Ever since I have been flying the web developer pennant in my occupational corner I have been trying to develop my own best practices based on existing web standards and accessibility requirements, and then applying them consistently. My goal is to gain the ability to perform a task the same way time and time again without having to think about it, meanwhile ensuring my works conform to standardized usability practices to guarantee at least satisfactory experiences for my site’s users. Consistency, after all, can be a very good thing for everyone. Let me explain.
Consistency and Usability
Site-to-site consistency as it applies to a web site’s user interface is an important part of web usability. Certain things should be supplied while others avoided. Things like obscure “Mystery Meat” navigation should be avoided by the developer as it can destroy web site usability. The things that should be supplied have been determined by the web’s organic growth as user expectations and some consistent user habits have come to be. An example of this might be a clickable masthead, banner, or logo taking the user home (this was and is on my mind right now as it applies to this blog and my site). I would guess that most web users have grown to expect this. Another example might be the underlining of in-content links. And yet another example may be to provide an About page for the user. Or maybe a site map provision. I don’t wish to stifle creativity or visual design, but consideration needs to be given to the application of these site attributes.
Consistency and Maintainability
I can go to just about any site I’ve created in the past year and float an embedded image using a left, right, or center style class without ever looking at the style sheet to see what class name to apply to the image element. That may not sound like a huge time savings or anything of significance, but multiply that by the number of possible elements to style or identify and it adds up. I own six other domains and maintain others contractually so that can be worked into the equation for me. Using the same element classes and section IDs — footer for example — is a blessing. It makes life so much easier when going back.
My own development of these practices hasn’t fully matured yet, but my cognizance of their value is absolutely ripe on the vine. That’s why I’m passing this along. I haven’t yet achieved my goal of absolute across-the-board consistency, so until I do there will be variances from site to site, even post-to-post. But going in that direction now will correct this situation in time. Even though there are older works to contend with, in time I will eventually reach my goal.
Consistency of Your Own
My advice to you is to start immediately if you don’t already draw from an elemental toolbox, so to speak. Create a universal style sheet for starters, adding semantic classes and IDs you’re comfortable with. Also be sure base your web development practices on a simple list of web standards — they do have value — then meet some minimum criteria of web accessibility and common web usability expectations (the latter can be determined by your own site preferences and a bit of common sense in most cases). Then apply these practices to all your future works, consistently. It’s a worthwhile pursuit solidly confirmed in my eyes by my own experiences with the joys of consistent web practices.