.example.com%u201D>
<img src=%u201Dlogo.gif%u201D alt=%u201DExample Company%u201D title=%u201DExample Company Logo%u201D height=%u201D100%u201D width=%u201D100%u201D />

2. Creating Slowly-Loading Websites

Users hate slow websites. Studies have shown that 40% of users will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. Here’s how to avoid common speed mistakes by new programmers.

Resize Images Outside the Browser
New programmers will sometimes use a very large image, let’s say 600 pixels wide by 600 pixels tall, but will set the height and width so the image shrinks to the desired size. They use the following code.

<img src=%u201Dbig-domo.jpg%u201D alt=%u201DDomo%u201D title=%u201DBig domo at the park%u201D height=%u201D200%u201D width=%u201D200%u201D />

There are two problems with this method: First, the full image still needs to load. Typically, bigger image files mean longer load times.

Second, shrinking an image using the height and width attributes can render a photo awkwardly, causing the browser to display a photo not nearly as clear as it would be were the image sized 200 x 200 pixels.

To fix these issues, resize and compress images in an editor like Photoshop or Gimp. Then code the image like we did above. Try to use a tool like Photoshop’s Save for Web & Devices to further shrink the file size.

Load JavaScript in the Footer
Many programmers unnecessarily load all the page’s JavaScript files in the head tag. This stalls the rest of the page load. In almost all cases, except for JavaScript critical to user interface navigation, it’s okay to load script in the footer. Then the rest of the page can load beforehand. Try this code.

Rest of the page%u2026
<script type=%u201Dtext/javascript%u201D src=%u201Djs/scripts.js%u201D></script>

Load CSS Externally
Sometimes new programmers load CSS on each individual page using inline styles or an internal stylesheet. For inline styles, code looks like this.

<p style=%u201Dmargin-top: 50px;%u201D>Hi Mom!</p>

And for an internal stylesheet, you’d most likely see this code in the head tag.

<style type=%u201Dtext/css%u201D>
p { margin-top: 50px; }

You should almost never use CSS in the page that holds your html. Store it externally using code like this.

<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href=%u201Dcss/style.css" />

There are two advantages to loading CSS externally: First, the user’s computer will save the external stylesheet to be used on every page, instead of retrieving the same styles over and over. This greatly speeds up load time.
Second, using an external stylesheet is much easier to maintain. If you need to change the font size of your website’s paragraphs, you’re able change it in one place, without having to access each individual html file.
Learn more about good CSS practices at CSS Basics.

3. Not Accounting for Potential Backend Changes

Most programmers nowadays are using a content management system like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal to build their websites. This is great because it gives website owners the ability to make changes and updates.

The problem is that a lot of developers only program for a website’s content at launch time. For example, at launch a developer may only create CSS styles for website headings 1, 2 and 3. What if two months after the website’s launch, the communications director decides to set some text to heading 6, since that’s an option in WordPress’s format? That decision would revert to the default styles of the browser since the developer never styled for it initially. Here is how to avoid this situation.

Include Styles for All the Common Tags
To make sure that the design of your website remains consistent with any backend formatting, programmers should include styles to handle the following html tags.

  • Body (<body>)
  • Heading 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (<h1>, <h2>, <h3>, <h4>, <h5>, <h6>)
  • Link (<a>)
  • Paragraph (<p>)
  • Address (<address>)
  • Preformatted (<pre>)
  • Strong (<strong>)
  • Unordered list (<ul>)
  • Ordered list (<ol>)
  • Quotes (<blockquote>)

It’s best to check the WYSIWYG that your website owners are using to make sure you have all the appropriate tags covered.

Basic styling isn’t the only opportunity for your website to break down. Also make sure to prepare for large image uploads and for copy/paste from Word. Although items like these can seem trivial, educating your website owners about how to add content can make all the difference.

You’re Smart, But It’s Hard To Remember Everything

The mistakes listed here have nothing to do with a developer’s intelligence. Like most jobs, things fall through the cracks, especially when you’re just getting started.

Do you agree with the items listed above? Are there any others we should have included?

Copy from http://mashable.com/2011/11/20/web-programmer-mistakes/


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