There are several key areas that should always be considered when developing and maintaining any website. This document outlines some of the responsibilities incumbent on those producing websites and web interfaces and provides some links to further information.
For site owners, this means ensuring that your site does not create barriers to the use of your site. This can be achieved by being aware of the diversity of your potential audience when designing your site. To a large extent this involves avoiding assumptions, for example:
- Don't assume that everyone will be using a mouse to interact with your site (e.g. some people will only be using a keyboard).
- Don't assume that everyone will interact visually with your site (visually impaired users may use screen readers.
- Don't assume that everyone will be viewing your site on a large screen. Although large screens on desktop machines are now the norm, the increasing prevalence of mobile devices means there is more diversity of screen sizes amongst users than ever.
- Don't assume that everyone is accessing your site on a high-speed connection. While academic institutions are blessed with the high-speed JANET network and broadbrand uptake in the UK is very high, users accessing your site on mobile devices or in developing countries may still have limited bandwidth.
- Don't assume that everyone will be using the latest hardware or software. Relatively few people will be using powerful computers and running the latest browsers, many will have older, less powerful machines and old versions of browsers.
- Don't assume that everyone can add extra software. If your site content requires additional plugins or software, some users will not have this installed. Even if the software is freely available, some users may be unwilling to install extra software, or simply be unable to (for example if they are in a centrally managed IT environment such as a library or internet cafe).
This isn't to say that you can't make use of new technologies or advanced techniques to provide a richer user experience, but that you do so with an approach of progressive enhancement. The principle of progressive enhancement is that the core information and functionality of a site should be available to all. Additional enhancements to improve user experience are then added in addition, without compromising the core functionality for any user.
Further information on accessibility is available in our Introduction to Web Accessibility.
It is important to make your site as usable as possible, in order that users can get the most out of your site. There are a few simple things you can do to improve the usability of your site that can make a tremendous difference. One key area structure: your site should be structured so that users can easily and logically navigate to where they want to be; content should be well structured so that it is easy to read. People don't generally like reading large blocks of text, particularly on the Web, where readers tend to be more goal-oriented. It is good practice to break your content up using sub-headings, paragraphs, lists etc.
- Is the site easy to navigate?
- Does the navigation give a clear idea of the scope of the site?
- Is it clear what the user's next action should be at any given point in the site?
- Does the site use vocabulary appropriate to the intended users of the site?
When producing a website it is important to consider the security of the site. If you are using any software such as a Content Management System (CMS) it is important that you check regularly for security updates and apply any such updates as soon as possible. If the site contains code written specifically for your site, you should ensure that the code does not contain any security vulnerabilities.
If you are collecting any information from people on your website, you will need to be clear about what information you're collecting from people, what you're going to do with it and who will have access to it. You will also need to take into account the data protection and freedom of information legislation that may apply to that information.
The intended audience(s) of a website has a large bearing on how the site should be presented. It is your responsibility to present content in a manner appropriate to your audience. Factors include the type of language used, choice of images, the aesthetic of the site, etc.
It is important that you have right to publish the content on your website. If you or your employer are creating all content for your website from scratch, this probably wont be an issue. However this is rarely the case. If you are contracting an external company to create your site, make sure that your agreement with them specifies who owns the material they create and that you are happy with these arrangements. If you are reusing material you have found online then you need to check copyright status and licensing conditions of that content. By default you are not allowed to reuse or adapt content belonging to others. However there is an increasing amount of material available under ‘open content licences’ such as Creative Commons which explicitly permit reuse under certain conditions without having to contact the authors directly.
The identity of a website is for you to decide, however if you are going to use the University branding, be sure to refer to the branding guidelines.