Index  
A historical perspective  

Men do exchange knowledge among themselves by means of sounds, images, and written text either directly, or indirectly using specific supports. 
Looking at the past history of communication we discover that each new technology had a relevant impact on civilisation and culture. For instance typography developed by Johann Gutenberg helped to reduce the cost of printing books and contributed significantly to the diffusion of knowledge. The introduction of radio broadcasting at the beginning of the twentieth century and later television broadcasting had equally well a deep impact on modern society. 

 

By examining what happened as the various technologies were introduced we notice that each time the rules of communication have been changed, be it the news press, be it the telephone, be it the cinematography, or be it the computer just to mention a few of them. On the other hand we observe that each of these technologies has been at the origin of new communication paradigms with distinct characteristics and that they have not been often intermixed or combined. 
As a natural development from this diversification can be considered the subsequent appearance of a technology encompassing all of them into one medium: 

 

the digital telecommunication, at the basis of the Internet or world wide web (WWW). It is not far fetched to designate it as the universal medium, just mind what actually can be done through it: phone calls, teleconferencing, broadcasting of voice and images, and publishing. In fact any combination of sounds, images and written text can be implemented. From what precedes emerges clearly that the digital communication revolution we are experiencing will be remembered as a major step in mankind's evolution. 

What are the implications  

The sight of the astounding potentiality of the Internet as a medium leads us to question what are the design requirements for an adequate publication. 
Apart caring for the intrinsic value of the message we wish to promote, we have to care more about its presentation. This task is not made easier due to the increased freedom attained by the medium and by the increasingly blurred boundaries between the various communication paradigms. The ever larger public we can reach also requires from us a more 

 

careful and responsible approach. A new challenge posed by the Internet are the fast context switches it allows in contrast to real life where our mind has more time to make the transition. This shows us that it would make no sense to transfer directly into web pages what has routinely been done up to now on the existing media; there is a real risk of depreciating the content or not getting the message through at all. 
Instead of just intending the web as everybody connected to everybody, one should get aware of the many ways 

 

a message can be linked with those of many other actors present. It sounds pretty as a paradox that the same medium, thought to cause in future an increased isolation among individuals, in fact owes its force mainly to its linking potentialities. 
The finest effect by far of this web interactions is that single contributions, once they are put in relation, get an accrued value. Again the powerfulness of the universal medium can also be ascribed to the lower cost barrier set for anybody wanting to promote his own message. 

The actual state  

In the past few years we saw evolve in the Internet a broad spectrum of presentation forms and styles which by itself confirm the huge creativity potential of the medium. Yet a critical review of all this makes appear a number of excesses and inadequacies which can be partly explained by the fact that many authors and web designers lack the background 

 

proper to the traditional media operators. The probably most frequent mistake made today is the overloading of a page with pictures, graphic elements, gadgets and text to a point that one gets helplessly confused. Even those who welcome or recognise the need for advertisement may get infuriated by what resembles more often to harassment than 

 

to a friendly and clever message broadcast. There is also the unfortunate habit of compensating poor message content and futility with size, graphics, and unrelated animation. 
After this rather gloomy sights one enjoys even more the discovery of well designed sites and pages. 

Some design guidelines  


Before undertaking the realisation of web pages it is good practice to set up some rules helping to achieve a coherent design. 
In order to provide a balanced personality picture one may incorporate content elements allowing people to get a feeling about the author's lifestyle and philosophy. The choice of a proper graphic design beside achieving as much clarity as possible without loss of essential details can for instance be obtained by the use of separate pages for each argument and by structuring

 

the text. This choice is in accordance with the wish not to cause waste of time to the reader, therefore the systematic removal of any feature causing lengthy upload times. The addition of appropriate hyperlinks throughout the pages increases the freedom of approach to the reader; they should be chosen keeping in mind among others that there are different interests and different levels of lexical competency. The transverse rectangular shape of screens requires specific adaptations for a readable presentation of content. Technical

 

enhancements W3C WAI Page Author Guidelines Working Group facilitating the access to disabled people should also be part of the design. Even if recent technical developments now allow an easier handling of sound, one can wait with its introduction since a majority of users still do not have at their disposal the appropriate hardware. 
These were some considerations, far from ultimate, guiding the design of the present web pages.

Louis JEAN-RICHARD

December 1999

References  
  1. W3C WAI Page Author Guidelines Working Group
  2. HTML Help by The Web Design Group