Check your backgrounds images at the web host door! Most background images distract and detract, making the web page harder to read and maintain. Don’t use complex, patterned backgrounds that tile across the screen.
An actual web site for an actual business. Can you believe it? Notice that the backgrounds for the graphics don’t match and you can’t find, let alone read the text.
To see the difference a simple background makes, check a couple pages with a common, marbleized background pattern.
Or to see the difference it makes simply removing the background image from the AAR members list.
Background images can be used successfully, however, it takes much more skill and restraint to create and use effective background images. A simple, single, flat image may be useful to a page design, providing visual clues to navigation or sidebar information. A background images, however can not make up for a weak page structure, design or content. There is no good design with a background image that isn’t also a good design without a background image. If a large, flat background image is being used, limit the amount and size of other images on the page. Faster is better for your critical information pages.
Also remember that any other images must be made to match the page background image if one is used. This increases site maintenance and development complexity and costs. You save time, money and improve clarity by eliminating page background images.
Having said all of that, I confess to using background images myself for a number of my clients. The two most succesful and easiest ways to use backgrounds are the flat, narrow, horizontal image that creates a vertical pattern on the page or the large, single image on flat background.
The vertical pattern breaks the page into visual columns. These are usually matched to a table layout. Often the left-hand column effect is used for navigation.
Us News & World Report makes effective use of the sidebar background graphic. Near the top of the page it provides a clear distinction between the navigation and the text. Farther down the page, it can be used for clean banners and information tables.
The large, single image background goes in and out of fashion, but can be highly effective where there is plenty of open space on the page. A couple of effective examples can be found a www.lynda.com – The home site for Lynda Weinman, graphics designer and author.
To learn how to make effective background images without making your site fatter than glutton on January 1st, check out “Making It Big – Large Background Images”. Because of browser differences, using background images with style sheets calls for a little coding finesse.