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Dynamic Site Design: Keeping Your Pages Uniform

At my company we build dynamic websites - sites which constantly adapt to user input and allow for extensive content management by site administrators. Regardless of the amount of information on a page, the design should adapt, maintaining its professional appearance.

The Site Container:
For a dynamic site to work at all it needs a solid base. A height-flexible container encasing the content of the site is a perfect foundation. Something as simple yet as effective as a black border with a consistent site-width will set the inner content apart from the page background. This container can expand or contract height-wise to naturally accommodate different amounts of content.

Navigation:
One of the best ways to maintain a dynamic and functional site navigation is by using drop-down menus. Drop-downs allow for specific site navigation from any page on the site, and are easy to dynamically produce, employing the same logic as the site container.

Main categories are each wrapped inside a relative div so that each can be assigned an absolutely-positioned, hidden submenu which will appear upon mouseover. This method is best for dynamic sites because the height can increase or decrease as the number of submenu items increase and decrease without affecting the overall layout of the site.

Too Much Content (We should all be so lucky):
A constant challenges facing dynamic site developers is displaying a wealth of content in just one page. Often times, layouts are optimized for a specific amount of content, and if they exceed that amount, the pages will appear crowded and jumbled.

One of the best methods of alleviating this problem, ensuring a usable and SEO friendly design, is combining JavaScript and DHTML to create tabbed browsing within pages.

Examples of this can be found at Ugallery.com, an online art gallery, where a page was created for users so that they could display as many pieces of their artwork as desired without exceeding the fixed site width. The solution was a scrolling gallery powered by JavaScript and DHTML. All of the information is still rendered in the source, however, much of it is hidden, to be revealed when a user mousse over a scrolling arrow button.

The same basic function was employed for the artistís profile. The height of the container was constrained, and so, a profile was placed within a scrolling DHTML text box, making use of the "overflow:hidden" style, and affording artists more space to describe themselves.

The artistís current portfolio, their exhibitions, and a visitor commentary section also had to be incorporated on one page. The solution: Tabbed JavaScript and DHTML navigation which better organized space and allowed the visitor to toggle through the artistís portfolio, exhibitions, and visitor commentary without reloading.

The lesson here is when building a dynamic site, make use of advanced design techniques. By using these methods, not only can information be better organized and more intuitively arranged, but it can also be constrained to achieve a consistent look and feel for the site. Also remember that most DHTML mentioned in this article can be found at various open source web sites.

Happy web designing!


About the Author: This article was co-authored by Mike Bradbury and Mike Harvey. Both are employees of Objectware, Inc, an Atlanta-based web development firm and Washington DC web design company. See the examples from this article live at the online art gallery Ugallery.com




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