As a web designer/developer, I’ve found that there exist several common (if not nearly universal) truths when it comes to clients. One of these is that they love to talk about functionality. I have had several clients whose initial approach when they contact me is to provide me with a complete list of functionality – in other words, a listing of what they think that their website needs to do.
What I tend not to get quite so often is a description of what the purpose of the site is.
To my way of thinking, that is a problem. Recently, I wrote an article entitled “HTML (and CSS) do not a Website Make,” in which I discussed some of the things that I thought constituted a website. Obviously, part of the argument that I make is that a website is more than just its HTML and CSS, and one of the areas that I touch on is the notion of purpose. I think that some of what I wrote there has an important bearing on what I want to discuss in this article, so instead of rewriting it, I will simply quote my original words:
Every website should have a purpose. It may be to inform potential customers about your business (probably one of the most common types of websites). It may be to function as an informational resource. It may be to connect people with other people. It may be to showcase yourself, or even simply to entertain. Whatever the purpose is, it is ultimately the core of the site, the nucleus around which everything else that we have looked at so far is ultimately wrapped.
The purpose of a website is, in a very real sense, also its heart. It is the very reason for its existence. Every other element should be built, created and designed to support that purpose in some way. This of course, includes the basic (or advanced) functionality. In fact, I would even go far as to suggest that this relationship of support between functionality and purpose is actually more important than the actual design–which is not to say that the design is not important (because it most certainly is).
Today, designers are faced with the incredible benefit of having an absolutely massive library of digital stock art that can be downloaded (either freely or for a fee) and incorporated into a design in a matter of minutes. Stock photography sites like iStock or Shutterstock provide photographs, videos and illustrations, while some really amazing companies out there are providing stunning stock vectors, like GoMedia’s renowned Arsenal or the various packs available from Designious.
Add sites like GraphicRiver, MediaLoot and hundreds and hundreds of others, and we have a virtually limitless supply of vectors, icons, brushes and other graphical resources right at our fingertips. This is, ultimately, an amazing privilege and an undoubtedly valuable resource.
But it’s not a substitute for good design.
In order to help promote themselves, many sites that are selling stock art of some description will partner with blog owners to sponsor giveaways, in which one or more lucky entrants will actually win licenses to download and use specific graphic files. This is an awesome way to get added exposure. I’ve run a few such giveaway over on the Echo Enduring Blog, and there have been some here on DesignM.ag in the past too.
The other day, however, I was pursuing some of the comments on one such giveaway, and I couldn’t help but notice (as I had on other such contests) that many of the entrants were suggesting that they would love to win this particular vector pack because they thought it would help them become a better designer. They may not have said so in those exact words, but that’s pretty much the sentiment that lurked beneath the surface of many of the comments.
Twitter is most definitely one of the best forms of online marketing, and we all know it. It offers a way to mingle with your fans in short and sweet messages, as well as promote your sites content, your companies promotional deals or something completely different! For this reason, it is generally a good idea to have an account. But is Twitter for designers really a helpful resource that we need, or is it just another way to get distracted and find excuses to not do work?
The other day I was reading through an article by my good buddy Radu Chelariau, entitled “Analyzing In-Browser Design” over on his SickDesigner blog. The article is a great analysis of the many benefits of actually designing websites in the browser itself. If you haven’t already read it be sure to check it out!
One of the things that I found interesting, however, was the way he continuously used the word “tradition”. For example, when discussing the interesting relationship between working with code and creating beautiful, visual designs, Radu writes:
What In-Browser Design does, in my experience, is break that dichotomy because it reverses the traditional order of things. By tradition, we first create a design mockup, the client gives the ok and then we start coding.
There’s a lot of truth to that statement, or at the very least a lot of interesting possibilities, but the one word that really struck me, and which I have been meditating on ever since I read the article, is this notion of tradition. Basically, what this passage is implying is that the use of Photoshop (or some other, similar, application) is the traditional way of designing websites. By implication, of course, that also means that the process of in-browser design is somehow counter-traditional.