It occurred to us the other day – somewhat alarmingly – that we have been involved in web design pretty much since web sites started to be ‘designed’ – i.e. more thought and effort applied to the appearance than content.
This made us think that: a) we must be getting quite old now (boo!) and, b) That, we have accumulated quite alot of knowledge and experience on the subject. (hooray!)
We did think to try and pass on some of this knowledge in another of our Useful Tips posts. But instead, we will have a bit of a “useful moan” about something that has always slightly bugged us: the way web designers are somewhat looked down upon as just playing around. We suppose we can understand why – it is not uncommon for anyone who can draw shapes on computer programmes to build functioning websites and call themselves a web designer.
This isn’t really possible in other areas of design. For example, no-one could claim to be a car designer just because they are good at drawing nice cars. It is a much bigger leap from that to actually designing a car that is being built. Few ever become legitimate car designers and its the same with architects, product designers, boat designers etc.
This means that only the best designers in each of these traditional fields of design ever see their creations come to fruition, even after years of study. This isn’t true with web designers. Hence, the profession of ‘web designer’ doesn’t carry the ‘kudos’ associated with other design professions. (Bitter? Us?).
But – there certainly are some really fantastically good web designers (some not even working for Binamic!) and we reckon it takes a real talent (creative and technical), as well as several years of experience and learning to really ‘get’ web design. Good web design is so much more than mocking up some nice looking pages then coding them up.
Which brings us on to one of our other bugbears, which is the importance placed on what a site looks like!
It may sound odd, but we cannot tell you how many hours we have spent fine-tuning the design of a site to the minutest detail, yet no thought has been given to content, usability or accessibility. We are not blaming clients – it is completely the fault of web designers, because it is too easy to wow clients with pretty pictures – they are universally understood.
Yes, we agree that the look of the site is extremely important, but it has to be considered in the wider context of the purpose and functionality of the site. The usability of a site ultimately has far more influence on its success than the exact shade of blue used on the background. But that is, unfortunately, actually quite dull to talk about in comparison!
Let’s go back to the car designer analogy. Imagine a car designer pitching some concepts in front of his client – after a few rounds of tweaks, the client excitedly signs off his dream looking car design.
Now the car designer tries to build it. But he realises that he hasn’t actually left enough room for the engine to fit properly.. So under the lovely skin, it is real botch job. Then he realises it is actually a pig to drive – it handles terribly, and the driving position is cramped. Tough luck though – the client has signed off the design, and there is no way the designer can go back and say he has messed up.
So the client ends up with a car that looks fantastic from the outside, but is actually deeply flawed. At first the client is delighted, because he can show off his amazing looking car to impress his peers and competitors. But slowly and surely the inadequacies start to nag, the visual appeal wears off, and pretty soon the client realises he is going to need a new car.
We realise that this is not exactly how the car industry works, but we hope you see our point. And of course we have also forgotten the most important person of all – the passenger (or the web site user in our case). Unless you are a complete petrol head, we would bet you often get into a car or taxi for a lift without even knowing what make it is. All you care about is whether it can get you from A to B as comfortably and easily as possible, and that the seat belt is easy to put on, and you can find the door handles, and window buttons etc. Sure, you want it to be smart and clean, but you don’t really care what colour it is, and whether it is trendy or not.
And the same is true with website users. They just want to feel comfortable and be able to get to their destination with minimal fuss. This is where website design should start, and the first questions that we should be asking our clients are: “Who are your users”, “Where are they trying to get to” and “How do we make your site the best way to get there?” (not “Do you like these pretty pictures?” – that comes later…).
So we design the cabin, the ergonomics and the controls first, then think about the drive train and how it handles, then once that is all working beautifully, we put some handsome bodywork over the top, and you end up with a car that looks fab, drives like a dream, and everyone want to go for a ride in it…
For excellent, professional web design contact us today!