10 Things to Know Before Designing for the Web

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The world of web design is one of the most beautiful and rewarding spaces you could possibly enter into. With so many options and such a great community, your path as a web designer is uncharted and wide open. With that being said, it is entirely possible to get wrapped up in the “job” of web design or the millions of opinions surrounding our space.

To make things simple for those of you just heading out on your life’s path as a designer, I’ve created a small list of the things I wish I understood from the “get-go”. Here’s the 10 things to know before designing for the web. There are more of course, but this list should be a good starting point for you.

1. It’s a Journey.

You’re never going to know everything about web design, and that’s the beauty of what we do. Every good web designer is on a journey to find out what works best for them and the people they design for. Don’t worry if it seems overwhelming when you look at all of your options for design, just take the first step.

2. No One has the Perfect Answer.

Here at Treehouse, we’ve interviewed hundreds of the web’s best designers and they all have one thing in common: They’re figuring things out one day at a time. You’re likely to hear people suggest what frameworks, CSS styles or CMS to use, but the only true answer is to find the ones that work for you. No one has the perfect formula, process, or strategy. There is no perfect answer, just the one that’s perfect for you.

3. Context Matters.

Too many designers start arranging pixels before they have an understanding of who and what they are designing for. Take the time to understand the client or audience for what you need to design so that you can create the right solution. Design is about fixing problems and delighting people. To do this, you’ll need to have context first.

4. Less is More.

One of the tempting things for clients and designers alike, is to fill their pages with as much information as they can. The internet is a very fast-paced place and visitors need to find what they came for in three to eight seconds. When trying to create an effective design, less is always more.

5. Making Something Simple is Hard.

Making something simple doesn’t always mean you have less content. Subtracting the unnecessary is only one way to create a simple design. The truth is, that making something simple is really hard work. You have to define a hierarchy of what is important when and where, and find ways to hide, embody or subtract elements until they are necessary. This is one of the most important disciplines to learn as a designer.

6. Typography Matters.

Oliver Reichenstein, a very profound and important figure in web design, wrote an article in 2006 that stated the web is 95% typography. It was a revolutionary article at the time because a few years ago the web had few options for typography and it was an image-dominated world. Now that Responsive Design is here, there’s a new emphasis on creating great looking content through the use of good typography. Understand what your audience’s purpose is, like reading, learning, or getting technical advice, and learn to use the proper typography. It will change your life as a web designer.

7. Know your Color Palette.

Color theory can be really difficult to master as a beginning designer. One of the best ways to hack design is to find and determine your color palette ahead of time. Many times a color palette can be determined by a brand’s logo, an image, or by finding a color swatch from Küler or Color Lovers. No matter where you find the inspiration for your palette, having a nice set of colors from the beginning leads to a consistent and effective design. (A good tool for experimenting with color is Eyedrop.me).

8. Content is King.

A big buzz-phrase on the web is “content is king”. Now that web design has undergone a major shift to mobile, that phrase is also, “design with content first” or a content-out, mobile-first approach. This has always been the case for the web no matter what period we could discuss. The truth about the web is that its very foundation is information. How you design information for desktop or mobile matters greatly when attempting to create the best design possible. Content will always be king, because it’s the foundation of the web.

9. You're the Designer.

This is one of the hardest concepts to grasp when breaking out into the world of web design. We’ve heard the adage that “the customer is always right”, but you’ll need to remember that they hired you to be the expert. Clients will always have opinions and they will most likely get feedback on your designs from family and friends, but it’s important that you remember that you’re the designer. You’ll most likely have to educate your clients into hearing your point of view, but if you allow them to create what they think will work, you’re doing them a disservice. Listen to all of their critiques, but only use the ones that get them the best design. After all, it’s what they hired you for. You might have to remind them of that on occasion.

10. Keep Learning.

As I stated before, it’s impossible to learn everything and that is the beauty of what we do. The biggest mistake I’ve seen over the last two years is that designers get a job or work for clients without staying up-to-date on the latest web techniques. This isn’t to say you have to learn all of the fads, it just means that we all have to learn how to apply the latest standards of web design throughout all of the great changes implemented in the different browsers. Make sure you’re always learning more. In the long run, it makes your work more exciting and engaging anyway.

I hope these ten tips will help you on your journey to become the best designer you can be. I honestly wish someone had told me these when I started. Happy Designing!

Comments

26 comments on “10 Things to Know Before Designing for the Web

  1. Agreed with Omar, as always, very good reminder to not only the new designers, but the current one’s as well.

    If I may build on a a few of your points (if you don’t mind ;))…

    2. No One has the Perfect Answer.

    I agree with this point more than any, simply for the fact that designers and developers are flooding the community/market with frameworks, boilerplates, bootstraps, etc. Trust me when I say I am all about innovation. But, this is making the web very difficult for new designers and developers. These tools are killing the basics. This is one thing I absolutely love about Treehouse, you actually focus on the basics, and that’s what people need to know first.

    5. Making Something Simple is Hard.

    This statement couldn’t be more close to the truth. Simplicity is by far the most difficult technique and style to overcome. It takes practice, and a lot of white-space, in most instances ;).

    Once again, thank you Josh for this awesome article.

  2. Great article Josh!

    I think the two that resonate with me the most are 2 & 3. Too many times developers (I’m totally guilty of it) get stuck in the mindset that wanting to be known for knowing all the answers gives us value…where most of the fun of development is just in finding some new answer we hadn’t even considered yet!

    Thanks again for these reminders!

  3. Love this article, it’s a great reminder. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the technicalities and inadvertently lose focus of the bigger picture and I’m definitely guilty.

    I enjoy the simplicity and clarity of your writing.

  4. Good points Josh. But it is also important for web designers to have a clear understanding about the client’s wants and needs. I agree with you that as the designer, we must know how to communicate our point of view to our client, but we must also take into consideration their side, their brand and identity

  5. Great article Josh! The fourth point is my favorite, there are way to many websites that doesn’t stick to this simple rule. For me this is the most important point.
    Greetings from Germany!

  6. Great article. It’s nice to know about new things with helping concept. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thanks for sharing your insights Josh, some very good points and reminders.

    There is definitely room for discussion between point 6 & 8, mark up is what gives the content life, with no contrast/
    Hierarchy of content then its kingdom is crushed : )