The term "web design" is commonly used to talk about web production as a whole. However, when talking about how websites are created, web design is a unique and essential part of a larger process.
Web design isn't simply graphic design for the internet. Graphic designers may know very little about how people use the internet and why that is so central to web design. And graphic designers may not have experience with motion or interactivity.
Effective website design relies upon many related skills. And while I am not principally a designer by trade, my ability to provide comprehensive web production services depends greatly on my knowledge of and experience with these skills.
Web designers utilize any or all of the following skills:
- Color theory
- UI design
- Interactive behaviors
- Wire framing
- Instructional design
- Conversion optimization
Web Design Conventions
While frustrating to most web designers, websites must be designed to fit many expectations of their visitors. 20 years old conventions about where to put navigation can't be ignored just because it looks cool. The result is simply lower engagement. Web design in somewhat resistant to change in this way.
The web has developed a certain visual language over the years. We assume a site's logo will be at the top left or center. We look for navigation at the top and expect it to look and act a certain way. We expect buttons and links to stand out so they are easy to find and click. And when these conventions are not respected we are often confused about what is being presented or how to interact with it.
So, while designers might want to innovate, the challenge really is to create a unique design and user experience within the bounds of current web conventions.
On the purely aesthetic side, website design is used to create a sense of character that should match or possibly establish the look and feel of your brand. Layout, typography, images, and color are used to create an appearance for a site that is hopefully unique to your character or business.
With only some restrictions around web design conventions, this is the part of design that is the most creative and potentially engaging. Different elements have different emotional impact. Design elements tell a story that conveys things like mood, familiarity, and sophistication.
In recent years many people are choosing to utilize free or commercial themes for their website that simply do not convey any unique brand identity. This may be a good solution for some. But generally speaking, any serious business needs a website that fits their brand.
User Interface design is the practice of ensuring that visitors to a website understand clearly how to navigate and how to engage with interactive elements. Like web design it involves a balancing act between what we know works and what looks good or unique.
With a great deal of study on the topic we can know with some confidence what visitors to a website will find either clear or confusing. And with this information, designers have a set of tools they use to ensure that visitors to a website don't get lost or confused about what to do next.
UI design also has a lot to do with SEO and lead conversion, as interactive elements are central to the ease with which visitors find content of interest, view related content, and reach out to learn more.
While UI design deals largely with interactive elements, usability is more generally focused on whether visitors to a website can find and understand the content they are or might be interested in viewing.
With good UI design a visitor might find a page they were looking for. But with bad usability they may not be able to easily view the content or might get easily distracted away from it. For example, a video might be hard to play. Titles or headings might be difficult to understand lowering engagement. How to view related information may be confusing.
If a site isn't usable, people just won't use it. Knowing what works and what doesn't is critical to ensuring that visitors to a website engage and convert.
The field of typography is centuries old and much of the knowledge developed over that time applies to text on websites. The font choice, size, spacing, and color can a significant impact on how people view the content of a website, how much they read, and how they feel about it.
The first priority with web text is always legibility. Many fonts are attractive but not easy to read at length. But given decent legibility fonts also play a big role it setting the look and feel of a website. This can be a subtle choice. People with no experience might feel that fonts look very similar and might not understand the impact of choosing one over another.