Sunday, November 25, 2007

Web design

There's a rather good article at A List Apart (a sort of web designer's Mecca, if you like), on the subject of web design.
Web design is not book design, it is not poster design, it is not illustration, and the highest achievements of those disciplines are not what web design aims for. Although websites can be delivery systems for games and videos, and although those delivery systems can be lovely to look at, such sites are exemplars of game design and video storytelling, not of web design.

Quite so. Generally speaking, the design that I do on the web is very different from that which I do in print (we'll just take it as read that I am aware that I am hardly an exemplar of brilliant design in either medium).

In most kinds of design, the end result is usually the same one: to allow people to absorb the information that you wish to convey. However, the way in which one approaches it is different because the medium is different.

My theatre posters, for instance, attempt to be eye-catching and beautiful (in a slightly nightmarish way!)—indeed, the finest compliment that I have been paid is by someone who came to see Mr Punch "only because the poster was so beautiful" (it's present on my site in a sadly truncated form).

My web design tends to be very different. I prefer the plain and easy to navigate: The Kitchen is probably my most overtly "pretty" website, whereas I rather prefer the near-monochrome simplicity of Gronk's site. There are lots of very beautiful websites out there, but they often sacrifice ease of navigation and legibility on the altar of aesthetics; very many of them use Flash which often takes too long to load. Unless it's something really special, I've left before the site can begin telling me what it wants me to know.

But, of course, I am merely an untrained scribbler; what does Zeldman think that web design is?
Web design is the creation of digital environments that facilitate and encourage human activity; reflect or adapt to individual voices and content; and change gracefully over time while always retaining their identity.
...

Which web design is like that? For one, Douglas Bowman’s white “Minima” layout for Blogger, used by literally millions of writers—and it feels like it was designed for each of them individually. That is great design.

Essentially, web design should put function on a par with—and often higher than—pure artistic sensibilities. Which is why it often takes me time to switch between the two media: it requires a major shift in the way in which I design, and lay things out, and create.

4 comments:

mike power said...

"There are lots of very beautiful websites out there, but they often sacrifice ease of navigation and legibility on the altar of aesthetics."

That's because they don't take enough account of usability. I'm not referring to some of the nonsense spouted by that 'Edward deBono' of the web - the tedious Jakob Nielsen, but to the intelligent and useful observations of someone like ~Steve Krug who's 'Don't Make Me Think' should be one of the first books any budding web designer reads.

MaxG said...

I'll second that recommendation for Don't make me think - a great book.

Dr Ray said...

I am a novice at doing websites but I have learned that the best design in terms of aesthetics and usability is worth F.A. if no one can find it. Search engine optimization seems to be ignored by web designers even when building a business site.
Suits me - as a complete novice with a budget of less than £50 I have achieved first page google ranking for all the search terms I was after and built a business on it.

mike power said...

Ah SEO! Very much overrated of course.

Try a little experiment. Check out a few "expert' sites offering SEO advice (for a fee, of course) and then try various SEO search terms in Google and see just how many of the 'experts' fail to show up in Google. You'll be amazed!

Getting on the first page of Google isn't too difficult, so long as you have a catchy search term. I've always been number one on Google with 'Winking Walnut' for instance, he, he. (see Viz for a fuller explanation). To be fair I'm also first for Mike Power and Mr Power (amongst others) and with NO SEO tweaks whatsoever (just a few years and over 3,000 posts :)

BTW: Googling 'Dr Ray' comes up with a 'Dr Ray Guarendi' - clinical psychologist, author, public speaker and national radio host. :-(