The Art of Web Design | Off Book | PBS Digital Studios


It’s important to remember when
designing a website what purpose it’s going to serve in people’s
lives. Creating a very simple easy to use, easy to understand experience, that’s the challenge of designers. It really comes down to understanding that someone is a person on the other end of the thing that you make. They’re not a number. When Tim Berners-Lee created HTML, he was
writing something that would allow scientists to share physics papers over the internet. HTML is so simple; it’s just take your content and structure it and make it accessible to any device. It used to be that you
used html to do your lay out. That’s how most designers in the nineties did their stuff. They used html table cells, sliced and diced images and that’s how they worked. But the content was all mixed up with the layout so CSS allowed designers to separate
structure of their content from the presentation of their content. That was a big advance and behavior, that’s controlled by
javascript, that’s separate again. The next big thing that happens is the
dominance of flash for several years, because that’s where they had real control over typography and they could do all kinds of dynamic stuff that were much harder to pull off in html. But, flash was really good if you thought of the web as something that a small corps of artists used to entertain the masses. But it turns out, they don’t really want to
go to the web for that. What they want to go to the web to do is share. Now designers realize people come here
for the content. So lets put the content first and make it
accessible to any device. And HTML five becomes stable enough that developers start paying attention to it. All of a sudden it’s about apps, it’s about
applications being built with HTML. So HTML is the cockroach that will survive a nuclear winter. People judge web design through the lens of print design but the two are not that analogous. The screen
is a very different medium than a page. There are myriads of different decisions that you can make and that’s the interesting
process as a designer. I usually start with content but,
beyond that, start thinking about how someone’s going to navigate and traverse all of
the information that you’re putting on to these pages. So the grid is a
system for layout. It’s the structure that you can apply to a canvas to help you organize content in a systematic way. But also the grid will allow you to structure things in a hierarchical way so that, through contrast, you can create
importance and meaning. There are also very important aesthetic considerations and color is a very big one of those. Being onscreen, we’re talking about
color being made with light, that being additive color. So something that you might like in print design, you know, a very vibrant yellow or a very strong black might not look that good on screen because it could be too
contrasted or it might not be contrasted enough. And choosing the right typeface becomes another asset on a page just like an image or video or anything like that. When I’m considering
arranging type, I have to think of someone actually needs to read this. If
something is a headline or if I want someone to read something first, I’m going
to make that stand out. I’m going to make sure that it’s either
the biggest, it’s the first on the page, it’s the most eye catching and that will
once again then reinforce the structure of all the other content on the page. On the web you can always change something, you can always evolve it, you can always try to make that experience better. Does it resonate with people and do they get something out of it? Do they learn something? Are they moved to action? I think all of those are goals of the
art of web design. User research is all about
understanding peoples behaviors. When you’re using a website that is impossible to get through, that is a failure of user experience
because the person who created it never took the time to understand what their
target audience actually need. An example of a company that’s really
getting this right is Etsy. They were really thoughtful about the unique ways in
which their target audience would want to search for items, like being able to
look for something by color or by texture or by the age of an item. When
you have a site like Facebook that has features all over it, that’s the result of
having to meet so many different segments needs. And so, don’t put roadblocks
up for people to overcome because the truth is if you have a great user
experience, user interface fades into the background. For example, Craigslist. That
website isn’t much to look at but the user experience that they create is so
helpful to people that it doesn’t really matter what that user interface looks
like. Design isn’t really about the bells and whistles. It’s about serving people’s
needs and if the bells and whistles serve people’s needs, then great, and if they don’t,
they don’t belong there. The most fundamentally important thing in web design is not how the site looks, it’s is the content accessible to everyone? And it’s
really that thinking that allowed us to move into mobile the way we have now and is allowing mobile to become the new mass media. Now we don’t even know the physical context in which users
are accessing our websites. They may be at home, they may be at work, they may be sitting on
the toilet, and we have to take into account where
are they are and what information they may need at that point. In recent years, with the rise of something called responsive web design, people are designing one website and
allowing that content to reflow and adapt to different screen sizes and different
resolutions and that experience is more tailored to the device that you are on. The rise of apps has changed things
considerably, too, but I feel as though that’s even more young, obviously, than web design and it still remains to be seen what the
real impact of that is. But I feel as though the average web user has matured a lot. Once people have that language, once
they understand it, you can keep building upon it and make new things out of that. Now, truly, anyone with a phone, from
a protest in Egypt or anywhere, can say something to the whole world. So that’s
pretty magical and i think that’s the most important
change that has happened. Involving your users in the process of designing your website at
every stage is so crucial. Now anyone on facebook can be a mommy blogger, so all the things that we use to need
background skills to accomplish are now accessible to everyone and I think this is great. The bar is so low that I feel like everybody can very easily make a website and that’s very empowering.

80 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *