Basic Web Site Design


If you are reading a printed copy of this page, you are reading an incomplete version, please print for US letter paper or for A4 sized paper.

Course Description

This course examines the construction of simple web sites where users navigate content that is stored in files on a server. Students learn what the web is. They learn how web sites work, how to build them, and how to build them well. This involves technical know-how, as well as knowledge regarding good design. The course covers both areas.

The course emphasizes the use of standard compliant XHTML 1.0 and CSS level 2.1. Standards compliance is an integral part of the composition process. Students are allowed to use whatever tool they wish to use to create their sites. The final project sites must be standards compliant. They use free validation tools to check standard compliance.

The course covers the most widely used parts of XHTML 1.0 and CSS 2 level 1. It does not generally cover accessibility issues.

The course covers the issue of web site design as far as simple passive web sites are concerned. Discussion of design starts as soon as basic XHTML is covered, in parallel to the CSS material.

Course objectives

After taking this course students:

The Palmer School Student Learning Objectives covered by the course are


There are no other formal prerequisites for this course. Students should have some prior web use. They should be able to use a Microsoft Windows computer, e.g. click on an icon to run a program, cut and paste between applications, and copy files from one location to another. Students should also be familiar with the idea of files and directories on a computer. They should also be able to use a web browser. Everything that goes beyond this is explained in class or by personal tuition from the instructor. No prior knowledge of HTML and CSS is assumed.

Students are provided with free web space where they can design their own sites. This web space continues to be available after the course ends. In order to operate that web space students only need a computer with an Internet connection.


Thomas Krichel
Palmer School of Library and Information Science
C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University
720 Northern Boulevard
Brookville, NY 11548–1300
work phone: +1–(516)299–2843
skype: thomaskrichel

Class structure

Classes are held in the library building on Wednesday between 18:30 and 20:20. Between classes, support via the class mailing list will be available.

Each class has a presentation by the instructor. With the exeption of the first class, the students work directly with their computers under the supervision of the instructor. However, students are expected to do some of the the work on their web site at home.

Class details

Here are some class details:

2011–09–07 18:30 to 20:20 introduction to the course
2011–09–14 18:30 to 20:20 introduction to the web
2011–09–21 18:30 to 20:20 interacting with the server as site users
2011–09–28 18:30 to 20:20 interacting with the server as site builders
2011–10–05 18:30 to 20:20 an introduction to XHTML: XML and HTML
2011–10–12 18:30 to 20:20 the HTML body 1
2010–10–19 18:30 to 20:20 the HTML body 2 and the head
2010–10–26 18:30 to 20:20 linking HTML to CSS, and basic CSS
2010–11–02 18:30 to 20:20 more on basic CSS
2010–11–09 18:30 to 20:20 principles of good design
2010–11–16 18:30 to 20:20 adaptive page design
2010–12–30 18:30 to 20:20 vertical positioning
2010–12–07 18:30 to 20:20 horizontal positioning

There is a single slideset for the course. To print the slides in Microsoft powerpoint, press control-p to print, then under "Print what" choose "Handouts", and under "Color/grayscale" choose "Pure Black and White".


Freeman and Freeman (2005) wins a lot of praise. It does not follow the same approach as the course. It is therefore a good complement.

Background readings

If students want a textbook on HTML and CSS, they are spoiled for choice. However, students should be aware that most books teach the loose version of HTML and place much less of an emphasis on style sheets than the course contents does. This is a really LIS-style course with an emphasis on separation of contents and presentation.

Castro (2006) is a widely used and reasonably priced book. A book that the instructor likes a lot is Musciano and Kennedy (2002), but it only covers HTML, not CSS. A good, though outdated book on CSS is Bos and Lie (1999). Another good book is on CSS is Meyer (2006).

The technical specifications of HTML and CSS are on the web. XHTML 1.0 is defined in W3C HTML Working Group (2002). To understand it, you need to refer to the definition of HTML 4.01 in Raggett et al. (1999). CSS level 2 revision 1 is defined in Bos et al. (2003). http is defined in RFC 2616. URLs are defined in RFC 1738, but that definition was updated in RFC 2396. MIME types are documented in IANA 2002.

Some specialized web sites and wikis deal with web design. Among them are:

As far as the design of web sites is concerned, Krug (2005) and Nielsen (2000) are classic references. The most relevant contents of these books is covered in the course. Morville and Rosenfeld (2002) is a book on information architecture. Other resources include Clark (2007), Lynch and Horton (2002), Horton (2006) and Zeldman (2005).

The following mailing lists may be worth subscribing to.

Last, but by no means least, there is a bunch of home-grown resources.

Mailing list

There is a mailing list for the course at All students are encouraged to subscribe. As a rule, answers to email sent to the instructor are copied to the list. There are exceptions to this rule:


Before each class except the first and second, there is a quiz on the issues covered in the previous class. The average of all the quiz results counts for 11/25 of the assessment. The four worst quiz performances are discarded. On the third class meeting, the students hand in a one-page typed statement about the web site that they want to build. This statement should cover both the purpose of the web site and the site's architecture. The assessment of this statement counts for 1/25 of the grade.

On the second to last class day, students also hand in a web site assessment. This assessment should cover the web site of an academic library and information science department in the US or abroad. Students should use the suggested departments list. The assessment should not aim to describe the web page. It should discuss the strength and weaknesses of the site in terms of the usability criteria reviewed in the class meeting from the week before. The assessment should roughly be two typed pages long. If students don't like the first grade they get on the assessment are given a chance to improve it. The web site assessment counts for 2/25 of the course.

The remaining 15/25 are assessed through students' ability to build a web site. The site must validate against the strict version of the XHTML 1.0 specification. The site must have a style sheet with the main presentational elements. The site should provide an information source about a topic, though it need not be comprehensive by any means. Students are recommended to develop the web site on behalf of some other person. That person may provide useful feedback on the site to avoid creating something that is too designer-centered. The informational contents of the site should go beyond simple link collections or path finders. Personal web sites, such as for the student describing herself, are not allowed. However students may build a personal site for someone else. The total amount of information contained should be roughly equivalent to a conventional student essay. It has to be finalized one week after the last class. Assessment of the site follows a published list of criteria. There is a grading rubric for it

Daniel Reisner
Shirley Lai Lam Wong-Li
Megan L. Dowell
Katie Coon
Melissa Oblitas
Deborah de Bruin
Jessica Hadley
Tina Edell
Mikhail Livshits
Ben Lebeaux
Graham Brice
Rena D. Grossman
Miguel Benvenutti

Valid XHTML 1.0!