Web Design Dos and Don'ts


Web Design Tips from Christopher Merrill


Keep your contact information current!

Always make sure to keep your contact information current with both your domain name registrar and with your hosting company so that they can contact you in case your services lapse. Keep in mind especially that your domain name registration is the lifeblood of your website — if you accidentally let this lapse, you could lose your domain name entirely forever! We recommend that you select the "auto-renew" option with your domain name registrar. If you change your email address and physical address, be sure to update these with your domain name registrar and with your hosting company so that they can contact you.

Find quality images

Having quality images for your website is half the battle. If you do not have images that are professional in quality, we strongly recommend your hiring a professional photographer to photograph your products. For tips on conducting a photo session with a professional photographer, see "How to Get the Most Out of Your Website Photo Session" below.



How to Get the Most Out of Your Website Photo Session

  1. Most photographers charge either 1/2 day or full day. Be sure to be organized beforehand to get as many shots in as possible. Try to use up the entire time getting as many photos as you can think of even beyond what you obviously need right now.

  2. Prepare the location and clean the products. Set up a shoot area in your facilities for moveable objects and have them arranged so the photographer can shoot one after another without having to re-stage the lighting.

  3. Be sure your photographer does NOT charge royalties. Royalties mean you agree to pay for every use of a photo — every new ad, mailer, Website, etc. is a separate charge.

  4. Get hi-res photos that you can then reproduce for print use. You can always convert a hi-res image to low-res for Web use, but you cannot go the other way around. This allows you more mileage for the price.

  5. Think about background: setting a staging area with a neutral background, where possible, can save you on retouching costs later.

  6. Lighting is everything with photography. A good photographer will be very careful to avoid casting shadows. Consider this when creating a shoot area. Daylight is better than industrial lights. It may be necessary to turn off fluorescent lights. The photographer will be able to determine if this will be necessary.

  7. Vibrations can affect photos. It may be necessary to shut down a machine or two, depending. Keep this in mind when scheduling the shoot to be sure you don't interfere with critical production!

  8. About retouching: Find out if the photographer is willing to provide retouching in the price. Many photographers will offer to provide a low-res version of each photo and may offer to "outline" images so that professional designers can "knock out" the background. This is of significant value that would cost a fair amount of money if a designer were to do it: something worth considering when factoring photography fees.

-Above text courtesy of Michael Samec



To purchase royalty-free images at various rates, see:


Less is more

One of the most common mistakes is trying to WOW your audience too much with a lot of flashy colors and effects, resulting in a website that looks desperate to get the user's attention. You may think you're dazzling them with all these bells and whistles, but users can sense your insecurity a mile off. At Christopher Merrill Web Design, we stress clarity and simplicity, resulting in designs that are not only spontaneous and imaginative, but self-confident as well, so that your users will know that you take pride in what you have to offer them. The html/css/javascript/flash coding may be very complicated, but to the user, a good site should look as if it were assembled with ease. As actor Gary Cooper used to say, "If it doesn't seem like a moment's thought, all of our stitching will be for naught."

In general, the design solution that uses the simplest and the least amount of code is likely to be the one that will serve you best down the road. The simpler the code, the more robust the page will be when subjected to the dozens of varying conditions placed upon it during the long and circuitous route from the original server to your particular computer.

Make a good first impression

The first page of your website is by far the most important page on your site. It is your calling card, and very special attention must be paid to this very first impression users receive. It is not necessary — or even desired — to create varying designs within designs on the inner pages. In fact too much inner variation is likely to confuse users as to where they are on the Website.


Why Do So Many Websites Look Alike?



Users are attracted to Websites that are easy to navigate. People are also far more likely to return to your site a second time (and a third and fourth!) if they know they will easily be able to find their way around. This means that it is usually best to establish a navigation structure from the beginning that is easy to follow — and to stick with that structure throughout. Pages should be assembled so that links are always in the same place on the user's screen, no matter which page the user is seeing.

"No-scroll" design

At Christopher Merrill Web Design we stress "no scroll" design, eliminating as much as possible the user's need to scroll down on the screen to access vital information. While scrolling is, of course, necessary in many cases, it is always best to make sure that links and information vital to the user (especially on the first page of the site) appear near the top of the screen. To ensure this we recommend a page width of 950 pixels.

Fixed Width vs. Liquid Layout

We recommend a fixed-width layout rather than a liquid layout for most websites, so as to preserve the visual integrity of the web design.

Cascading menus

Cascading menus javascripts allow sublink headings to pop up when the mouse hovers over a link — however, there are some disadvantages. Find out more.

Always make room for more


It is always important to think of the future in assembling an initial Web design. While you may only have four or five links now, odds are you will want to add links in the future. At Christopher Merrill Web Design we stress designs that allow for expansion as your business expands.

Seek the advice of a professional marketing advisor

For clients who are starting a business or a not-for-profit organization, it is often to their advantage to seek the advice of a professional marketing advisor so as to assemble a coherent marketing strategy.

Beware of popups

Just a warning regarding popups: We advise against them because most browsers now come with popup blockers.  Unfortunately, this is a fact of life.  Yes, there are popups out there, but in general we are seeing less of them for this reason. Experts can code them to override the browsers, but in general, popus are not practical, since browsers treat them differently. Also, they are more likely to cause problems down the road as browsers and operating systems evolve. What worked just fine in 2003 may not work now.

Color schemes

No color scheme will please everybody. 'Nuf said.

Break it up

Use paragraph breaks liberally. It's a common mistake to post large amounts of text without inserting hard returns. Huge blocks of uninterrupted text make it difficult for the user to find where they last left off reading.

Be kind to your printer

Most printers still think in terms of pages that are 600 pixels in width (defaulting to a portrait-style layout), despite the fact that fixed-width pages are now common at 800 to 900 pixels wide. Allowing users the option of printing your page makes it possible for them to come back to your Web page later on, when they are away from the computer. Coding the pages so that toner-hogging images do not display on the printer-friendly page gives the user a break in toner costs, and is better for the environment tool.

Avoid the Ted Baxter Syndrome

I call this the attempt to coin an acronym that uses the initials of your company name — in an attempt to make your website seem more far-reaching than it is.

If you've ever watched episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on television, you might have come across an episode in which the character of Ted Baxter — a local television anchorman — tries to open a school of broadcasting — which he's named the "Ted Baxter Famous School of Broadcasting." On the first day of classes, he greets his new "student body" (actually only one student — the only one who saw the ad for the school) by introducing them to what he calls "The TBFSB Faculty" (actually four of his colleagues). The joke is telling: Ted Baxter is more concerned with the look of his school rather than the substance. In referring to an abbreviation that only he understands, he not only confuses his "student body," he looks silly as well.

Ted Baxter has spent a great deal of time on the peripherals without concerning himself with the actual information that we wants to convey to his students. (He also forgot to advertise the school, thinking that somehow all the students would magically appear.)

Don't be a Ted Baxter! Provide substance to your audience — not silly little bells and whistles that celebrate something that isn't really there.

Mistakes Will Happen

A good website is continually changing, perhaps every day or even dozens of times every day. That's why, inevitably, mistakes will happen, no matter how diligent you are. Yes, it's important to proofread and check material, but it's better to have a regularly (and thorougly) updated website with some errors here and there, than to have a website that is perfect down to the syllable, but out of date.

Questions? Please Contact Christopher Merrill.