The Articulate Web Designer of Tomorrow

22 Comments

Comments are ordered by helpfulness, as indicated by you. Help us pick out the gems and discourage asshattery by voting on notable comments.

Got something to add? You can leave a comment below.

  1. Chris Armstrong

    Great article, I like how you’re putting the focus on more perennial matters, rather than transient technical details.

    Also, thanks for the reminder that I need to read Understanding Comics!

  2. Luke Jones

    Great article, whilst reading it all I was thinking was “I really need to get started on the book I bought at the design museum a few weeks back”, got to the bottom and realised it’s one of your suggestions – Universal Principles of Design. I’ve only read about 5 pages of it and I’m already loving it.

    Going to stick all of the others in my “to read” folder and get through it.

    Thanks for the suggestions and a great article :-).

  3. Leevi Graham

    Excellent article.

    When I first started practising web design I thought that my Graphic Design degree wasn’t much use. At the time the technology was leading my development and not my training.

    5 years on and I’m glad I have a traditional design degree behind me. It’s allowed me to use some of the traditional design language in your article to communicate ideas with not only the guys @Newism but also sell design concepts to clients. I’ve found that if you can rationalise your design then you will be more confident presenting it to peers and clients.

    Our industry is clearly maturing. Nice work 24ways for contributing such valuable dialog.

  4. Alan Moore

    I find that years of thinking one way due to environmental constraints make it difficult to shed what is in fact ‘wrong’ behaviour.

    10 years ago, graphic designers used to hand me web site designs with Next Page and Last Page links in the navigation, just like a Powerpoint presentation (which was how many of them saw web sites).

    5 years ago, many of them believed that the rise of CSS mainstream support meant they could finally have pixel-perfect renderings of their designs on screen and web design would finally be just the same as print design.

    Now I find it’s me trying to break free of the idea that web sites are made of pages. We finally have the freedom to think of these sites as systems, not pages of hypertext, and my brain is trying to resist that idea.

    Thank you for the reminder. I am sure when my copy of the 24ways book arrives, this essay will be one I return to frequently.

  5. Joey Reed

    Wearing many hats can be tough, even for those of us who love to learn new things. As a web designer/developer/writer/blah/blah, I want to spend the time to learn it all, but usually certain areas get neglected while I focus on new areas of curiosity and challenge. I’ve been thinking about that neglect more recently as 2010 wraps up, and I’ve realized that design is one area that I need to give more focus.

    Therefore, I agree with Sebastian. This was an inspirational article, Simon. Thanks for sharing your ideas as well as your recommendations for further reading.

    By the way, while adding your books to my Amazon wishlist I discovered a newer edition of one of Universal Principles of Design:
    http://www.amazon.com/Universal-Principles-Design-Revised-Updated/dp/1592535879

  6. Alexandre Plennevaux

    I liked your quote about systems.

    I tell my students our job is actually closer to the architect’s than to, say, printed-graphic designers. Our focus is not about decoration nor illustration; it is about building experiences around data access, by designing systems, just like architects and urban planners do when they create a house, a park: they think about purpose and meaning and transcribe them into volumes, circulation, space, atmosphere and flows (air, water, electricity, pedestrians).
    Our job is very similar to that: a website is an environment. As you say: a system.

  7. Simon Collison

    Leevi: I thought it might resonate with you. I think your design knowhow is apparent in the decisions you make in your interfaces.

    Alan: I agree. Sounds like we have similar experiences. We find ourselves constantly shifting our philosophies as we learn more. Your comment put the whole “do websites have to look the same in every browser” question in my mind. We learned that the answer is of course “no”.

    Alexandre: I really like your correlation with architecture; beautifully explained. I like the idea of the website as “environment” a lot. Also, I agree that decoration and illustration is not our primary focus, but I do feel such “delight’ can improve the user experience, or assist in telling a story perhaps, especially if produced thoughtfully and in line with much of what I’ve outlined today.

  8. Valon Sopi

    I think it is a natural evolution for a web-designer to start thinking of a web-site as a system and not just a set of pages — because we’re always assessing and building these systems around the user and helping them better navigate these faux environments.

    My biggest challenge at the moment is getting approvals from the client in basis that the website is created for their clients and not for them (the client) specifically.

    I try to use the analogy of building a house for oneself, where one can organize rooms and place sofas at will – without the regard for the occasional visitors. However, a web-site is created specifically for these visitors who we help navigate throughout these systematic environments with a specific goal in mind.

    My quest is to explore more of this as a mosey along.

    Thanks Simon for pushing forward with these insights.

    Cheers to that.

  9. Kristine Jubeck

    Thanks for your excellent ideas. I too have felt the need for a deeper understanding of communication in our industry (both in how our designs communicate and how we ourselves communicate).

    I’ve found blogging to be a really great way to practice articulating my ideas. Writing my ideas out first forces me to be thorough and coherent, and I am that much more prepared when I speak to people about web design.

  10. Tim Brown

    Awesome, Simon.

    I think talking about this stuff is as important as learning. Helps us learn, even. It’s like practice. I think we need to be more open with one another about critique, and try using terms like these in that context.

    Dribbble, for instance, is a great forum for such critique. We should make a bigger deal of folks who offer, and receive well, constructive and educated critique.

  11. Gareth Joyce

    Really great read.

    I am from a design background but have been spending the last 5 years learning HTML, CSS & javascript I have been very much bogged down in thinking that I am becoming more of a developer and that I need to continue to broaden my knowledge and understanding of programming languages in order to use it as a tool just to get a point across.

    Reading this has reminded me that in order to convey a truly meaningful message in this industry it is important to understand the visual language and that knowledge rather than one of a developer is vital.

    Happy Christmas!

  12. Simon Collison

    Tim: Thanks my friend. Thought I’d add and extend my replies from our Twitter conversation here for others.

    I think we need to push this in every possible way, using every avenue, private and public, in our heads, in our work. Especially as a community, so debate/forums, intelligent conference topics etc. We educate and explore. Also, we continue to create, sketch, try, do, fail, win, then make sure we write/blog about our findings and share.

    Collectively we investigate all of this, but not try to force it. Terms and definitions for what is uniquely ours will evolve naturally or when relevant, like “Responsive Web Design” did once Ethan identified the pattern or specific rules of the interactions.

    I think we need to continue to find clarity, but not look to produce a dictionary of terms or “manual”.

    Dribbble doesn’t feel like the best outlet, but it is a place where we talk about our ideas and output, so yeah, maybe that is one place where we try to spot shared interactions and talk about them eloquently in the threads and look for outcomes.

    Perhaps above all, it is our daily work where we find true outcomes. I think we make our best discoveries in our work, which is purposeful, and whole. By meeting challenges we find answers.

    As Frank Chimero said in our Twitter conversation, interaction design is where the pieces fit together, and therefore where we discover the patterns and systems that really matters to us as web designers.

  13. Simon Collison

    Gareth: I totally agree. I did a talk about this stuff to a mostly developer audience at an ExpressionEngine conference in Summer, and feared it might not go down too well. Thankfully, many totally understood this need to now marry their development prowess with a better understanding of what is really happening in their interfaces. This made me very happy indeed. So, whilst I might be addressing designers in this article, I’m really aiming this at everyone.

  14. Sally Carson

    I’m glad that you listed Christian Leborg’s book under Further Reading. The figures that you used look like recreations of the figures in his book “Visual Grammar.” I wonder if you re-created them, or if you scanned them from another book? Either way, I think it would be fair of you to give more explicit citations next to your diagrams.

  15. Simon Collison

    Sally: Yep, the Christian Leborg book has partly influenced my thinking for a couple of years now, and three of the four examples in this article are my own recreations of his illustrations.

    In terms of being “fair”, I take your point. That said, I’ve listed the book in my Further Reading again here, as I have on other articles I’ve written relating to the subject, and I’ve verbally recommended the book and referenced the source of some diagrams in all relevant presentations, or listed it in closing slides. I hope through all of that I’ve helped shift a few more copies from Amazon.

  16. Sally Carson

    Thanks for your response Simon. For those of us who are already familiar with Leborg’s work, it lends you and this publication more credibility to give more explicit citations. Including him in Further Reading is not the same as citing him under his recreated diagrams. If this were a printed publication, you would be held to more stringent guidelines, so I think it’s a shame if we shrug that off because this is “just” the web.

    Thanks for responding, I think readers will benefit from our back-and-forth.

  17. Simon Collison

    Sally: Agreed. The credibility you refer to is important, as are the appropriate citations. I don’t have access to edit the article myself, so I’ve just asked the 24 Ways team to add the citations when they get a chance.

  18. Sally Carson

    Simon, you are great! I totally appreciate your responsiveness. I want you to know, I don’t troll the internet looking to complain about such things. I’m a fan of your work, your ideas and thinking, so thanks again for being so responsive! Cheers!

  19. Gary Aston

    Simon — thanks for the most thought-provoking read of this year’s 24 ways. All the articles have been good, but yours continues to resonate and inspire.

Impress us

Be friendly / use Textile