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site structural plan and style guide -- is what?

From: Al Gilman <asgilman@iamdigex.net>
Date: Tue, 31 Aug 1999 15:57:21 -0400
Message-Id: <199908311952.PAA19121@smtp2.mail.iamworld.net>
To: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
At 11:14 AM 8/31/99 -0500, Wendy A Chisholm wrote:
>Hi Al,
>I need a few words of clarification:
>>One of the key points is that to maintain a clear and consistent page
>>organization across the site, two simple techniques that really help are
>>the following.  
>>  (1) Write it out:  Write down a site structural plan and style guide.
>>Follow it.
>How do you define "site structural plan?"  How does a person go about
>designing one?  What information does it need to include?  Are there
>examples that we can point people to?  Is this similar to the CSUN
>guidelines for how to submit electronic documents to the CSUN annual
>conference (refer to http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf2000/00call.html#9)?  Or
>more along the lines of the "Navigation Templates" in Sun's new design
>(refer to http://www.sun.com/980113/sunonnet/)?  Or a bit of both?

Jacob Nielsen on the design of the Sun site is a very good starting point.
The CSUN instructions for authors contain a few relevant ideas, but scores
about as low on covering the waterfront as Nielsen scores high.

Note: my real answer to this question is "Don't take _my_ answer."  What I
think we need to do to get a real answer is ask the practicing webmasters
on WAI-IG what they would recommend as books, tools, and training
opportunities that they would want to send a junior associate to to get
them to deal effectively with the issues Nielsen is agonizing over.

I guess I define "site structural plan" as defining a principal-parts
decomposition of the site down to the web page, and rules for what links
should exist in and out of each kind of page defined in this structure.
Principal parts includes sub-networks like "Is there a site map or guide?
How does a visitor get there from every page on the site?  How does a
visitor get to every page on the site from there?  How does the visitor
find things within the site map or guide?"  I would consider the definition
of recurring patterns of "parts in the page" as style guide.  Since one of
my messages is that the overall structure of the information has to form a
good web regardless of what cell size you chunk it at (paragraph, frame,
page, department or site), this divison is a little arbitrary, or how
should I say it the composite effect should be seamless.  As soon as we
admit that there will be a recurring pattern of sub-blocks inside many
pages, the structural plan of course recognizes these as entities, and the
linking rules get specialized to say what links need to exist in the top
bar, left bar, bottom bar, etc.

One major theme is that the principal-parts decomposition flows top-down:
What topics does your site deal with; what major sections will you populate
to deal with them?  What generic site-wide services will you support?  How
do they relate to the specific-topic sections and vice versa?

The linking rules, on the other hand, flow up.  There are rules which
resemble "if we are going to touch topic X, we will link to X-Home page at
least in the final collection of links on the page."  Then there are rules
for how important an external theme is for this page, which may get the
link promoted into a position of more prominence in the set of nav panels.

One important view for a page is to create a three-zone concentric circles
chart and place the destinations of links off the page in one of three
zones:  here, near, or anywhere.  You define for the site or for each page
what constitutes "near."  It may be any page with the same DNS address, or
it may only be pages withing the current department on the site.  But there
should be rules of thumb for how links are placed on the page and how
thoroughly they are explained by link text and iconography, based on a
sliding scale with different approaches for links that lead here, near, or
anywhere.  [Note:  "here" means that the link is internal to this page or
to a subtree for which this page is the overview.  The full spelling with
suppressed words of the triage values is:

[in] here
near [here]
anywhere [on the World-Wide Web]

I guess to recapitulate that my view of a site structural plan is an
ontology that your site will follow, where existence of objects and links
between objects is the structural view.  It is a list of kinds of building
blocks and rules that go with each kind, with emphasis on how you scope
things and connect things.

Then there is a technology axis, unfortunately.  Frames are trouble for
some people.  So if you are going to user frames, there is an item in the
site-plan-definition topics checklist which says, if you are going to use
frames, will there be any "how to use this site" content dealing with how
you use them and how the user can work with them or work around them.

>>  (2) Write it in:  Use markup, especially TITLE attributes, to say how the
>>parts of the pages follow the plan.  Add DIV if you need a collector to
>>show the block structure.  TIP: if you use separate database queries to
>>populate successive portions of the HTML, make each portion a separate DIV
>>and relate the TITLE of each to its query.
>this seems like part of the "what" of the plan described above.

Yes, "write it in" is what you do in the style guide so that the ideas in
the structural plan are not only in the head of the webmaster.  This way
they can be shared when needed with lost visitors so that they get un-lost
fast.  The structural plan says "the left nav bar should cover the
following scope derived from the topic of the main frame (blah, blah,
blah)."  The style guide selects a bar TITLE or TITLE-writing rule based on
this function definition.

>wendy chisholm
>human factors engineer
>trace research and development center
>university of wisconsin - madison, USA
Received on Tuesday, 31 August 1999 15:50:08 UTC

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