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Smallsite Design

4:Design principles

While general purpose site design tools have a lot of flexibility, it is a double-edged sword, in that while it can enable you to make great sites, unless you already have a lot of excellent layout skills, and are exceptional with photography, you will probably spend a lot of time making some pretty ugly versions of your site.

The Smallsite Design tools take a different approach, by reducing the number of layout choices where having extra options will more likely result in layouts that actually make it hard for your readers to comprehend what you are writing.

Accordingly, the layout principles (typography) are firmly based upon some research Colin Wheildon performed for the Newspaper Advertising Bureau of Australia Ltd. Up until then, layout rules were a rather ad-hoc collection of rules-of-thumb. Colin has now transfomed that research into a book called Type & Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes.

To bring it all together, Smallsite Design is designed by Patanjali Sokaris (me) of Sokaris IT, who has been providing technical writing services for over 20 years, with most documents produced largely based upon Colin's research results.

Limited focus - not into world domination! ^

Smallsite Design is not trying to be a megalomaniac product, taking over the world by trying to be all things to all possible clients. Rather it is for one person, operating on their own, and wanting to fully manage their own site.

Thus, the facilites are limited to only those that such people actually require, with no complicating plugins nor future expandibility included.

That doesn't mean that another product cannot be used with Smallsite Design, but just not in a way that creates direct dependencies upon them. For example, Disqus can provide embedded comments for articles, which is not allowed by Smallsite Design, but you can also just have a link at the bottom of your page to your own dedicated comments page on their site.

Editing by article structure ^

Up until recent years, much of the technology underlying the web has been based upon presentation, as in defining how each element on the page looks. The latest standards shifted focus to what each of those elements means in relation to the page content, known as semantics.

Pages used to be designed around headings, paragraphs, images and other individual elements. If structure more than that was wanted, there were general purpose container elements to do that, and they were used, a lot, but they didn't provide a standard way of determining what parts of a page were related to others by content.

The latest incarnation of the basic page standard introduced specific semantic containing elements, like article, header, section, aside and others, making it a lot easier to identify related content. These allow programs, such as Smallsite Design, to present and edit pages by their content structure, which makes more sense to a writer.

The big driver for the change was that the huge amount of infomation available on the web was just getting too hard for search engines to make sense of. While they can gain a lot of infomation by just scanning the text of a page, a semantic structure helps to differentiate the relative importance of words by where in the structure of an article they occur.

That means that a search engine's algorithms have a much deeper set of parameters with which to determine how relevant a page is to a search.

Smallsite design implements the new focus by:

  1. a.Allowing editing of an article by its structure, rather than as just one huge tract of text.
  2. b.Optimising the editing of each structural element, so that they can be safely and easily editied, without risk of breaking the structure by inadvertent keystrokes.

Such a structure means that Smallsite Design can take care of a lot of design elements automatically, like that when you add a section or subsection, the associated navigation bars are automatically created.

Privacy for your clients ^

With most sites trying their best to reap every bit of personal infomation out of every one of their client's visits, the Smallsite Design product takes the opposite tack.

The premise behind the design of the product is that there is a sizable number of potential site owners that don't buy into the sacrificing of their visitor's privacy. It is about respecting your visitors.

As a basic principle, the product doesn't request information of visitors, unless:

  1. a.It is absolutely required for what your visitor requires next.
  2. b.Legally required, such as for accounting records.

However, that is just about the information that the client is being explicitly asked for. During the course of a visit to most sites, there is a lot more being collected.

To avoid such data gathering, what the Smallsite Design product does is:

  1. a.Not allow embedded images linked to other sites, as doing so would allow that other site to collect information about every visitor to your page, including their IP address, time of access, and your url, all of which contribute to building up their profile of your reader, plus stats about your site.
  2. b.Not allow embedded javascript, which can gather more data than images, like how long a visitor has spent on the page, but it can also change your pages, potentially interfering with them.
  3. c.Not use cookies, which are small files kept by your browser so that a site can know it's you next time you visit. Smallsite Design uses other means, and only as absolutely necessary for the purpose required, and without leaving any files on the visitor's device.

Of course, Smallsite Design allows outbound links, but even with them no data leaks out, as no referrer information is provided to the target site. Images are only sourced from your site, so no data is ever leaked by viewing them.

However, depending upon who hosts your site, site visitor statistics will probably be on by default, and perhaps with no ability to switch them off.

Many sites have no problem handing over their visitors' browsing information in return for ad revenue. In contrast, Smallsite Design is for those who want to build a quality body of knowledge, with the intention that people will place their trust in it. That trust is lost if personal infomation is being leaked to third-party sites.

Russian tank approach ^

A possible urban myth posits that a key factor in the failed invasion of Russia by the Germans in 1941 was that once winter hit, the precicely-designed German tanks could not handle the freezing weather, and seized up, whereas the Russian tanks, designed with more play between components for a wider range of temperatures, still worked fine.

This illustrates the two basic approaches that any engineering can use:

  1. a.Precisely make and place components.
  2. b.Allow components more freedom to find a position that works according to the restrictions in place in use.

The first relies on tight coupling between components, which enables susceptability to being broken if any of them change in their characteristics in future. The early web soon learnt that some heroic means were needed to get sites to be predictable, so Dreamweaver became a popular tool to lock down the look of sites, but it was predicated on people having fixed size screens.

Move forward a couple of decades and we now have a myriad of screens sizes, for which fixed layouts just look clunky. Enter fluid design, where page elements dynamically adapt their size and position for best situational placement. Such an approach is essential for using a site across many devices.

Smallsite Design takes fluid design to its core, so that it adapts to screen size and orientation in reasonable ways, but which also maintain usefulness for situations like the on-screen keyboard obsuring much of the content.

Social media integration ^

Basically, there is none. Que? Because social media sites are mostly about short-term, light-weight interaction, which is fine much of the time, but not when you want to engage more deeply.

Smallsite Design sites are envisaged as your office or home site, where you invite people to come after engaging them in the streets of social media, or the footpath signs of search engine entries, free of all the distractions of others.

With that in mind, and that most social media sites are engaged in extremely high levels of user tracking, Smallsite Design ethos is to not have all your visitors being tracked. Therefore, the official buttons and scripts that these sites want you to embed on yours are not allowed.

The main principle here is that they are not the target for your visitors, but that your site becomes a valued target for your followers on those sites. You provide links on them to your site, making your's the end-point, not theirs!

Of course, you can link back to them, but only with a normal link without referrer information, so unable to be tracked by them.

Smallsite design allows you to create all the content for your site, rather than being forced to live with their latest agendas, experiments, and advertising co-habitors, which certainly are not in your best interest if you want put out a clear message to the world.

Social media sites want you to be in their world, on their terms only, but they can be useful, so it is finding the right balance between their rich interaction and distractions, and the stability and determined presence of your own site.

Internationalisation and localisation ^

These refer to being able to cater for different languages and express numbers and dates in them.

Smallsite Design is built from the ground up to use Unicode, which is designed to cater for all languages on earth.

However, there are many historical ways the character sets of different languages can be represented. Mismatches between the character set used on a page and what the browser expects can result in foreign language or garbage characters appearing. Smallsite Design exclusively uses UTF-8, which is the most universal way to present Unicode text.

PHP comes with extensive support for internationalisation built in, and Smallsite Design leverages that to display:

  1. a.Dates in the format used in the locale, such as in the footers of articles for their date.
  2. b.Locale-specific numbering for lists, procedures and questionnaires.

Smallsite Design caters for versions of a site in multiple languages, while allowing fallthrough for locales/languages for which an article has not been written. While auto-translations offered by Google and other search engines are improving all the time, they don't cater for localisations that may be idiomatic to your target audiences, such as for the scenary, illustrations, or examples used. Each page for which multiple locales are offered includes navigation between the locales at the bottom of the page.

Internally, Smallsite Design uses the UTC international time reference, to which all timezones refer, and which ensures that there are none of the out-of-sequence timestamps for article versions which may result if a timezone is used when switching back and forth to daylight-saving time. UTC is sometime erroneously referred to as GMT, which is actually the non-summer timezone for the UK.


Related articles ^

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