Back to design Monday February 25, 2008, 4 comments

Too often web designers are pushed to style something, to make it look “pretty,” without regard for the purpose of the project. They are led to believe that because, for example, the client likes the look of Apple’s website, emulating the aesthetic will make it easier to get a design approved. Situations like this demonstrate a failure to understand the purpose of design. The fact that so many designers capitulate (or worse, agree enthusiastically), makes it clear that this failure is systemic, not simply a problem of clients or management.

Design is not a thing unto itself. It is intention and planning. It only exists in conjunction with the thing that is designed. It cannot be separated from its content, which is why the sites of so many web designers are completely useless as resources for designers. They focus on style and tools of web design, to the exclusion of virtually all else.

Because of the speed at which our industry moves, changes in fashion are very visible. The look of any particularly successful site is emulated by designers across the Internet in hopes of somehow recreating the success of the original. Because fashion is mistaken for design, the point of the original is lost and style becomes the benchmark for “good” design. Masterful use of the tools becomes more important than the message. The industry degrades into a race to be more stylish than the competition.

What is lost is the purpose of design. The understanding that design is meant to increase the audience’s understanding of the content, and that content is the single most important part of design. Style is merely a tool of design, and when taken out of the context of the original content, style loses its relevance. The Internet becomes filled with shiny buttons and rounded corners that have no business being where they are. Web designers everywhere defeat their own efforts because they have forgotten or never knew the point of design in the first place.

By putting style back in its place as an important but lesser component of design, and by concentrating on making purpose and clarity the primary point of design, web designers can take the first steps back toward good design. By stepping back and reviewing the fundamentals, designers will be able to pursue design that enhance and clarifies content, instead of getting in its way.


Daniel Black Tuesday February 26, 2008

Yeah, lots of folks see something like Mark Pilgrim’s plain site, and confuse it with somehow being “undesigned.” They miss that that’s precisely the effect he designed it to engender. They then attempt to pull something similar off, and realize that it’s lifeless because they aren’t Mark.

Rob Tuesday February 26, 2008

Well put, my friend.

I think in practice, it can be very difficult to put the ‘design’ back in design when you’re staring down the barrel of a stubborn client. One way to go about this is to adopt a new paradigm for your role as a designer. You don’t design; you “help people.” When a frustrating design situation is approached with a “how can I best help you” attitude, suddenly the right thing to do becomes quite apparent.

Adrian Thursday February 28, 2008

Mark Pilgrim’s site is not particularly brilliantly designed, but it does not get in the way of his content – which is the primary reason people go to his site.

I think one has to educate one’s stubborn clients. In the end, we will have done a better job for them than if we let them wade into something they don’t fully understand.

Joey Davis Friday February 29, 2008

Love the frogs!

Commenting has ended for this post, but I'd still love to hear from you.

The website of Adrian Lebar

A Rain of Frogs is written, designed and built by Adrian Lebar, a twenty(!) year veteran of web design and development. He is currently managing web and mobile development teams at Canada’s largest and most beloved classifieds site, Kijiji!

He is a father, sailor, snowboarder, skier, cyclist, writer, artist, graphic designer, classically trained musician and afraid of heights.

Adrian is not currently available for freelance and contract work. Learn more.

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.”
- Douglas Adams


  • I remember designing and building the original Playdium website in 1996 (I have screen caps somewhere of the work w… Wednesday October 14, 2020
  • Enough of this, 2020, already. Eddie Van Halen, rest easy, man. Tuesday October 6, 2020
  • It is amazing how quickly one adjusts to their glasses constantly steaming up, isn’t it? Monday October 5, 2020
  • Seriously, no amount of ‘weird tricks that Warren Buffet uses’ are going to improve anyone’s life. Friday September 25, 2020
  • Was just pondering about how both writing and programming can rewrite your brain, and came to the following, which… Friday September 18, 2020
  • Sony was, like, one front dial away from converting me over to their Full Frame cameras. One dial. Monday September 14, 2020
  • Tuesday August 25, 2020
  • @mrmatthogg You certainly want to work with him. Tuesday May 12, 2020
  • @mrmatthogg Lately you sound like me 3 years ago, failing agains the profligate use of users bandwidth and computin… Monday May 11, 2020