My recent post, 50 Common Web Design Mistakes elicited this comment from Wild over at Digg:
These are programming mistakes. Not DESIGN mistakes.
Maybe I sound a bit arrogant, but their [sic]is a difference between a web designer and a web programmer. Its [sic] one the industry needs to understand as it leads to a lot of confusion when it comes to hiring people.
I suppose, if my definition of web design was limited to arranging pixels, I might agree with him but there is more to web design than making pretty pictures on a monitor. According to (who else) Wikipedia, design
…normally requires a designer [to consider] aesthetic, functional, and many other aspects of an object or process…
It’s the “functional, and many other aspects” of web design that people like Wild ignore. In this area I grudgingly give credit to the “experience design” movement for recognizing that the ultimate purpose of design is not to create a printed piece of paper, an attractive arrangement of pixels or an imposing building. The purpose of design is to create an interaction with, or experience for, the end-user using those created objects (real and virtual).
So, in my world, misused HTML tags, typos, broken links, etc. are just as much design errors as choosing the wrong shade of magenta. They are design errors because they negatively affect the end user’s experience.
Wild’s error is to equate design with the creation of work that looks great in static portfolios and awards magazines while ignoring the fact that websites (and even printed pieces) actually need to FUNCTION in a dynamic environment. In reality, the true web design process includes not only the visual look of the pages but also elements such as page titles, valid coding and even “off-page” factors that affect the user experience.
Worse yet, Wild appears to believe that coding skills are valued by employers seeking web designers because of “confusion when it comes to hiring people.” Perhaps, once this confusion is cleared up, Wild and like-minded designers will take their rightful place at the forefront of web development but, in the mean time, I’d recommend learning HTML and CSS along with the history of typography.
The truth is most web designers are not coming from traditional design backgrounds. Instead they are Design Refugees who have migrated to design from other professions including (dare I say it) programming. Even those coming to web design from traditional design careers are likely to be self-taught coders.
The reason is obvious. Given a choice between a beautiful but broken website and an attractive and functional one, most companies choose functional (at least the second time around). Why pay a web “designer” who can’t tell his <head> tag from a hole in the ground to create a design that the “programmers” might not be able to implement and will likely change anyway?
This is not to denigrate traditional graphic design. Design school basics like typography and color theory SHOULD be part of web design. But the fact is that print designers and design schools have been slow to recognize the importance of the web. They view it as a poor stepchild to “real” design rather than its future.
This is unfortunate because the next generation of web designers is being trained now and most design programs are woefully unprepared for the task. They are churning out graduates who can design attractive web pages but can’t design functional web sites. On the other hand, the Design Refugees who understand the workings of HTML, CSS and other web technologies but might not know the difference between Bodoni and Bologna are creating functional (and often very attractive) web sites and getting the design jobs.
Wild can blame it on “confusion” but, in my book, he’s the one who is confused.