Layout is usually thought of as a designer's job. "How can this information be presented to get the best effect?" Obviously, smart, attractive objects and design will distinguish one web page from another.
We try to encourage people to maintain their high standards, striving to make websites attractive and useful, but to remember that this should not be done at the expense of making them inaccessible to many.
There are some principles emerging which should be taken into account. A simple example is the use of frames or tables.
Frames do not always make the site more useful, they are hard to get right, and they can be a nightmare according to what browsing device is being used. Often, what is done with frames could be done faster and better some other way. For instance, those who want some distingusihing colour down the side of their page might use a background image instead of a frame. Then, many browsers can be set to avoid this colour, if it will not be seen by the user anyway, without any loss of content.
Tables, as seen earlier, can be used well for some kinds of information. They are not very good layout mechanisms as they do not work equally with all browsing devices. They are cumbersome and inappropriate for those not looking at a large screen.
Graphic objects which are created so as to provide fancy text displays, eg graphics objects which serve as named buttons for navigation, are not eaily accessible to all, even where they are properly tagged. They may also add unnecessarily to the time required to download a page.
Colour is often used to give clues about structure of content. This technique again has limited application. Remember that a very high proportion of people are red-green colourblind. Add to that number, those who don't like jazzy colours and turn them off, and those who cannot get the colours on the devices.
Positioning of objects on a page can also lead to problems. Where it has meaning, this should be made clear in the structuring of the webpage's content, and then achieved by correct use of a style sheet. No author can predict what size screen window a user will be working with, if they are using the screen at all. Borders and horizontal lines which break up content in a meaningful way, leave messy content when they are removed.
Navigation problems seem to lead people to all sorts of unsuitable solutions. One commonly adopted by those who want to increase accessibility, is the use of bars of text for navigation. Such bars can look good but be huge hurdles to those trying to dscover what is on the page, before they decide to stay or move on. One recommendationn is to point to a navigation bar at the top of the page but place it at the bottom of the page. You can also describe what is available in a sentence before offering the links. That can improve the process.
So-called interactivity is often achieved through the use of applets when it could be done with forms. The former are preferred for accessibility reasons. The layout of forms should be logical or, where the titles etc of entry points are indicated in some special way, controlled by style sheets.
Try these simple examples using different browsers - (you may be surprised!):
Copyright Liddy Nevile 19 March 2001. This material may be copied if source is acknowledged.