Bandwidth, Bandwidth...

Michael Bloch

You've created the perfect site, it's elegant, it's slick, it has more bells and buzzers on it than the USS Enterprise. It's got Flash, Swish, Swoosh, Smash, Crash (you get the picture) – but will the index page load in under 20 seconds on a 33.6k connection? If it doesn't you may wish to rethink it…

As I cruise around the Internet, looking at many hundreds of sites a week, I am still surprised at how many major sites have forgotten this design principle. As I have mentioned in other articles, we do not all have DSL connections. Using Australia as an example, DSL is still very expensive. It is only good 5km from the exchange, and we have stingy download quotas.

I live in a capital city and have a 56k modem, but because of the poor line quality on my home system, I have had to train it back to around 33.6k. I am not the only one; others have to train it back further, and Australia is not the only country to be in this situation.

When constructing your site, think about your audience. If you wish to receive international traffic, you may want to use a utility that gives you an approximate load time as you work on each page, to act as a guide. View your site on a variety of systems in different locations.

Compression, Compression, Compression (as one designer keeps telling me). Don't take the standard .jpg or .gif file and think that there is nothing more that you can do to decrease its file size. Packages such as PSP have advanced jpeg exporting functions which allow you to manipulate compression ratios and options. You'll be surprised by the results. On one image I worked on recently for a designer in Albania, I was able to reduce his home page image by almost 50% without any apparent loss of image quality – and as you can see by my own site, I am by no means a graphic designer with a degree… This adjustment took approximately 30 seconds to make, and the software does most of the thinking!

Another way of shaving off valuable seconds is removing redundant code. I shudder at some of the code on my site – it definitely needs a clean up. The use of repeating the same image for buttons is also an excellent way to speed things up. Utilize tables to place all the buttons (as a background image in each cell), then create the text label within the cell. This can be rather restrictive, but may suit your site.

If you need to use Flash, try to give your visitors a choice of the ‘Flashed’ version of your site, or a non-Flash version. Flash detection is great, but even those visitors who are Flash capable may not want to see your presentation for the 50th time – or wait for it to download over their slow connection.

I am sure that the time is not too far away when the majority of the world will not have such a problem with bandwidth, and articles such as this will be laughed at, but until then…

Bandwidth, Bandwidth, Bandwidth, Compression, Compression, Compression – make it your mantra!