Web Design is not something academic are traditionally trained in. However, as the discipline continues to change and Digital History continues to develop and grow, knowing a little bit about what constitutes a good historical website is necessary.
Alexander Dawson makes excellent points about the development and organization of a website in his article «Improve Usability by Studying Museums.» He compares the layout of a museum to that of a website and argues that many web designers could take some tips from the organization of museums. Among these include creating a set of very clear navigational aids or bread crumbs for users as they navigate through the website, creating appropriate documentation such as help guides and FAQ’s for users, and featuring important or new items prominently on the front of the site.
While I think Dawson makes some excellent points, I also think that the design of a site depends on the audience and purpose of a site. An archive will be organized very differently than a website that seeks to feature scholarship more prominently. The archive might feature a exhibit but often would provide a useable and intuitive navigational structure so that the reader can easily explore the collections without being guided in a linear fashion. A work of scholarship on the web, I think has different objectives.
The presence of web platforms such as Wordpress, Joomla, and Omeka make it easier to design a website without knowing much about web design. However, knowing basics such as the difference between fonts, layout structures, and navigational design can go a long way on an academic website. Good design is vital to maintaining a readership.