People often ask me what it is that I do for a living. My natural response, “I draw pictures!”, is a phrase I coined from Dawie, a good friend and business partner. I mostly say this because the term “Web Designer” has too many inaccurate, and often, misunderstood connotations. It’s also a whole lot easier.
For this reason I’ve decided to put together an article discussing how drawing on internet paper has branched into various specialities. In the relatively short time that I have been part of this exciting industry, I’ve witnessed a kind of transformation that I believe has been critical to its efficiency. We now have terms like Front-end Graphic Design, Information Architecture and Interaction Design. Its hard to imagine how studios of yesteryear delivered effective solutions without it – the simple truth is they didn’t.
Back in the day, it was common for conventional Illustrators and print designers to also design for the web. Although graphic design in terms of colour, textures etc. was, and is, still necessary today. They did, however, face many new problems which couldn’t be solved with the experience and knowledge they’d gained in the static world of print design. If Graphic Designers wanted to solve these problems, they would have to change their thinking towards this new internet paper entirely.
One of the problems never encountered before was the gigantic scale of information that large corporates wanted available on their sites. The challenge was to develop a focus on not only allowing dynamic content to be laid out in a sensible, consistent hierarchy, but also that the naming of links were so intuitive that a visitor could easily find the specific content they desired. This is similar to the way in which a librarian would organise books by arranging, and then indexing them according to genre so that visitors can spend no more than five minutes pin-pointing the exact book they’re looking for. This focus became known as Information Architecture (IA). The term, appropriated later by web design specialists, was actually coined in the seventies by an architect named Richard Saul Wurman. Over the past few years, various Digital Agencies have accepted this as a necessary discipline. I would have to say that even now, with the diverse variety in types of users and the ever-increasing size of websites – every professional practicing IA in web Design could consider him or herself a pioneer in this relatively young field.
Having websites wonderfully organised and pleasant on the eye is not where the journey ends. With websites like Google Docs it’s clear to see that Cloud-computing will eventually mean that all the applications usually running on your PC or Mac would soon be running exclusively online. Its certainly one of the most exciting prospects for the future of the web. But it does make me wonder whether designers will be properly equipped to deal with the coming challenges – or more specifically – website discipline. This is to say that dynamic content must behave consistently and intuitively throughout the site. If you’ve ever ended up shouting at your screen while banging your keyboard, you’ve probably experienced a misbehaving website. These challenges are met by making use of techniques found in software development known as Interaction Design (IxD). Common techniques available to Interaction Designers are Flow Diagrams and Wireframing. Wireframes are much like the architectural plans for a house.They contain step-by-step walkthroughs accompanied by notes on how the system functions. Flow diagrams are layouts the steps one would take to complete a particular process. To give you an example: If you wanted to buy a product from a website, the process you would subsequently follow to make your purchase would be designed using flow diagrams.
What is clear to see is that designing for the web is no longer exclusively “drawing pictures”. In our mission to develop beautiful, well-organised and clever websites – we are compelled to be masterful in the art of internet paper.