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"One Page" or "Single Page" websites - passing fad or serious design consideration?

Posted 22 September 2009 by Sean Fishlock (Datalink)

Recently I've been discussing with clients the merits of "One Page" or "Single Page" websites using DHTML has all of a sudden become the "new Flash". While I can see that they can definitely provide a unique and quirky look to a website, I am struggling to see past the buzz to the real benefits.

Examples of the kind of sites I'm taking about can be found on sites like onepagelove.com. It is basically a trend in design which creates a whole website that always fit onto the screen without any page reloading. When you click on links, it moves elements from offscreen onto the screen using Javascript.

These sites achieve what is achievable with the Flash plug-in or sometimes Java applet but not used as extensively due to several issues. With the latest browser standards supporting more dynamic HTML standard HTML and the emergence of javascript libraries like JQuery and software development toolkits like Silverlight, Flex, the tools and frameworks for these sites are more readily available. While these libraries the boundaries of what can be done client side, many effects remain virtually impossible or incredibly unfeasible to without a plugin.

These sorts of non-Flash sites may look impressive and have the “wow” factor of Flash sites, but many get carried away such that they actually share similar issues to using Flash:

  • Very time consuming and expensive to build (lots of attention to detail)
  • Rely heavily on third party libraries (which may not be supported forever)
  • Big cross-browser issues (particularly backward compatibility with older browsers - loads of testing required)
  • Don’t work well at all with content management systems (CMS)
  • Often not accessible
  • Often can’t print the pages (stylesheetsare only for screen)
  • Have usability issues and aren’t particularly user friendly(loading times of large images, processing speed on slower computers etc)
  • Makes the site feel cramped into the screen
  • Just feel awkward ...

In a nutshell some designers are losing sight of the reasons why CSS and HTML are being used instead of Flash in the first place!  Not to mention that thereis really no problem (apart from it being blocked by some networks due to video content) with embedding Flash where required.

If done well, however (not embedding styles), the main benefit over Flash is that these sites are more readily discovered by search engines, so it may not have as adverse an effect on SEO and Google rankings.

Personally I think for many organisations that these issues are pretty significant. Accessibility and usability should be higher on the checklist than design, particularly for non-profit and government organisations. In reality, such sites are really only useful as a designer's portfolio, as they are primarily there to show off nifty and impressive graphics.

I also don't think there is any need to be too strict with the aim of one page sites to have most of the content above the fold. Studies have shown that users don't mind scrolling at all - in fact many have grown fond of it (look at news websites for example).

With dynamic HTML content, balance is important. A good visual outcome is achievable without get too carried away with the flashy stuff. Afterall, once the novelty wears off, you still need to build a relationship and reputation withyour repeat visitors (key stakeholders) and that is where content and functionality should be the main focus.  

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