Design - More Than Meets the Eye

Design - More Than Meets the Eye


Design - More Than Meets the Eye

01.11.2011


The untimely death of the man behind the Apple revolution, Steve Jobs, shook the IT world, and in the aftermath, everyone is beginning to wonder the fate of his company.  Apple has lost a true visionary, a creative genius, but his legacy is strong, and his impact upon the design industry will never be lost.

What was it that made Steve Job’s company such an innovation, and ensured him such lifelong success? In his own words: “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer, that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

This is the pinnacle of what good design is, and what it means. A pleasing website design is relatively easy to sketch onto paper, or to plan out in Photoshop, but in order for a design to achieve full functionality, there are more than just looks to consider.

A good design must be constructed well from its foundations, with functionality as the key focus from the very beginning. It is not about stripping the functionality of a website for the sake of a specific design, but rather that the design should be able to adapt to whatever is necessary. Sometimes, compromises in design must be taken to ensure this, but this will allow for a much better final result. A beautifully designed, dynamic web page with full flash capabilities may look amazing, but if one cannot click onto the next page, or the site crashes in a different website browser, than a user will simply leave the website and crawl for the next one.

A website designer should always have an idea about website development. A background knowledge of what works and what does not ensures that the designer can prevent problems before they arise, and can interpret what can be done in his preliminary designs. There must always be a balance between what looks good, and what really works.Let us look at some common design faults that can always prevented if design and development are properly researched at the beginning of a project:

• That amazing home page design is too wide from most normal monitors and web browsers, leaving the beautiful website lumbered with an ugly horizontal scrollbar.

• Site navigation buttons jump around from page to page. Some pages do not even have these navigation buttons, or they are broken, or link the wrong pages. Others just leave you frozen on the same web page.

• Justified text with odd spacing in between the words. Not only this,  but huge chunks of text are crammed into an already heaving home page. This text, with no discernable beginning or end, is almost impossible to read.

• Colour. Too much contrast and too many colours make a website look unprofessional and scruffy. It is always best to stick to a clean colour palette of a few complimentary colours, or a set colour scheme that is consistent throughout the websites pages. A website is not a child’s painting, to show off every colour in the box.

• Jagged pixel edges, wobbly lines, bad contrast. In CSS, everything is pixel perfect, so there is no need to worry, but Photoshop is not so.

There are many more problems that can occur within design, some obvious, some not. It is vital to put yourself into the shoes of a web user. What would you like to experience? Can you access everything that you need to? Does the website fill your user goals, both from a design perspective, and a content perspective? Does the website’s design ensure that it is able to be picked up by Search Engines?

When viewing a website, is each page the same size and layout? Are your colours consistent? Are fonts clear to read, and text sizes are consistent throughout?  Is your test large enough to read, and is its colour clear against the background? Do all page elements sit neatly within the page borders? Are all images clear and crisp? A good layout provides a good blueprint for a website. A tidy design allows content to be strategically planned and spaced from the beginning, providing the vital usability factor.

Perhaps one of the most important factors to consider in design is consistency. Consistency ensures that the website designer has truly thought about how each web page will function, and how the design can be integrated within them all. The designer must spend time testing that his chosen design functions as it should, before development even begins. A problem that occurs when a website is finished is difficult to fix and often time consuming. Frequently, a site element may have to be re-created from scratch, delaying the launch of a website, and losing a company or client money.

As with any good design, whether it is for a car, a house or apartment, a website, a mobile phone...planning and knowledge is always the first step. Design is more than what meets the eye. Would Steve Job’s Macs have been so successful if we could not find out from where to switch them on?

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