Understanding Web Design
Issue № 249

Understanding Web Design

We get better design when we understand our medium. Yet even at this late cultural hour, many people don’t understand web design. Among them can be found some of our most distinguished business and cultural leaders, including a few who possess a profound grasp of design—except as it relates to the web.

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Some who don’t understand web design nevertheless have the job of creating websites or supervising web designers and developers. Others who don’t understand web design are nevertheless professionally charged with evaluating it on behalf of the rest of us. Those who understand the least make the most noise. They are the ones leading charges, slamming doors, and throwing money—at all the wrong people and things.

If we want better sites, better work, and better-informed clients, the need to educate begins with us.

Preferring real estate to architecture#section2

It’s hard to understand web design when you don’t understand the web. And it’s hard to understand the web when those who are paid to explain it either don’t get it themselves, or are obliged for commercial reasons to suppress some of what they know, emphasizing the Barnumesque over the brilliant.

The news media too often gets it wrong. Too much internet journalism follows the money; too little covers art and ideas. Driven by editors pressured by publishers worried about vanishing advertisers, even journalists who understand the web spend most of their time writing about deals and quoting dealmakers. Many do this even when the statement they’re quoting is patently self-serving and ludicrous—like Zuckerberg’s Law.

It’s not that Zuckerberg’s not news; and it’s not that business isn’t some journalists’ beat. But focusing on business to the exclusion of all else is like reporting on real estate deals while ignoring architecture.

And one tires of the news narrative’s one-dimensionalism. In 1994, the web was weird and wild, they told us. In ’99 it was a kingmaker; in ’01, a bust. In ’02, news folk discovered blogs; in ’04, perspiring guest bloggers on CNN explained how citizen journalists were reinventing news and democracy and would determine who won that year’s presidential election. I forget how that one turned out.

When absurd predictions die ridiculous deaths, nobody resigns from the newsroom, they just throw a new line into the water—like marketers replacing a slogan that tanked. After decades of news commoditization, what’s amazing is how many good reporters there still are, and how hard many try to lay accurate information before the public. Sometimes you can almost hear it beneath the roar of the grotesque and the exceptional.

The sustainable circle of self-regard#section3

News media are not the only ones getting it wrong. Professional associations get it wrong every day, and commemorate their wrongness with an annual festival. Each year, advertising and design magazines and professional organizations hold contests for “new media design” judged by the winners of last year’s competitions. That they call it “new media design” tells them nothing and you and me everything.

Although there are exceptions, for the most part the creators of winning entries see the web as a vehicle for advertising and marketing campaigns in which the user passively experiences Flash and video content. For the active user, there is gaming—but what you and I think of as active web use is limited to clicking a “Digg this page” button.

The winning sites look fabulous as screen shots in glossy design annuals. When the winners become judges, they reward work like their own. Thus sites that behave like TV and look good between covers continue to be created, and a generation of clients and art directors thinks that stuff is the cream of web design.

Design critics get it wrong, too#section4

People who are smart about print can be less bright about the web. Their critical faculties, honed to perfection during the Kerning Wars, smash to bits against the barricades of our profession.

The less sophisticated lament on our behalf that we are stuck with ugly fonts. They wonder aloud how we can enjoy working in a medium that offers us less than absolute control over every atom of the visual experience. What they are secretly asking is whether or not we are real designers. (They suspect that we are not.) But these are the juniors, the design students and future critics. Their opinions are chiefly of interest to their professors, and one prays they have good ones.

More sophisticated critics understand that the web is not print and that limitations are part of every design discipline. Yet even these eggheads will sometimes succumb to fallacious comparatives. (I’ve done it myself, although long ago and strictly for giggles.) Where are the masterpieces of web design, these critics cry. That Google Maps might be as representative of our age as the Mona Lisa was of Leonardo’s—and as brilliant, in its way—satisfies many of us as an answer, but might not satisfy the design critic in search of a direct parallel to, oh, I don’t know, let’s say Milton Glaser’s iconic Bob Dylan poster.

Typography, architecture, and web design#section5

The trouble is, web design, although it employs elements of graphic design and illustration, does not map to them. If one must compare the web to other media, typography would be a better choice. For a web design, like a typeface, is an environment for someone else’s expression. Stick around and I’ll tell you which site design is like Helvetica.

Architecture (the kind that uses steel and glass and stone) is also an apt comparison—or at least, more apt than poster design. The architect creates planes and grids that facilitate the dynamic behavior of people. Having designed, the architect relinquishes control. Over time, the people who use the building bring out and add to the meaning of the architect’s design.

Of course, all comparisons are gnarly by nature. What is the “London Calling” of television? Who is the Jane Austen of automotive design? Madame Butterfly is not less beautiful for having no car chase sequence, peanut butter no less tasty because it cannot dance.

So what is web design?#section6

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. So what is web design?

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.

Let’s repeat that, with emphasis:

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.

She walks in beauty#section7

Great web designs are like great typefaces: some, like Rosewood, impose a personality on whatever content is applied to them. Others, like Helvetica, fade into the background (or try to), magically supporting whatever tone the content provides. (We can argue tomorrow whether Helvetica is really as neutral as water.)

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.

Great web designs are like great buildings. All office buildings, however distinctive, have lobbies and bathrooms and staircases. Websites, too, share commonalities.

Although a great site design is completely individual, it is also a great deal like other site designs that perform similar functions. The same is true of great magazine and newspaper layouts, which differ from banal magazine and newspaper layouts in a hundred subtle details. Few celebrate great magazine layouts, yet millions consciously or unconsciously appreciate them, and nobody laments that they are not posters.

The inexperienced or insufficiently thoughtful designer complains that too many websites use grids, too many sites use columns, too many sites are “boxy.” Efforts to avoid boxiness have been around since 1995; while occasionally successful, they have most often produced aesthetically wretched and needlessly unusable designs.

The experienced web designer, like the talented newspaper art director, accepts that many projects she works on will have headers and columns and footers. Her job is not to whine about emerging commonalities but to use them to create pages that are distinctive, natural, brand-appropriate, subtly memorable, and quietly but unmistakably engaging.

If she achieves all that and sweats the details, her work will be beautiful. If not everyone appreciates this beauty—if not everyone understands web design—then let us not cry for web design, but for those who cannot see.

122 Reader Comments

  1. “New media design” – When is it going to lose the ‘new’… is there a cut off point where it will become “The media formerly known as New Media Design”?

  2. I am only new to web design myself, so while I may not have much in the way of experience, I would like to think that I have my priorities right. Web design is not purely about aesthetics.

    Like you said Jeff, it’s just like architecture. Just like an architect designs a building to accommodate the people who will use it, the goal with the web is to build a site that functions well for the people who will be using it. Usability is the key, but it seems as though some people mistakenly assume that good aesthetics beget good design.

    A good design is one that facilitates the end-user, and makes their experience on the site smooth, simple and enjoyable.

  3. I completely agree with the architecture metaphor. Its the only way I could explain to my parents what exactly I did for my career.

    “Its like architecture. I balance aesthetics and usability to create an experience for someone to interact with.” They still don’t quite get it, but its starting to make sense to them so that’s all that matters.

  4. This is a print & save article that we will be sharing with all of our clients. I laughed out loud a few times and re-read certain passages out loud because we haved lived through them – like the “Boxy” paragraph.

    Thank you!

  5. Thanks, Jeffrey.

    I’ve been a fan of yours since I read DWWS and it changed my life. It came at the right time, inspired me, and exposed me to the web design community that I was looking for.

    This piece you’ve written was a joy to read and will undoubtedly help solidify what web design means to me.


  6. I can’t claim to be winning my own personal struggle with creating “digital environments that facilitate and encourage human activity”, but then I often feel that my generally small clients aren’t really at a stage where even they themselves, commissioners of websites, appointers of web designers, are aware that they will have to interact with their own website to change it gracefully over time. Their web tendency is often informed by what they do at trade fairs: invest an ideally small part of one year’s marketing budget to put up a monolith in time for a certain calendar event, perhaps even believing it will be re-used and updated, but they quickly get discouraged at the lack of glamour (or tangible r.o.i.?) that comes with the time-consuming retouching of the paintwork, fixing of the plinths, entering of the data, moderation of the comments, generation of the faqs… so they abandon the old monolith until they get more budget approved to build a newer, blacker, taller, more mysterious monolith a few years down the line, which in turn lets them do the glamourous, enjoyable bit of their job… talking to designers, approving quotes, making presentations to the boss, filling their cv.

    I suppose that, as a web designer, I should be convincing them this is folly, but there are only so many times you can send the same email asking for some content for section XYZ of the site, or offering to help with the faq, and occasionally I even agree with them… build it, static even, knock it down when you’re bored of it, build another one… make your day interesting; you, client, like me, only have one life, and why shouldn’t you want it to be filled with glamour and fun?

    So I guess that what I mean is that the luckiest web designers among us are like architects, building structures that will be inhabited, extended, lived in, sometimes despised, sometimes loved. But I’d be happy if web design were like book design… no-one judges a book poorly if they only read it once, and no-one really complains at its limitations, or has gripes with the logic of the designer of a novel keeping the left-aligned text away from the page edge, putting the spine at the back, using a 100 year old serif font in black on off-white, putting a table of contents at the beginning and an index at the back. Book design is, for the most part, way beyond the growing pains of web design, and books are judged on the value of their content (like google maps), and on the tiny details that make one more pleasant to read than another… books age gracefully without intervention, and the interaction is limited to absorption of information and a few margin notes… that’s where I think much of web design is headed, and I don’t see it as a bad thing. There will always be pop-up books to amaze children and adults alike, or books for specific targets that need to break the conventions, just don’t mention magazine design… short shelf-life, surface-level information, advertising-driven with a need to shock and sell – all in all quite similar to that of the self-aggrandising award ceremony websites you mention.

  7. It is sometimes difficult to quantify what we do as web professionals. This has done it in an elegant and insightful way that only someone with your level of experience in our industry could do.

    You’ll most certainly be quoted in our client materials. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  8. If anything, this article reminded me of the great Howard Roark who was misunderstood in his time and was laughed at for wanting to design “modern” architecture. So is our situation now in web design. Where there are these set designs that are considered to be beautiful and everything else falls by the way side. But a truly great web designer will stand on his/her own two feet and laugh in the face of adversity.

    Thanks for the wonderful article.

  9. Jeffrey… there is a reason you do what you do and this article proves that. Your definition of web design alone is perfect. I’m calling Websters up right now(wait… are they really relevant anymore? lol)

    thanks for one of your best articles I have ever read about this industry. It makes complete sense.


  10. @Thomas Eagle
    I have a certain sympathy for your corporate clients. I did not appreciate how many decisions and how much work I would have to do when getting a website built. It is worse that having the builders in.

  11. This is a great article! Developing web sites designed by people that have no idea how to design for the web is as frustrating as it gets! * Forwarded to the entire office.

  12. Absolutely have to say “thank you” for finding the time and orchestrating your talent to compose the words that define our goals. This is a task with which I have struggled, and you found the bulls eye. And you share with us. Thank you!

  13. Sorry, but I got hopelessly distracted by a certain link to a certain blog thread about a photo of elephants.

    I’ve struggled for over a decade trying to make sites that were _pretty_ instead of simply functional.

    And finally realized that I’d allowed myself to be misled by folks who made pretty sites which *simply didn’t function*.

  14. At the risk of insulting the many talented graphic designers and production staff I’ve worked with over the years _who do get it_, this article will come in very handy explaining (maybe to junior designers) just what the difference between visual design and functional design for the web is.

    Of course, you need both skills to design web sites, but as you put it, normally the second is lacking.

    In fairness to most designers, they’re normally stymied by the pitch given to the client in the first place, but I think the tide is now turning.

    I’d say more _clients_ understand the web as they play on facebook, use google (and live) maps and, possibly blog. What’s more, I’d say that poor user experiences clients have had may encourage less short-sighted commissions.

    Great article.

  15. Too few people understand what design is, hence they introduce difficulty to the world. Jeffrey says succinctly the purpose of design — _to enable (make possible) new human activity_. The American Institute of Architecture just published an essay written by Chauncey Bell, one of my friends. It’s titled “My Problem with Design”:http://tinyurl.com/ys9y8m. Chauncey makes a similar point, _I understand the role of the designer as bringing new practices to people_. Our websites and our everyday tools would be far easier and more valuable while in the act of using them if we take Jeffrey’s and Chauncey’s message to heart.

  16. First of all, I *love* the article. It is a fantastic piece or prose and thought, I couldn’t agree more.

    Just a random through: as a technology guy, the analogy I am most fond of when speaking to disbelievers (budget constrained executives) about design is one of pothole repair: if DoT goes out and fixes a pothole, who calls to thank them? No one. If they do not, who calls to complain about the pothole? Those who care enough about it to look out for their fellow human (or those with nothing better to do and wanna complain about something). If you have too many potholes in your roads (Pennsylavnia anyone?) then people will stop driving on them …

    How do you go about selling pothole repair to budget constrained executives (the IT guys)?

  17. Mr. Dan Cederholm, in one of his quick bits, mentioned this entire article should be printed on a t-shirt.

    I agree.

    I want one. I think you should take up his suggestion =)

  18. For a fantastic and susinct article about what web design is. Having been in web design since 1995 (you think I would have more to show for it) educating our clients, friends, colleagues and partners has always been one of the most challenging aspects of our jobs.

    This article will now take a permanent place in my educators tool box. Thanks.


  19. Hi Jeffrey, this was refreshing to read. I am engaged more and more into opinion pieces on web design and hearing your philosophical thoughts on the matter is exactly the torque this industry needs. Opinion is becoming less and less on the web these days in regards to web design (kids these days just want answers). And albeit slightly less technical, it reminds me of a classic when John wrote about the “Dao of web design”:http://www.alistapart.com/articles/dao/ here on ALA in 2000. Good times.

  20. You’ve very eloquently conveyed a sentiment that I have been abstractly wrestling with for a long time. Specifically concerning “New Media Design,” which is where I started.

    I appreciate your candor in explaining the difference between a good marketing website and great web design. I also appreciate you calling on us, the web design community, to be the educators. As mentioned in other comments, I’ll be printing this and using it to educate clients.

  21. I totally agree. I like to think that I’m creating my own website (for example), not only to advertise myself, but I’m creating it for other people. I keep in mind what kind of people are going to be visiting it and how they will get around through the pages. Just like a building. Great comparison. Great post.

  22. Ah, so many familiar complaints. Earlier this year with a client who was a “New Media” artist and they brought up the percieved “boxy” flaw several times in our design discussion.

    This is a beautiful article, and one I am going to reference frequently when people ask me what I do. The building analogy is wonderful!

  23. Design is how a thing works, style is how a thing looks. Graphic ‘Designers’ often tend to get this mixed up. I’m not trying to denigrate Graphic Artists, just more properly describe what they do. And let me be clear, I am impressed and engaged by really good graphic art. And, of course, there are projects where Graphic Artists do design. But, it is usually pretty obvious when an old school Graphic ‘Designer’ creates a web site. Though that is becoming less prevalent as both the old guard and the younger generation come to terms with the differences that make up web design. Primarily, that is seeing the web less as a two dimensional world and more as the three dimensional platform for information and interaction.

    And lastly, I lament my own lack of graphic arts prowess. I can cobble together a functional sites, but I really wish I could give them more aesthetically pleasing wrappers to better engage the audience on a non-verbal level and endow the site with a bit more professional polish.

  24. I can’t imagine that you’ve spent much time in a big-city architecture firm. NO ONE follows real estate deals more closely than architects do. Outside the world of a few dozen elite practitioners, the developers and designers walk hand-in-glove.

    Posters can’t shape behavior?

    Take, for instance, Tomasz Sarnecki and the Polish Solidarity posters. I can’t think of a website with a greater claim to having molded behaviors.


    So maybe not “behavior,” then – maybe web designers shape “interaction” between people on that very site. That’s more like architecture.

    Granted, that doesn’t apply to sites that lack user-created-content features. But the real problem is that this argument depends on a shockingly narrow view of architecture.

    Historically, architecture has as concerned with the meaning of a building as with that structure’s fit and function. You cannot separate the sculptural program at Chartes from the building’s plan. Nor can you pull apart Grand Central station, isolating the aesthetic effects of changing volumes from the way that those same spaces channel visitors. Nor the finishes in the Holocaust Museum in Washington from the way that the building communicates to visitors.

    *Just* behavior? *Just* interaction? That’s not architecture. That’s engineering.

    It’s odd that you should say web design is like architecture and unlike, specifically, book design. The invisible-framework school of design, that same way of thinking that informs Minima, characterizes most book designers. It’s hard to get more interactive than a book.

    The universalist instinct in design drives both information designers and the accessibility mavens. And quite a few designers in the corporate world work with systems of all flavors, grids or otherwise.

    And typographic design as strictly structuralist? Maybe the more restrained, more corporate-modern forms of typographic design. I’m always astonished how expressive a good typographer can be.

    Design schools of the late 19th century had it right: they taught how to make objects, and they also taught how to decorate those products.

  25. Good design is not always appreciated by the intended audience. A good design sweats the details and does not complain about the constraints, but, uses them as a jump off for creativity.

  26. This is well written and I appreciate somebody with a voice as loud as yours in the community stepped up and said something. There are far too many in charge or with a platform that can’t see the way it is.

  27. What a fantastic article .. articulating thoughts that have been brewing in my mind for months! I’m passing this on to all the Interactive Media students at the University I work for!

  28. I love this article. As a web designer if I had a nickel for every time a client had expectations that their site was going to somehow break convention. It is an educational process for them that all sites have to have navigation, header and footer. And that those items are almost always placed in the same location on the “page” otherwise the site works against itself. The education for clients is the same. Print design uses some same elements (like the alphabet is similar between most fonts) but they are vastly different.

    Great article!


  29. While I love Communication Arts, the Interactive Annual is an Annual Disappointment for me, and a prime suspect.

    Great article, and I’m glad you (and others) are still carrying the torch on the subject.

  30. This was a great article, I even emailed the link to the rest of the people in my office, so we can all be educated on this subject. Perfect timing to, since we were just having similar discussions in the office.

  31. Just when I was ready to give up on design forever and be happy with my life as a coder…

    This article not only inspired me to become a better designer, but explained the way I think about web sites better than I have ever been able to.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  32. Thought provoking Jeffrey. I’ve often wondered how genuine my design career has been when I’ve happily acquiesced to a “new” project or presented my own “fresh” concept, either to satisfy a client’s subjective appetite for change, or my own need to build a portfolio, pay bills and enjoy my work.

    In many cases the audience was well served by the original work, and either didn’t visit often enough or connect so intimately to be equally invested in a new design. In an age of increasingly short attention spans, finding a principled balance between refined design and gratuitous iteration is a tough one.

    Usability has been a positive influence on my design maturity, but I’m more selfish than I care to admit. Typically, your writing provides a mirror for introspection.

  33. I could not agree more, I often have a similar discussion with clients, colleagues & staff. There is a real difference between Design and art (and I do mean art not Art) independent of the medium. Design can only operate within constraints be they project or medium enforced and in an attempt to solve or present issues, its is a putting together of parts of a puzzle, many of the parts are shared with other puzzles and to that end there will be similarities. However if a designer does not understand how to work with and within the constraints of his medium and has no concern in solving the issues presented then that is bad design and just art. But when a designer takes the time to learn his / her craft then you have good Design and in some instances Art.

    (or am I just being a ponce?)

  34. *Thank you* for what I know others here have said is an article that educates suits and jeans at the same time, and both with respect. I’m emailing this article to our directors to read (they read email, and are scared of blogs… don’t ask).

    I for one am often battling against the verbal tide from directors who only see the web as how money can be made from it, and therefore have a very myopic, short-term view of the potential of our online products. No matter what our role is, we all need to look up from the minutiae every now and then and be reminded of who websites are actually there for – so thanks for the reminder.

  35. “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.”

    I could not agree more. Each time I try to improve my Blogger template, I end up selecting this one.

  36. This is a nice article Jeffrey. It’s a real philosophical look at it all. I don’t think I agree with you on everything though..
    I think web design is.. Using a digital/internet medium to achieve a specific goal, by visually and interactively giving the user what they want.

    In essence it’s manipulation.

    I don’t agree with your assertion that sites which are purely built to be ‘visually stunning’ with only a secondary thought for usability are all bad. I’ve won many clients based solely on ‘visually stunning’ work. So these sites can’t be all bad 😉
    That doesn’t mean, though, that i ignore usability in my work. Far from it. But, in that initial 3 seconds when the ‘deal’ is won or lost, no one gives a toss about usability or ‘good’ web design. They want to be blown away. In those cases, you gotta give them what they want!

  37. I agree with #49.

    The web isn’t for just blogs and happycogs/ new media designs aren’t going anywhere soon so either up your skills or stick to consulting.


  38. I agree with #49.

    The web isn’t for just blogs and happycogs/ new media designs aren’t going anywhere soon so either up your skills or stick to consulting.


  39. You are principally right in all of your statements and I thank you very much for the enjoyable reading.

    However, we shall not condemn those Web sites that seem to ignore usability or design quality. To my mind, there is no such thing as good or bad Web design. We just have to admit that a Web site is just fine if it communicates its message properly, if it does sell its products to the masses as intended, or if it just entertains its users. Who really cares about ugly E-Bay or overloaded Amazon? Many Web sites are extraordinarily successful ignoring Web standards and Usability. In the eyes of their CEOs, Web designers made a good job, too.

  40. I disagree with the previous statement – because some sites should be frowned upon, if not necessarily condemned because of bad usability or design. The only reason such sites end up crowded is because of the CEO effect – where every single available space must be filled with product advertisement. Surely there is some payback to having sites with everything that’s necessary for using the page available clearly and everything that’s worthless crap being removed – it makes the whole experience of actually _browsing_ more enjoyable, and as anyone who has made a shop (here we go back to the building analogy) knows if it is nicer to browse then people are more likely to buy, and to buy things that they did not go to the site with the intent of buying. Pixels don’t cost money, so leaving some free from advertisement or pointless graphics doesn’t loose money and will probably gain the site a step over the competition.

  41. I appreciated a lot your article and I was thinking to translate it in Italian. I would like to read some excerpt to my students. I teach web design at a school of fine art in Italy. My course is addressed to graphic design and media design students.

    As far as I’m concerned web design is almost misunderstood both from the students and the academic teachers. They all expect to handle web disciplines with a minimal technical effort, trying to produce web works that resamble to printed catalogues and/or brochures, overlooking completely the importance of interaction and usability design. Very fews are able to take into account the all-changing nature of what must be a good website.

    The current business man’s opinion about web design is even worst, even if you are lucky enough to work side by side with an executive that is plenty of experience in the traditional media communication.

    Working recently for a company involved in print design and e-learning solutions I got this remark from the boss: “You are spending too much time with the code, nobody care if our website will be accessible or if the folks out there who are using Firefox don’t get the navigation menu rendered properly or not at all by their browsers…My company want to make culture for the common people!…you web designers! You don’t want to share your knowledge with the others. Your are so snob!”
    After that event I knew I was working for a frustrated man. I voluntary resign and quit the job.

  42. Great insight, these brief words are a great synthesis of what compromised web designers are living and thinking daily. I would really like to translate it into Spanish, so my clients and colleagues may read it, perhaps post it in my site with a link to the original. I would of course send a copy for you to have. What do you think?

  43. but I guess we’re all left wondering how this leaves the wonderful world of web awards. Reinforcing bad behaviour is only going to make things worse for those on the outside who only judge the awards by the brands that endorse them.

    Perhaps we should start the “gratuitous flash” awards? I’ve always longed to have a “gratuitous flash” on/off button on our site just to acknowledge that it doesn’t do anything but help to sell into companies that don’t get it (I’m not anti-Flash as I know it can be used appropriately to good effect with some thought, but those jobs are few and far between).

  44. I should never have ventured onto this page and this topic. I am afraid I will never be able to put together a page again.

    There are rules for web design?

    Are there rules for breathing and walking?

    Everything said in the article was well said and it seemed to make sense — but it is so intimidating.

  45. Internet communication, I firmly believe, is on the verge of a breakout to a better level. It will combine the best attributes of print media, traditional televised media, user interaction, open data, security, privacy, device and operating system independence. It will have very little boundaries on delivery ability or the audience to which it is targeted.

    Browsers will become temporary portals. Traditional Web design, both the good and bad as characterized by Zeldman, will become moot.

    The framework and delivery will be stand-alone RIAs.

  46. Zeldman–

    I will take exception to your interpretation, as I read it, to clients/media/whomever not understanding the Web and its constraints, specifically that their expectation is a bad thing.

    I fall back onto Peter Drucker when he said, [paraphrased] “The most important thing in communication is to hear what is not being said.”

    I interpret their expectations as not being unreasonable. I ask myself, what is wrong with Internet communication and how can I fix it to meet expectations of its final end-user.

  47. I read .net magazine every month and their pages of hot new sites filled with alluring screenshots always tempt me to write in and ask why they all seem to be Flash based. And rich with illustrations and large images. The message is clear to new designers: you must use Flash! And everyone is on super-fast broadband, so don’t worry about large images!

    Note: I respect the magazine and am not dissing it.

    I remember at college we were given a famous design book to read (the name of which I forget now) in which the author was working in automobile design way back in the 50s, I think. He reportedly overheard one guy saying something like “slap more chrome on it!” This must surely be echoed today by clients who might say “slap more Flash on it!”. Both chrome and Flash look great, but are mostly redundant from an ergonomic point of view. But when do simple text sites win awards?

  48. 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.

    Thanks jeffrey, I’m going to be quoting you on this.

  49. >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.< This is probably the most clear and accurate definition I've come across. Superb article.

  50. Remember those websites where you started off with an image map of an office… and clicking on the telephone took you to the contacts page, the drawers of the file cabinets led to various topical sections, the photo sitting on the desk brought you to the photo gallery? And there was a “what’s new” page… you got to that with a click on the newspaper. Oh…

    I used to have a couple of those. I hope someday we grow into this medium. I’m still working on it.

    But let’s not break our hearts expecting the world at large to recognize the invisible foundations of good design. Because when it works, it fades into the background. And all those eyes will be pinned on that website with the long legs and spike heels.

  51. I liked this thought provoker.

    Those trying to satisfy needs know that sites evolve over time and for many reasons.
    It need not however be graceful, although I suppose this depends on the quality and forethought of the initial work. It also relies on a perception of quality being shared amoungst all those that have a say.

    One thing we do know though is that web design enables us to communicate to all and that we should abide.

  52. Stewart Brand’s “How Buildings Learn”:http://www.amazon.com/How-Buildings-Learn-Happens-Theyre/dp/0140139966/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1196274918&sr=8-1 also got me thinking of how web design relates to architecture. One parallelism mentioned by “others”:http://www.amazon.com/Information-Architecture-World-Wide-Web/dp/0596527349/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1196276302&sr=1-1 was the concept of fast and slow layers. In architecture, the layers go from the more permanent foundation and structure up to the almost fluid furniture in the room. In web design, it goes from IA up to the copy.

    I think Brand’s ideas around High Road and Low Road buildings can also be applied to web design. But I haven’t seen them talked about yet in this context.

    _On the *Low Road* side_: Just like function-focused, utilitarian buildings, quick-and-dirty websites can be made with little investment and more easily changed to suit the evolving situations. This ease of change along with limitations of a Low Road building or website promotes innovation on a small scale to meet the needs of its users. If And even if it’s easier to change, it’s more critical that those who follow the Low Road must meet the user’s immediate needs. Yet if something does go wrong, duct tape can be used to patch things up.

    _On the *High Road* side_: Grandiose buildings require care and attention of dutiful owners over successive generations, or they will begin to crumble. Major changes are often hard and expensive to make, and are often heavily constrained by what already exists. But each building has its own unique character and has features that just aren’t available with a Low Road building. They stand the test of time. The same goes for High Road websites. If things go wrong with a High Road building or website, problems must be attended to properly. If not, degradation quickly brings you to the point of no return.

    One size does not fit all. If we identify which roads our websites follow, it could help define the best approach to take when we find problems or need to make changes. Maybe there’s another “pattern”:http://www.amazon.com/Pattern-Language-Buildings-Construction-Environmental/dp/0195019199/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1196278512&sr=1-1 book in there somewhere 🙂

  53. I agree with the notion of high-end and low-end websites, that’s pretty straight forward; there will always be large and small projects. But I don’t agree that the low-end quick and dirty website should be a patch work system of metaphorical duct tape.

    I’m talking more about front end CSS/XHTML development rather than back end php/mysql. In my experience when a site is built on a solid framework using semantic/clean markup it’s very easy to maintain and saves a load of time with debugging.

    When developing sites in high volume you notice a pattern of files you need to use, and over the years those files get more and more refined and stable. Creating a starter site, for me, has been extremely helpful in streamlining the development process and the time you save not having to debug can be used for enhancements.

    So, I wouldn’t immediately default to the mentality of the “quick and dirty” website. Take some time, create a set of starter files and a clean structure with a file naming convention that makes sense to you (and to others) and your next “quick and dirty” project can turn out to be pretty fast and clean.


  54. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used “quick-and-dirty”. I was trying to describe something that can go up without much investment and be easily changed without many side effects to the system. “Quick and flexible” may have been better.

    I should have pointed out that _Low Road_ doesn’t neccessarily mean small or low quality. A Low Road building could be a warehouse converted to a office building converted to luxury studio apartments.

    And I totally agree that clean, semantic markup as well as insight through experience can help create a more flexible framework from the get-go. This may be more of a Low Road approach.

    For Low Road website, the “duct tape” isn’t a temporary, slip-shod, must-fix-it-for-real-later solution. It _is_ the proper solution: easy, fast, and cheap, and things work as desired. Need to patch a wire through the wall? Grab a hole saw. Need to change the header style on all those pages? Change the CSS style.

    For a High Road website the duct tape approach could be used, but it won’t work well. Patching the wire in the High Road building requires you use a jackhammer or route it up and down and around passageways. Changing the header style for the High Road website means updating the CSS style, but also the archived pages with font tags the style was based on, the code generating dynamic content using a related an inline style that had to be used for some reason, and getting the five levels of approvals to do all of it.

    Perhaps all websites should aim for the Low Road approach? I’m not sure if that can always be done— some things are just High Road and always will be. But recognizing where you are will help put together a more realistic estimate of effort required and in deciding if you actually need to move to an entirely new site.

  55. Low Road architecture: building types like industrial lofts, prefabricated warehouses, barns, frame houses, tents. These are expedient structures, easily modified to suit new uses, and easily disposed of. Today, many of them, like the Quonset hut, the corrugated-sheet warehouse, and the mobile/modular home are built of pre-assembled components.

    High Road architecture: building types like courthouses, churches, and museums. The building’s symbolic value matters _as much or more than_ its functional performance. They set the tone for a community. Their facades implicitly convey the values of the organizations that commissioned them.

    So yes, low road does suggest adherence to Web Standards, and separation of form and content, and modular design at all levels. Also the use of highly-structured typographic grids in the best traditions of print publication design.

    But high road? Maybe a Flash-heavy movie site. Maybe the artist’s experimental website that consists mainly of text floating about, something driven by Processing perhaps. But those lack dignitas and permanence.

    Then again, the whole Web lacks permanence. The investment in a website is many orders of magnitude lower than that in the most basic of buildings. So why look toward architecture at all?

  56. This was a *great* article, Jeff. You put some things into words I’ve been thinking all week but couldn’t get out.

    *High/Low Road debate*: I don’t think I’d invest in any form of architecture that was unstable, at least not sober. Like Murray pointed out, Low Road/High Road doesn’t mean dirty or unstable. I deal with a number of clients who want ‘quick-and-dirty,’ — scratch that: ‘_cheap-and-dirty_’ websites as fast as possible.

    Oddly enough, if Low Road lends to being more flexible and faster to modify, then Low Road might mean the more expensive in terms of time and money, it might not. I believe a lot of it depends on the client and the firm/designer.

    I am not a design student and have no formal design training but I do design for the web and I tire of hearing print and ‘web’ designers alike complain about issues like Jeff described.

    I believe that design is problem solving, which may or may not lend to non-linear aesthetics. If my client’s goal is to increase the generation of sales leads from their website, I’m much less worried about having an animated Flash-based logo that materializes from a rotating fluid mass of monotone, half-transparent, organic shapes — and a bit more worried about IA, accessibility, usability, and even more so: motivating my client’s target audience to take action.

    There seems to be a ton of ‘designers’ in all industries that want to _break the mold_ by ignoring the need for their designs (good examples of this are some of the challenges on the show Project Runway). The passion for aesthetics and scalable fame is there, but not for solving a problem (even if that problem is to communicate or create some sort of functionality).

    I’m sure I could make some cool looking comps for apartment building structures, but I wouldn’t recommend you sleep on the top floor.

  57. Great article and great timing. I was having a discussion with a colleague about this very subject when I stumbled on this article the next day.

    As far as working within constraints, we do that all the time with every type of design. We can’t usually change the size of a print piece, or the limitations of the press. We have to work within those confines. It’s the same on the Web, but when we try to map those confines directly over, it doesn’t work. For example, adding one page to a 12 page, saddle-stitched brochure isn’t physically possible. But adding one page to a 12 page Web site is easy. As designers, we have to exploit the advantages of every medium rather than focusing on its limitations.

  58. We all know Zeldman synopsis of what web Design is “an environment for someone else’s expression” is true, but this is also the goal of book design (there are numerous other similarities but thats another topic). Zeldman thinks of Design (meaning anything other than web Design) as merely an aesthetic practice. This thinking creates the worst superficial print, environmental and web Design. But I would also argue, the thinking of web Design as a purely functional practice also creates bad interactive design.

    “Web Design is different” is the rallying cry for people all over the world who are either incapable or too lazy to create experiences that are both functional and beautiful. What is the use of creating a functional user experience that no one what’s to use? Even more alarming is this thinking leads to ignoring hundred of years of Design theory because “web Design is different.”?

    Design no matter what medium you are talking about is the pure practice of problem solving and communication.

  59. Jeffrey,
    I read this article very much as a response to a recent article I found via DesignObserver titled – I seem to remember – “Oh, milestone web designs where are you?”. I can’t find the link to that article right now.
    The author of the article was lamenting the lack of major website designs, the equivalent to Paula Sher’s posters for the NY Public Theatre, or – as you mention – Glaser’s Dylan poster.

    Perhaps someone reading this comment could kindly pass your article – or the t-shirt! – to the author of the above mentioned article.


  60. bq. Zeldman thinks of Design (meaning anything other than web Design) as merely an aesthetic practice.

    No I have the highest respect for design, I know what it is, and I know it is not the same as decoration. If you want to attribute naive or nonsensical points of view to imaginary straw-men, have at it. But don’t make me your straw-man.

  61. I enjoyed this article a great deal, though I have a couple points of confusion and disagreement. The biggest one, I think, relates to Mr. Zeldman’s definition of web design:

    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.

    This is an excellent definition, I think, for GUI design, not just web design. And actually, I think there’s a pretty easy case to be made that there HAS been a “landmark” GUI design in the Mac OS, both in terms of functionality AND aesthetics. Even many of the snobbiest of the “artsy” designers can get on board with that, I think.

    Under Mr. Zeldman’s broad definition, then, I think there is indeed the capacity for the kind of design that will please the artsy designers. I don’t think we get that as much in web design as opposed to analogous digital environments, however, because the “artsy” designers are working elsewhere or making Flash monstrosities, and the web designers frequenting ALA are apparently convinced that web design simply can’t be as pretty as a subway map.

    Don’t get me wrong—I love websites that put functionality first, and I generally don’t mind sparse site designs—but there could be aesthetically innovative websites and there aren’t. That’s just not really a priority for this community, which is a pain for those of us who like fonts, but not such a big deal insofar as the problems of the world are concerned. I mean to suggest, though, that this has nothing to do with the inherent and universal qualities of web design as a practice or a medium. Mr. Zeldman’s article does an excellent job of explaining how web design is, but unfortunately dismisses what it could be.

  62. Always such a pleasure to read. I was only half way through and already marking in Ma.gnolia. The last two paragraphs read like pure poetry. Thanks.

  63. I couldn’t agree more with the nutshell analysis already quoted many times:

    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.

    But as I was thinking how much I agreed with this I kept thinking, yes but this has little relation to the world I work in, as a programmer not a designer I should add. I finally realized that Jeffrey’s article emphasizes exactly what he says: facilitating and encouraging human activity. But it’s not concerned with selling ads to make the web site profitable.

    I don’t say this as a criticism. Happily I personally don’t have to worry about selling ads so I’m far more interested in creating a good user experience, or having one since I really don’t design sites other than my own. And in that since I think the article is about as on the mark as you can get. It primarily values the user experience and is also wise enough to know that often the base of that experience is simple usability, sometimes happily improved upon by special touches. As an example I’d say the graphics that accompany these articles.

    Unfortunately I can see the people whose clients just want them to sell more ads saying: great, but how does this apply to me? How can I use this? Is there a way to incorporate good design and pages whose raison d’etre is ads? I don’t have the answers. Maybe no one does. But I think it is an important question.

    I’d be interested in hearing what Jeffrey and the readers of this forum have to say about applying good design principles to sites whose main goal is to sell advertising…………Perhaps another article on that?

  64. I was merely trying to counter the assertions you made in your article, it was an attack on you article not your person.

    I believe Jason T said it more eloquently “Mr. Zeldman’s article does an excellent job of explaining how web design is, but unfortunately dismisses what it could be.”

    I meant only to hopefully inspire some healthy badly needed dialog on this subject. Hopefully to counter the numerous people who seem to agree without questioning. (Unfortunately I don’t think I need to look for “straw men”)

  65. If one looks further than what is hyped in our sphere of web and internet related media or design, there are the same mechanisms in any kind of design. Be it product design, web design or graphic design.

    In each branch you have different markets. You got Ikea which is affordable however medium quality, but mostly quite usable, you got the high end design: very individual and high quality and you got the trash, cheap and low quality. It is pretty clear which of those three is on the covers of magazines and talked about. The high end design stuff.

    So it is the same with web design. Solid solutions are never the ones talked about. What works you don’t see.

  66. I completely agree with ensuring good usable web design is the way to go. And, comparing it with architecture is also a good assimilation. I still challenge this media on daily basis to actually produce esthetically pleasing web sites with a solid architectural structure. Even solid buildings contain beautiful artwork and clever design patterns to differentiate it from others. Same should be for web site design. When all web sites start to look alike because a bunch of architects get their hands on taking over design we are living in a boring world.

    In due time we will all be sick of seeing the same “stuff” on the web, be it informational or advertising. Everyone seems to have an opinion of “how it should be”. It is about time we let the web shift gears organically and have some character within the medium. If other media such as television or print never tried something new we’d be watching the same boring programs and looking at brochures and magazines in a portrait layout.

    Let designers, those who have been through the crazy print design days, help move web design into a new light. We’ve been challenged with it before. Users will expect more esthetically pleasing site design as well as being able to find what they need.

    It’s about time we have something fun and different to look at!

  67. It would seem that a word conspicuous in its absence is mediocrity. Unsaid but lurking near the core of the argument.

    Of course we could argue about what that means or what it is in web design, but if all else fails and we can’t articulate it we can certainly pick it out in a lineup.

    …and it’s the natural and inevitable result of just “following the money”.

  68. To me, this article illustrates what the consenus would agree to be ‘what web design is’, not what it should be. It ticks the right boxes, it validates the job descriptions of hundreds of thousands of professionals who are (my words) ‘doing the right thing’. But what a seriously demoralising thought that is. Is this it?

    There seems to be a big backlash against a moniker of ‘New Media’. It IS new. What… 30 or 40 years old? Against the printed word which is many thousands of years old? TV is still new media (even if it is stale) – the possibilities it affords haven’t yet been fully realised.

    And to draw a big line in the sand between ‘Professional Associations’ and the ‘Web Community’ only condemns the wider audience to a flatter, more constrictive view of what web design can be. We can learn from both, can’t we? I do agree that many sites are (pardon the pun) paper-thin and have no underlying substance. All style and no… you get the picture. But there’s no difference from existing print media or traditional broadcoast media in that comparison. Does the pursuit of a consistent-with-print visual expression condemn a website to ‘bad web design’?

    The whole notion of ‘web design’ in this article is reduced to nothing more than how a designer completes his or her project within a specific set of artificial web-related constraints (i.e. what constitutes ‘good’ web design in 2006-07). If I follow the line of thought here, I can put together a social networking site that ‘encourages human activity’ and ‘changes gracefully over time’ – it fits in a 1024 x 768 layout, can be viewed over a mobile phone or a TV and also feeds me with information to my feed-savvy browser every 10 minutes. Oh, and it retains its identity. Really? That’s it? That alone is good web design?

    Rubbish. ‘Web’ design really is no different than poster design or book design or any other media because that’s all it is – media. And designers should be challenging those who create the media to make it evolve and refine it and grow it to allow them to deliver better messages. You get better design if you understand your medium, but that alone doesn’t equate to ‘good’ design.

    I believe what’s being argued for in the article is better ‘interactive’ design – irrespective of the media. But I still think the ‘old school’ print designer has a huge well from which to draw when it comes to solving design issues relating to the messages as well as the medium.

    There’s too many examples of ‘fixed’ website constraints (‘boxy’ layouts, typeface choices, etc) in this article that bely a design aesthetic that’s too tied to the technology. For all its warts and ungodly efforts that Flash has given us it has also given us the freedom to explore outside the grid and there are many examples of wonderful designs that DO work at an aesthetic and functional level. I’m not necessarily endorsing Flash as an end-product in itself but it does demonstrate that the web doesn’t need to be JUST HTML…

    Shouldn’t the web change to suit our message rather than vice versa? Shouldn’t ‘web design’ be less self-conscious about technology and more on the content itself?

  69. Web arcitchture is not just about the design of your site, but also how it relates to the other sites in your community. It’s actually very similar to how cities have banking districts and garment districts as well as various ethnic communities.
    Google has had to become aware that your relevance on a subject comes from people who link you as well as the people who you link to as sites build a community based on mutual interest.
    Being a designer, a design blogger, and information architect, I have to balance, design, content, and usability to give people an experience that will make them want to revisit my site over and over. I may never win a design award for my site, but the trade off is blog is probably much more widely read than almost any design award.

    Kellis Landrum

  70. Thanks for that article… This and “A Dao of Web Design” are great references to send to print designers who think that their background automatically qualifies them to do web.

  71. Dear #83, not sure if you are a designer. Speculating you are not? Just to give you a nudge. Design isn’t something new and web design surely isn’t. I’m not sure if you are the judge at what makes a “good” web designer.

    I come from the days of print and I think it has made me a better designer than those that have only ever designed for the web. There is something to be said about people with experience. I am sick of young people that think web 2.0 was discovered yesterday. Anyone can be a designer, an architect, a programmer. All you need to do these days is google what you want to learn and do it. In the old days it was all about figuring things out the hard way!

  72. In regard to the article its important that more business people understand that their websites should be designed properly. Its easy for some designers to pull the old wool over the eyes on some issies but now business owners can just ask some simple questions to know if their sites are being designed right.

  73. Far too many sites have style and no substance, a pretty path to walk but nothing there when you arrive. I would include the definition of a web designer as someone who concentrates harder on the end material as they do on the visuals and navigation. In that sense a lot of rubbish online can be attributed to designers and suits who think web design is little content and a lot of glitter, that you have to lure surfers, getting them excited about branding and all that marketing crap.

    I think good design is the other way around, especially as “bad” design can be forgiven if I can find the stuff and see it quickly with the necessary details. Good design has good content at the end, something unique to read or look at. The content itself must be part of the design and be a major part of that process. I think the architecture analogy can apply here but I would twist to say that having great engineering means nothing if you have trashy tenants living in your so-called grand palace.

    My experience from building sites is that it the html code comes last and one of the very first questions I ask myself/clients is: what content have you got for your site?

  74. The most important part of a design is for me the usuability. It is not enough when a website just looks great. If the user cannot find the important content at first glance or if it takes just too long to load the whole site because of big files, the designer did something wrong. A webdesigner should never forget that he normally doesn`t design a site for himself but for the users.

  75. “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.”

    I like the idea that the web is its own medium. The opportunity, is that it has less constraints than “traditional” media. A newspaper is going to be a newspaper. A book, a book. A magazine…well, you get it. A web site can be on a computer monitor. Your 50″ plasma. Your blackberry. A web site can be static. It can be rich with typography. It can be purely video. Or dynamic flash. Or it could include all of the above.

    I think we struggle with what web design should be–because it doesn’t sit still long enough to be defined. Once we define it, it ups and changes. Web design in general is beautiful. It’s a great medium.

    I like the definition because it allows the web to live, to be flexible. Web design today isn’t what it’s going to be tomorrow. It’s the medium that will push design. Nicely done.

  76. I very much enjoyed this article. I like the comparison to Architecture and often compare it to Industrial Design myself.

    Recently I met with a Graphic Design firm that wanted to hire me to code designs they furnished. I tried in vain to explain that interface and web design requires a different approach.

    There is a quote by Buckminster Fuller that I love to use:
    “When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”?

    This works for me on so many levels. Design is about solving problems not about pretty. Good Design solves a problem and makes a thing of beauty at the same time.

    Scientists call it “The Elegant Solution”

  77. “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.”

    So THAT’s why I do what I do ? Huzzah… enlightenment is on its way! 🙂

    Brilliant article.

  78. I work with page layout full time for a local newspaper and am just getting into web page design (two years into it).
    Boxes and grids are a part of day to day life for me.

  79. Jeffrey,

    DWWS opened my eyes. I was an ill-equipped print designer merely treading water in the world of web design until I found your book. Thank you.

    However, because I am so passionate about this topic, and plead with my print colleagues and professors the very same spirit your article presents, I was very disappointed that the only examples of good web design you offered were those blog templates. Though you and I can appreciate them, they fail to communicate your point, rather, they discredit you to the audience you are writing to, the one’s who already “don’t get it.”

    It would be fabulous if you could update the article to include examples that might resonate better with that community.

  80. Dang. Appreciated.

    Particularly the challenges when talking to print designers; I’m quite sure the ones I’ve spoken to think we aren’t really designers … and don’t often get the differences between the two media. It takes quite a bit to begin to get through to them, and that’s only after they’ve created websites that don’t really work out well.

  81. Good article. I am a Graphic Designer turned web designer and it was and still is a transition I am getting used to. One has to understand the way most of our audience thinks. Many people who see the popular sites are not necessarily thinking on the same field as web designer and architects. Many don’t understand the techniques, the time, the agony, and the strife we use to design and build websites. Many do not care. Just as long as they work is all they want. One can try to design and no column, no boxy layout and fail miserably mainly because they are too hard to navigate and too hard to find the information being seeked. Many people enjoy the “eye candy” of the site. Many could careless. If you are designing for the general public boxy and columns are going to be the norm because they organize everything. If you are designing for designers or artists they may enjoy the challenge of a non-boxy site. Until then the only way to make your site “unique” is to design it unique. Graphics help in that sense but architecture, usability and programming and whether it actually works will ultimately be the deciding factors of good web design.

  82. In my oppinion Last.FM represents the holy grail of good web design. The interface is beautiful without detracting from content, the functions are slickly usable and intelligent, the advertising is useful and non-invasive, the text content is easy to read and split into optional depths, the user focussed content generation is the most amazing I have ever seen. Bring it on!

  83. What is the point of this article, the bottom line? All you said is that you have nothing to say.

  84. Truly. Huh? Is this nothing more than a rant? Let me summarize your article…

    These other guys (who are not really qualified to have an opinion) will try to tell you ‘Web Design’ is about ‘A’. Well I’m here to tell you its really about ‘B’.

  85. Hi Friends!
    Web Design is a place where you explore your self a lot in the way of your creativity.I think in a website a logo is very important as it is a identity of your website so it should be created with lot of creativity.What you think guys? Please give your suggestion on this…


  86. I appreciate this article because I feel it covers a growing issue that has not been addressed. However, because it is such an abrasive attack on those who often make design decisions, it will be difficult for me (as a junior member of a small agency) to support the argument and pass along to those who need it the most.

    How can I communicate this idea to senior members without coming across too arrogant? The problem is not with your idea but the communication of this idea.

  87. Hey Thanks for the read on Web Design! The part where it mentions about the people who know the least about Web Design make the most noise…SO TRUE! I find myself in the same boat. I am a beginner in the web design area, and I have found myself to living up to making some noise because I am so inexperienced and so very new.

    Also, thanks for the great Web Design definition!

  88. Every time I’m asked what I do you and I say “I design websites”, I’m sometimes frustrated with the response I get, because, people outside the circle just don’t get it. Cheers to your article.

  89. Why is the architecture for a good web design ignored and mis-understood, I will never understand. Good point brought up in this. Still, a large majority of clients do not understand or do not want to understand the fact that we design is
    a creation of digital environments that facilitates human activity. Very true and excellent words : “Great web designs are like great buildings”.

  90. What a great article. I’ve been a fan of ALA for quite a while but only now, and due to this fine post, have I felt the need to sign up and post an highly deservered appreciative comment.

    Part of the ongoing challenge of any web designer is precisely this daily role of educating others (clients) on the ins and outs of web design and hopefully making them understand it better and realise it’s more than just logos and colours.

  91. For years the major misconception is that Flash-based applications are SEO-unfriendly and can’t be indexed by search engines. And that’s the myth Flash expert Todd Perkins dispels in this highly anticipated new Adobe Developer Library book.

    Deborah Sidrs

    Kitchenware Reviews

  92. Graphic designers generally seem to think they can design for web a well as they can for print but it really isn’t the case. The two are very different. … top article!

  93. I get it, this article is dated, but on my quest to understand better our designer’s p.o.v. of content vs. design and design vs. content from a designer to a copywriter to the client and back again, this article is helpful. Especially when making the architecture comparison. Building from scratch or even a superstruct…either way, the final structure must be built, maintained and join together form and function.

    But I do want to address how the designer, Kevin, here at Overit Media (overit.com) describes how his job relies on mine (when I write copy) and mine on his in order to deliver to both the client and content consumer:

    “Designers shouldn’t be held fully responsible though. Finding good typographic solutions should be a collaboration between the designer and the copywriter. The quality of the content will certainly be a factor in how effective the end product is. Content and typography must play hand in hand. One without the other will surely fail.

    Good content accompanied by bad typography is rendered completely ineffective simply because no one will be attracted to read the content. Similarly, bad content accompanied by good typography will also prove to be useless; although people may become engaged, they aren’t learning or getting anything from it. These two elements must work cohesively in order to be successful.”

    Agree? Disagree? Indifferent?

  94. A really interesting article – I think it gets every designers goat when poor practices are implemented (although I do think designers rarely explain why it’s important). One thing that REALLY gets my goat is when designers who swear by vertical grids complete disregard horizontal grids. You get lovely sites aligned to grids but the downward flow is often far too over-spaced and it nauseates me to see people throw away great designs like that. HELLO!!! LINE-HEIGHT???! :p

  95. This article gave me just what I wanted and it also had some of the vocabulary to my thoughts.

    I think its perfect for people going to build a their own site and also for clients.

    I would surely share it with my peers and @ school bulletin board.

  96. First, thanks for a truly great piece of writing.

    Second, why is it that our job as web designers is so difficult to quantify? Moving pixels around to create information which, in reality, does not even exist in the real world – and is lost temporarily with the press of a ‘shut down’ button…

    It is, in fact, a reflection of our Brave New World – a virtual world where things that do not really exist can be moneterised more and more. Hence our working environment is virtual, and our Job Description is as fleeting and insubstantial as the work we produce.

    So what is the saving grace of this New World? I think it is that the representation of an idea – creative or intellectual – becomes the focus. The value of our work is not the end result (that is virtually undefinable!), but it is the idea it conveys. The creative or intellectual ideas and thoughts are our product. The virtual tools of the trade (Photoshop et al) are the means to convey our experience and ideas. So we are moving from being designers to being conveyors of these ideas – in their new virtual medium.

    Designer is too small a word for it. The Brave New World needs a Brave New Word.

  97. I have always been fascinated by this two words.”Web” which involves alot of coding and to some people alot of gibberish.then o the other hand “design” which is all about creativity.Most people calling themselves web designers are usually gifted in one or the other.Its quite hard to find someone well gifted in the two fields

  98. This was such a good article back in the day, it would be great to see this author release an updated version which takes into account conversion rate design and true usability.

  99. It used to be enough to consider web design just as architecture. I think now with all the social media and search engine marketing, it’s like advertising, PR and networking for your real estate property 😛

  100. I am new to designing and glad to read such a great article. Optimized and creative designers are been clicked by the users, if we want the maximum return on investment, so we must have powerful design.

    Some of the tips shared by you are excellent. I will follow these lines in my next project.

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