Understanding web design

Jeffrey Zeldman, one of the web’s foremost experts and thinkers shines a light on one of the major fallacies surrounding web design: thinking it’s something it’s not.

In Understanding Web Design in the A List Apart magazine he explains what web design isn’t, but many people think it is, and what it is, but many people think it isn’t:

Web design is not book design, it is not poster design, it is not illustration, and the highest achievements of those disciplines are not what web design aims for. Although websites can be delivery systems for games and videos, and although those delivery systems can be lovely to look at, such sites are exemplars of game design and video storytelling, not of web design. So what is web design?

Web design is the creation of digital environments that facilitate and encourage human activity; reflect or adapt to individual voices and content; and change gracefully over time while always retaining their identity.

That’s it in a nutshell. The “creation of digital environments” that “reflect or adapt” and “change gracefully over time”. No word on whether Flash, Silverlight, AIR or any other technology is The Way Forward, it says what we’re about on the web: facilitating and encouraging human activity.

So please don’t think of web design in the same way as print or graphic design, or software design, or information architecture, or a collection of loosely-coupled technologies. It has elements of all of these things and more. Much more. As the inventor of the web, Saint Berners-Lee, puts forth in his book Weaving the Web:

[His] vision of the Web is something much more than a tool for research or communication; it is a new way of thinking and a means to greater freedom and social growth than ever before possible.

Not just a way to sell books (the footnote on that page is just as enlightening as the rest of the text, take a look) or to “connect” (whatever that means) but something that will have a positive impact on the quality of life for people on this planet. High ideals, granted, but noble ones and – with a lot of collaboration and work – achievable.