The Details in Web Design

I’ve been doing a lot of reading in the area of web design and development lately and one theme has been popping up more and more: a good designer pays attention to details. Throughout the ages graphic design as a whole has been extremely focused on details. An artist working on something as simple as a printed panel would need to make sure everything was absolutely perfect because once the project goes to press, there’s no turning back… well… at least not without having to pay an arm and a leg for it.

Yet, it seems that the attention to detail that was so faceted with traditional graphic design somehow disappeared, or became overlooked with the birth of web design. Now granted, when people first started designing for the web the options were extremely limited, but with today’s limitless capabilities using things like CSS, JavaScript, and Flash, pretty much any detail you could imagine can be brought to life.

So what is it that makes the web less detail oriented? Are the designers less skilled? Being one, I should hope not. I believe that it is a mentality that so many of us fall into just by interacting with the web on a daily basis. We’re so used to instant gratification and everything being done at the speed of a mouse click that it almost feels like the processes used to make those things should be just as fast. Clearly no one should be able to design a site in mere seconds, but many times I even find myself thinking “well I can just launch it and include it later” yet more times than not, it’s never revisited. Web design is such a fast paced industry that there is almost an urgency to get things done in record time, but when things are rushed there is no time for the details.

Something as simple as a tooltip on rollover, or slight color adjustment on a section of a graphic to make text more readable can greatly increase the effectiveness of a design. It’s easy to be passive with the web, especially when clients continually ask for design aesthetics that you may not agree with, so here’s a list of tips that I’ve found to be incredibly helpful:

  • After your first run though a design, expect there to be changes. Send your design not only to your colleagues but people who don’t work within the industry and ask for their gut-reaction. An interesting take on this is the “5 second test”. You have someone look at your design for 5 seconds and ask what they remember. If they say the things that the site is meant to broadcast, you’re on the right track. Also by having people who aren’t designers give their opinions, you’re going to hear a lot of things that you wouldn’t even think about. Designers typically have a much higher tolerance for things that are maybe too abstract for the average viewer.
  • Collaborate with your colleagues. Before sending a design off for client review take the time to have an in-depth discussion with your colleagues or anyone else involved with the project on your end. Go over each element with a comb and discuss how things might be altered to provide better branding, present more clear-cut content, and reach your client’s goals.
  • After collecting these suggestions, read over your specs again. This keeps the mission of the site fresh in your mind as you’re taking a new look at the design, encouraging you to think beyond just your notes about what to change, and more so why to change.
  • When making small changes, call someone over and have them watch you change it on the fly. Ask them if one change is more effective or useful than the other. If working in Photoshop, maybe save a copy and lay the designs side-by-side. If working in Dreamweaver, duplicate your CSS file and make changes to each separately. Oftentimes it’s easier to pick something out when there’s a comparison.

Bottom line: the web has infinite potential for truly great and effective designs. Constantly updated tools and capabilities leave the mind to wander through endless possibilities, it’s just a matter of setting aside the time to really focus in on the little things. If asked, would you be able to give a reason for each detail in your design? If not, you might want to look at it a little bit harder.