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.