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Graphical Design: on frames]

The use of FRAMES is one features of HTML 4.0 deserving special consideration (especially as regards search engines accessibility). More traditional designers hold that a frames based site should never be created while more recent designers are saying that their time has come. It is quite likely that you can safely execute a site using frames, but some specific conditions which may exist to discourage (or encourage) their use need to be examined on a per-site basis. Decide what you need, and then do it.

Search Engines

About half of the major search engines will not or cannot index information in frame-based sites.  For them, the root page of a frameset is all that can be viewed and indexed on the site, and all the linked content from below the root is missed. The <NOFRAMES> tag can be used to reduce these negative effects, but remember that you'll probably want to reflect changes in content in the <NOFRAMES> section of your documents. And if you implement a full text <NOFRAMES> section you should update links to allow full access to the rest of your site content without frames (you always stand the chance of having someone hit your site with an old browser).

The compromise position: You may have a website that does not use magnet content deep within the site, and so you intend to have search engines base their indexing of you on the FRAMESET title, <META> tags and <NOFRAMES> content. This is especially reasonable for shallow sites.

Browsing (User Navigation) considerations

Some people have old browsers. It's too bad, but it's a fact. If you spend a lot of time formatting frames content it will be wasted on those users. People with disabilities will have a tough time navigating your site because keyboard commands can't manoever between links properly. Again, you can implement <NOFRAMES> content, but you are effectively doubling your implementation effort.

If someone does access your site from a search engine link to content below your entry page, they will probably load a page that is completely out of context (regardless of their browser compatibility). Your menus and logos will be nonexistent, and unless you have a link back to your entry (and a user willing to use it) you will be effectively kicking a user away.

The compromise position: A browser doesn't need to be all that modern to support frames, and you may choose to require it of your visitors. Placement of some links and a recommendation for browser upgrade in the <NOFRAMES> section of your document is a common work-around. Every well designed page has at least some link leading back to the home <FRAMESET>. Also, one of the frames usually contains a navigation bar with links to the other pages, so including its source in the NOFRAMES element may be sufficient.

Graphical considerations

a hypothetical frames example for 'the eye' magazineHTML provides no simple way to accurately format a document according to traditional criteria of design. If you want to do creative things which demand precise positioning you are relegated to using tricks such as intricate table design, spacer graphics, or to using frames. This frames example shows an implementation which could be achieved using tables, but which is very easily accomplished with frames.

In applications such as image galleries or extremely long content lists (such as a keyword list indexing the entire site) a framed implementation can actually save the user time as the thumbnails or list don't have to be reloaded (even if it's only from the cache) for each selection.

The compromise position: Production of a graphics rich site with special layout requirements may get too tedious without frames. Users looking for this type of content should be able to expect such things.

Maintaining content

A frames based site can be a blessing for sites when frequent changes occur in

  • navigational aids and graphics
  • categories of information
  • lists of navigable links.

By placing this type of ever changing content in frames, you eliminate the need to go through and update each and every page with which it appears in combination. The use of frames thereby also facilitates a staged rollout of your site, as with a little foresight it becomes fairly easy to add informational categories as they become available.

Be forewarned, however, that as appealling as these benfits are, the possible compromises faced in other aspects should be considered carefully.

Back to the Guide - Graphical Design Section.


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