Yale C/AIM Web Style Guide


Page Design


Graphic design 100

Balanced pages

Design grids for pages

Graphic safe areas

Page headers

Typography I

Typography II



Basic Tables

Page length

Cross platform issues

Editorial style


Advanced tables

Web page design is largely a matter of balancing the power of hypermedia Internet linkages against the ability to imbed graphics and motion media within networked Web pages. Some home or menu pages function more like the covers of books or magazines. The idea is to draw the user into the material with a combination of text descriptions and interesting graphics related to the subjects:

Apple Computer, Inc. home page.

Graphic has been reduced from the original size.   www.apple.com

The most efficient designs for general (mostly modem-based) Internet audiences tend to use careful layouts of text and links with relatively small graphics. These pages load into viewers quickly, even when accessed from 28.8 kbps modems over SLIP or PPP lines, yet these pages still achieve a substantial graphic impact. This is razorfish's elegant but minimal layout design for the Pace-Wildenstein Gallery:

Pace-Wildenstein Gallery page uses minimal graphics in an elegant layout.

Graphic has been reduced from the original size.   http://www.pacewildenstein.com/

The screen is smaller than a printed page
While Web pages and conventional documents share many graphic, functional, and editorial similarities, the computer screen is the primary delivery site for web-based information, and the computer screen is very unlike the printed page. Graphic designers often create page grids that look great on their extra-large monitors, forgetting that most users cannot display more than about half of the typical Web page at any one time, and only 10% of Web surfers ever scroll the page.

Width of page graphics
Computer screens are typically smaller than most books or magazines. A very common mistake in Web design is spreading the horizontal width of your page graphics beyond the area most viewers can fit on their 14-15 inches display screens.

Diagram of screen width versus page width.

Graphic dimensions for web pages
Web page graphics should not be more than 535 pixels wide or more than about 320 pixels high, or the graphic will be too wide to print on letter size or A4 paper. Even when your readers have large display screens, the typical Netscape or Internet Explorer window still defaults to a window width designed for smaller monitors. Microsoft's otherwise excellent home page is too wide for many standard office monitors:

Microsoft Corporation home page.

Graphic has been reduced from the original size.   www.microsoft.com

The following size recommendations are based on the typical dimension of a Web browser on a 14 inch or 15 inch Macintosh or Windows 95 screen:

Diagram shows graphic safe dimensions for Web pages.

Design grids for HTML pages
A Web page can be almost any length, but you've only got about 30 square inches at the top of your Web pages to capture the average reader, because that is all they will see as your page loads. If all you offer is a big, slow-to-load graphic, many casual readers will leave before they ever see the rest of your Web site.
We have designed a page background graphic that shows the safe areas for 640 by 480 pixels screens, and also shows approximate page boundaries for printing Web pages. Note that the boundaries are only approximate, as font sizes vary considerably across different computing platforms and operating systems.

Page with grid background

This page shows the same background graphic placed on the page, where you can copy it for your own use. Follow the procedures for your particular browser in copying images. Users of the Windows version of Netscape should click on the graphic with the right mouse button to get a menu of options for copying and saving the graphic. Mac users of Netscape 2.0 or later should click and hold down the mouse button until the pop-up menu appears.
Consistency and predictability are essential attributes of any well-designed information system, aiding users in identifying the origin and relationships of World Wide Web pages, providing consistent and predictable access to interface and page elements, and a consistent graphic design scheme. The design grids that underlie most well-designed paper publications are no less necessary in designing electronic documents and on-line publications, where the spatial relationships between on-screen elements is constantly shifting in response to user input and system activity.

Clown's pants
Current implementations of the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) do not allow the flexibility or control that graphic designers routinely expect from page layout software or conventional multimedia authoring tools. However, the HTML markup language can be used to create complex and highly functional information systems if it is used carefully. When used inappropriately or inconsistently the typographic controls and inlined graphics of World Wide Web (Web) pages may result in a patchy, confusing jumble, without any apparent visual hierarchy of importance. This unfortunate "clown's pants" effect of haphazardly mixed graphics and text results in decreased usability and legibility, just as it does in paper pages. A carefully organized design grid that is consistently implemented across a range of pages will aid your users in quickly finding the information they want, and will increase the reader's confidence that they are using a thoughtfully organized collection of information:

Diagram of good and bad Web page layouts.


Apple Computer, Inc.

Hurlbutt, A. 1978. The grid. New York: Watson-Guptill.

Microsoft Corporation

Pace-Wildenstein Gallery


White, J. V. 1988. Graphic design for the electronic age. New York: Watson-Guptill.
Copyright 1997 P. Lynch and S. Horton,
   all rights reserved. Yale University   Revised January 1997.