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Ten Years Ago in ALA: Art Direction and Drop Shadows

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Writing for web designers is a tricky blend of trying to predict and shape the near-future while keeping your feet firmly grounded in the practical concerns of the here-and-now. Ten years ago this month in Issue 180, A List Apart published Stephen Hay’s Art Direction and the Web, a tidy piece that still resonates today.

For those who have grown weary of the Great Flatness Debates of the present, Stephen’s piece is refreshingly rooted in communication design. The article provides a solid outline of the principles of art direction by discussing the importance of creative themes and rhetorical devices in your work, and follows up with some practical tips on how to implement these concepts into your workflow. It’s a good read for today’s designer, as it is mainly focused on thoughtfulness and process, and unencumbered by jaggy screenshots of the pre-anti-aliased web.

On the other hand, Onion Skinned Drop Shadows, written by Brian Williams for Issue 182, is a direct example of a technique that is now utterly obsolete. Like Faux Columns and Sliding Doors, this technique demonstrates an incredible amount of ingenuity that seems ridiculously kludgey today, when drop shadows are so easily created with a single line of CSS that an entire movement has spawned to argue against them.

Also from May 2004: Print It Your Way by Derek Featherstone, a guide to creating custom user print stylesheets for Firefox, and Separation: The Web Designer’s Dilemma, a rumination from Michael Cohen on the ongoing concern over keeping content separate from layout.

Finally, a bonus flashback: zeldman.com from 10 years ago, with Issue 182 featured in the sidebar!

About the Author

Mike Pick

As a part of Monkey Do, Mike approaches web design from the perspective of both art director and front-end developer. He primarily creates clean and concise design systems for websites, but is also known to get his hands dirty with HTML/CSS and JavaScript development. Over the years he has worked as a cog in a large agency, an in-house art director, and a humble freelancer, and has picked up a few awards along the way. He holds a BD in Communication Design from NSCAD in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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