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Web is constantly changing and so is the way we access it.  Not only is there a variety of browsers that people like to use, there are also mobile applications and various accessibility issues to consider. This is something designers need to stay aware of when building any websites.

Mobile web use is popular, as many people have cell phones with built-in simple browsers to allow surfing the internet. There are also, of course, smartphones – fun and useful – which are becoming more available and less costly. Mobile web is dominated by Apple’s iPhone (and iPod touch) with Google’s mobile OS Android being a close second. This article reports Apple having a 60% market share of smartphone traffic in the US as of July 2009 and 45% worldwide. Android has a nowhere near as big of an influence – 12% US, 7% worldwide. Big companies continue to push their mobile web versions while new clever startups try to break through with innovative mobile applications. Mobile web is new exciting land that many people want to claim their stake in. Augmented reality is something new that is predicted to change the way people talk about social media, and that is thanks to mobile web devices.

Another thing for designers and developers to be aware of is the importance of accessibility on the web. Not everyone is able to view our sites exactly as intended – with beautiful graphics, videos, text just at the right size to make it prettiest, etc. Users have various needs. They can simply not have or desire to use certain technologies or plugins needed to view a site in all its glory – like a Flash viewer or Javascript. They might be visually impaired and need to set text much bigger than it was intended by the designer. A screen reader might be used. A site needs to make sense and be usable, no matter how it is viewed. There are several easy things to do to make web pages easily accessible. EMMA – Extensible MultiModal Annotation project from W3C and government’s Section 508 provide guidelines to help. There are also lots of tools online that can check sites, much like CSS or HTML validators, to see if accessibility standards are met (www.cynthiasays.com is one).

Making sites with good accessibility involves logic and common sense. When providing a video, for example, one should also link to a place where a plugin or player for viewing that video can be downloaded from. A user shouldn’t have to hunt for it on the internet. Images on a site should have proper descriptive alt tags (which is also a valid HTML practice). Main content should be placed high in the HTML code, so that it can be seen (if a site is viewed plainly, without CSS) or read (by a screen reader) first.

There are plenty of helpful development tools available, which makes coding beautiful and clear websites easier. When they are integrated into a browser, they make it easy to spot and and fix errors. Here’s a useful list of handy Firefox extensions, including Web Developer and FireBug, which are universally liked by many.

There is a lot to keep in mind when designing for the web. Not everybody views it the same way and many people will view it much differently than the designer did when creating it. In the end, it still has to look good, no matter how it is looked at.

More links:

Firefox extensions I couldn’t live without

Firebug – web development extension for Firefox

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