netmagFeature

Big question: how does web design need to improve?

Web design is a young, vibrant and ever-expanding profession. But that doesn't mean everything in the industry is perfect. We asked our panel of experts to identify their personal bugbears...

Giles Colborne
cxpartners.co.uk

Web design is too complex. Designers need to help users focus. When we invite people in to test websites at my company, we're starting to find them turning to us and saying that at home they wouldn't use a computer, they'd stick to a smartphone because mobile apps are simpler. As designers we'd better start listening.

We can achieve that simplicity by recognising context, by cutting unnecessary clutter and by better understanding users' tasks. Designing for simplicity isn't easy - but that's why users value it.

It's 10 years since Don't Make Me Think came out. We've spent too much of that time packing pages with junk and calling it SEO. We still haven't applied the most basic lesson of cutting text and keeping the focus on what's important.

Giles is co-founder of cxpartners
 

Patrick McNeil
www.designmeltdown.com

I think the biggest improvements come in from designers’ better understanding of CMSs. Websites will improve in quality as they better understand how they work, the opportunities they present and the limitations they impose. Those that have already done this produce what are often the most exciting and talked about sites on the web. And it always appears that at the core of this is a full embracing of the CMS. Designers have to stop thinking that CMSs are the domain of the developers and embrace them as critical parts of the design process.

Patrick is the author of The Web Designer's Idea Book
 

Paul Falgout
otterball.com

Currently the buzz word is ‘standards’ and, while the intent is to make sure everything works for everyone, it doesn't account for the fact that the way we interface with the web is changing.

Web design needs to purposefully account for different devices. It isn't enough that we follow standards if pinch-to-zoom is the first step a user must take to use a website.

Paul is a designer and coder at Otterball
 

Andy Hume
clearleft.com

Web design and development is a young and immature industry. It is bound by facile and superficial questions, such as should a web specification have a logo, and is HTML5 'ready' yet. These are questions that bewilder an amateur, a hobbyist; yet professionals with years of experience get sucked into these black-holes of triviality everyday. It's time for us to evolve and move forward in understanding the creative opportunities this incredible technology gives us to channel our endeavours into making the web everything that it can and should be. Web design must grow-up.

Andy is a developer at Clearleft
 

Jonathan Smiley
zurb.com

I feel that there is insufficient focus on solving problems in modern web design. The code, style and refinement online is better than ever and I see so many sites or apps that look great and work great they but don't guide me like they should and don't demonstrate their value. We need to get better at showing the 'why' of our sites and apps, not the 'how'.

Jonathan is a design lead at ZURB
 

Nathan Smith
sonspring.com

There's been quite a bit of talk about ‘responsive web design’ lately, and a lot of back-and-forth over what exactly that entails, along with the buzz-word ‘one web’. There has also been speculation over whether or not a framework would be able to handle an adaptive layout approach, and/or whether anyone can reasonably expect that a framework should handle something like that for them.

I would describe it this way: Fixed-width design isn't going away because it's easy. It's like playing the game Connect Four versus playing Twister. One is simple and straightforward, the other multivariate, so much so that you can't really formulate a one-size-fits-all strategy. Which isn't to say people shouldn't endeavour to do responsive sites, just that they can't expect the heavy lifting to be done for them. That is, until we arrive at a decent framework approach – I haven't seen it yet.

Nathan created the 960 Grid System
 

Andy Budd
clearleft.com

The quality of work has jumped dramatically over the last few years, but I still don't think we're reaching our potential yet. While some designers have got to a point where the quality of their designs is constantly high, this doesn't happen across the board. In fact I'd go as far as saying the bulk of work we produce as an industry is still pretty poor.

As practitioners we need to do more to improve the quality of our craft and raise the profile of our industry. This means constantly striving to produce the best work possible and turning down projects that require us to compromise on quality. This means increasing the standard of design education in schools as well as focusing on our own continual development. We need to realise that complex problems require multi-disciplinary teams and move away from the notion of the savant designer. Sure these people exist, but finding somebody who can plan, design code and execute to the highest level is as rare as hens teeth. Instead we need to understand that our industry is both deep and broad, and treat it with the level of skill and respect it deserves. Web design is the new architecture, so we need to start treating it as such.

Andy is managing director of Clearleft
 

Fadi Shuman
pod1.com

Web design has come a long way since the early days of the internet but something has always held back our ability to create a truly customer-focused user experience… and that's technology!

We CAN do a lot with HTML5 etc but when you're working in the Ecommerce arena like Pod1 is, we tend to find that even with all our best intentions, at the end of the day, a technology platform can only do so much and therefore what starts off as a great UX-focused website turns out to be just a good website.

It's a continuing battle we fight both in the UK and in the US. Don't get me wrong – platforms are getting better but we're still a way off being able to design (and build) our dream ecommerce site.

Fadi is co-founder of Pod1
 

Dan Rubin
webgraph.com

In this industry, those of us who work with clients (agencies, freelancers—however we choose to identify ourselves) have lost our backbone, and we desperately need to find it again. Clients trust us to do the right thing, to make the best choices on their behalf, yet too frequently I hear people say, “Well, that's what the client wanted” or “Hey, it's their money: we just do what they tell us” with regards to a poorly executed design.

It's our responsibility to guide our clients away from ill-advised, incorrect, or just plain bad decisions. We're virtual product designers, and as such we cannot afford to fall victim to the same misguided please-the-client-at-all-costs disease that has plagued advertising and other creative industries for decades. We must teach ourselves how to stand up for what we know is in the best interests of the people who use what we create—we have no one to blame but ourselves for the problems people encounter otherwise.

Dan is founder of Webgraph
 

Rob Walker
xcitedigital.com

Web design needs to focus on cross-browser compatibility, ensuring that branding concepts and design elements work seamlessly across the board. We need to create a design concept that sings the company/client brand values to the rooftops and also delivers the same effectiveness whether in HTML5 or HTML4.

The same level of creativity should be thought about when utilising Query and front-end functionality so that key messages are delivered powerfully without loss of impact.

Rob is managing director at Xcite Digital
 

Joe Leech
cxpartners.co.uk

You know that the field of web design has matured when you start to see web design ideas and trends in the print world. I think with this maturing we may be missing a trick. Overly-polished, over designed websites are everywhere. Textured backgrounds, poster-style fonts, drop shadows… there's too much going on.

We need to take a step back. Looking at two extremely successful sites, LingsCars.com and MoneySavingExpert.com. Both perform well online and are very successful – far more successful than their 'better designed' competitors.

I've seen users interacting with both sites. Users like the style. We as professionals might see them as naive, garish and cheap but these are the very elements of the design users appreciate. Over-designed equals expensive. Less design equals better value. We need to take a step back from our designs and think, ‘Have we gone too far? Does the design convey the right message?’, especially as we are working in a world where 'value' is important right now.

Joe is user experience director at cxpartners
 

Aaron Gustafson
easy-designs.net

I think that, as an industry, we still need to work towards establishing best practices and getting the word out about them. For all of the knowledge we have about disseminating information, we're still not doing a great job of getting everyone on the same page (or at least getting folks to argue about what that page is). We've created so many (some might argue too many) resources for web designers and the barrier to creating more is so low that it has become a signal vs. noise issue. There are so many approaches and so many recommendations that it's hard to know what is actually a best practice. There are a few heavily tech-reviewed ‘authorities’ such as A List Apart, but there are thousands of forums, blogs, and Q&A sites out there with hundreds of ‘how do I do this?’ questions being asked every day.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great to have vibrant discussion and dissenting opinions, but I think we ultimately need to reach a consensus on the bigger picture stuff as we've seen in other industries (construction, television production, journalism etc). Standards – especially those beyond the technical specifications offered by the W3C and others – are incredibly important for the maturity of our industry.

Aaron is principal at Easy! Designs
 

Andy Hood
akqa.com

The digital industry has been through something of a transitional 12 months. Rapid adoption of both technology and platforms has seen the explosion of Android, iPad and HTML5. Websites now need to function beautifully in several different forms. Designers need to know the features of these new platforms, and of the technology being used so they can realise their creative vision.

There are many missed opportunities in the designs I see. By taking advantage of the technology, their creators could have significantly enhanced the usability of their creation. For our new fragmented world to be filled with beautiful, usable interfaces across a multitude of platforms, designers need to ensure they partner effectively with developers in order to produce the very best in both design and technology.

Andy is AKQA's executive creative development director
 

Trent Walton
paravelinc.com

Design habits centred around the desktop environment aren’t going to cut it anymore. Considerations must be made for various screen sizes, the mobile web, and multi-touch devices. I think we’ve got all the tools we need before us, and now’s the time to think critically about what serves our clients best.

Trent is founder of Paravel
 

Elliot Jay Stocks
elliotjaystocks.com

We web designers need to moderate our use of all the latest CSS and JavaScript gimmicks or develop a better understanding of when to use certain tricks and the reasoning behind them. I see so many designers throwing in box shadows and text shadows and animations and transforms just because they can, often without any real thought as to why those effects are being employed. There's nothing wrong with any of them — and I'm very much in favour of using the latest tools available to us to make the web a more beautiful place — but we must remember that there are appropriate and inappropriate uses for everything.

Elliot is a designer and illustrator
 

Chris Mills
dev.opera.com

There’s a really simple answer to this question: EDUCATION!

Education courses that profess to teach web design are largely so inconsistent and out of date that graduates coming into the industry often do not have the skills they need to get a real world web job.

Chris educated on open standards for Opera
 

Rob Mills
bluegg.co.uk

I'd like to see more evidence of storytelling in design. It seems like an ideal partnership but one that isn't always clear how to execute. Stories can be told through icons, wayfinding systems, colours, brands and of course the copy. Bringing these elements together to tell a coherent and effective story is the aim but with storytelling very much part of the process from day one and not an afterthought.

Rob is studio manager for creative agency Bluegg
 

Margaret Manning
readingroom.com

To stop being calling 'web design'.
 
The term 'web design' limits its vision. To many, 'design' simply means the visual look and feel. They thinks its like Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen coming in to decorate a house! In digital this is only a tiny part of what some people call 'web design'. It incorporates a wide array of areas including strategy, creative, IA, usability and content strategies. And we're no longer just talking about the web – an increasingly large proportion is app based. So isn’t it time to call it something more apt and begin to change people's perceptions?

Margaret Manning is CEO of Reading Room
 

Jason B Jones
otterball.com

I still believe a significant amount of mainstream web design tends to focus more on niche and function, rather than giving due attention to design fundamentals. It's not a fluke that many emerging projects from high-end firms are returning to the study of core philosophies like line, form and composition. I believe these projects are stunning and rare due to the common disregard of traditional principles in modern interactive environments. It is no longer good enough to merely produce a slick, glossy template with some lighting effects. Good web designers are thinking more and more like print designers, realising that, just like any good piece of fine art, the true interactive experience is one of visual balance.

Jason Jones is creative lead at Centresource
 

Chris Coyier
chriscoyier.net

Web design as a whole could benefit the most from more focus by designers on user experience. Most websites, especially informational ones, focus more on what they want to show rather than what the user wants to see when they get there.

Chris is a web designer working at Wufoo

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