"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."
This past year I have been able to learn quite a bit about designing web pages, this is not to say in any way that I have perfected this skill, just vastly improved. I began learning how to design websites briefly in high school in 1998. I took a Computer Arts course, which basically covered any and everything the teacher herself could get her hands on regarding art on a computer. The class first started with simple exercises in a program called PC Paint. From there she moved us to learning a basic understanding of Photoshop, and the class seemed to learn along with the teacher. So we would usually start a project, and never finish them, because the teacher would learn something new and want to share it with the class. At the end of the year we lightly touched web design, and it was all done in Word. Which I look back now and find it hilarious, because I was super excited about it, and really would talk to people as if I seriously knew how to design a website. The site I did build was like filled with scrolling and blinking text, and I thought it was so sweet...
Moving forward the real lesson on the web came in my Intro to Web class in college. This is where I learned the basics of HTML, and tables. I even learned and built a site totally in frames. However I was more sold on the idea of designing sites using tables. The reason I enjoyed tables (I think) was because of how similar it was to the grid. The grid is something that was taught to us in all of my other design classes, as far as designing anything in the print world. Seeing as how my degree was in Print Graphic Design, and not interactive. I quickly became obsessed with typography and learning to design in the Grid system.
Print is wonderful because as a designer you have complete control over every aspect of the design. You have complete control over the text, from the font, to the kerning, letter spacing, leading, and basically the entire presentation is controlled. All throughout school I continued to expand my knowledge of the web on my own. It wasn't until this year that I finally broke away from the table comfort zone of web design. Whereas now I have been fully converted to the Web Standards movement.
It wasn't until recently meaning this year that I realized one of my biggest road blocks in progressing as a web designer was that I treated the web the same way I treated Print. I designed my websites as if I was designing something that would be printed. I would design a site but only focus on the design of the actual content area, ignoring the rest of the screen. I would then build the sites so that it would look exactly as my "ai" or "psd" file. Sometimes that meant the entire site was almost completely made out of images. Which was great for me personally, but the end user I was not so friendly to. I never took in mind designing for the end user, nor did I take into consideration that not everyone had the same computer as me, nor the same browser that I had. I also didn't take into mind the different disabilities of people, and because of this none of my sites were accessible. I also never took into consideration the entire screen regardless of what resolution or screen size the end user would be viewing the site. The background was always a last minute thought and something just thrown in. Now I take the entire screen into consideration and make the website one fluid design.
This past year I have learned that designing for the web is NOTHING like designing for print, they are two totally different aspects, however they do share some basic design principles in making them successful. However when designing a website you have to think past total control of context, and think more about the end user. You have to take into consideration that a website needs to be optimized, and search engine friendly, as well as easy to navigate, which means each page will load quickly and efficiently. Every action of the site should be simple, and virtually effortless. When working with the web you have to remember that the end user has so much control and also NEEDS a lot of control so that the site will function best for them. So for that reason their are quite a few limitations to web design. At first these limitations used to discourage me, but it was really my print design mentality of needing and wanting that total control over my work.
I find designing for the web challenging in a beautiful way. I enjoy the limitations and find that the limitations are greatly out weighed by the benefits they bring the end user. Designing a site to Web Standards makes a site much more highly accessible by various users. Why would any business owner say no to more visitors? The site will also be faster, and function in a timely manner regardless of weather someone is still in the stone ages of dial up or not. It will improve search engine rankings as well, and who wouldn't want that?
It's funny because most of the benefits to the sites I have designed lately go totally undetected to the client and whoever is viewing the site. Only the people that take a look at the site under the trunk, and are able to comprehend what is happening under the trunk truly are able to appreciate it. For example, for the most part edits on the site are done in a much more timely and efficient manor. This is one of the HUGE benefits that goes unnoticed.
The web is a completely different world, for this purpose I believe that is why most great web designers primary focus is designing web pages. Some web design superstars started out as print designers and have since almost completely left the world of print and now only work with the intraweb. I think that is almost a testament to how vastly different the two mediums are. I think if you really want to grow and develop yourself as a web designer you need to focus solely on web design. I think having a background in print is definitely beneficial because a lot of the principles of design in general are a huge benefit and give you a very strong foundation, but first you have to accept the fact that it is a different world and you have to accept the fact that you can't have total control. After you are able to accept these facts you are well on your way to being teachable and ready to grow and develop as a web designer. I am just starting this process myself, however I am still unsure of weather I want to totally leave behind print, and focus on web. I really love the world of print, and I'm not sure I am ready to give up the control just yet...
For better information on the subjects spoken of today visit these sites:
If you click on only one link to better understand what I was trying to say here in my post please make it this one:
Understanding Web Design
These other links are also better written, and well worth any ones time.
Ten Reasons to use web standards
What Every Website Owner Should Know About Standards
Why Use Web Standards