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.

Pachelbel must die

You know what, I completely agree with this guy:

Rob Paravonian cuts to the heart of the Canon in D

I remember the days of struggling to school with a trombone case only slightly smaller than a coffin at the end of my trembling arm. Whereas the violin players got to pretend they were in the Mafia ("Hey, you got a gun in there") I just got picked on ("Hey, you got a bazooka in there? Or just your lunch?").

The flute players could pack away their instrument in seconds flat, then fit it in their bags. Even the trumpet players had cases small enough to sling into a rucksack. But not the trombonists, we were stuck with carrying something that would make worried mothers push their children across the road, out of our way.

Still, it wasn’t all bad. There aren’t many instruments that can sound as rude as the trombone does, and for it to be correct. Con farto, indeed.

Who needs designers

Damn right. Who needs designers? Designing a good advert is as easy as pie. So why waste money getting a so-called “professional” graphic designer to create your website or advertising campaign when you could do it yourself using Microsoft Word or Corel clip-art.

And if that sounds like too much hassle, you need these products:

  • Make My Logo Bigger Cream
  • Whitespace Eliminator
  • Starburst Dust
  • Fluorescentciser
  • The Emotionator

An if you don’t believe me, just check out the website.

(This reminds me of my days working in a recording studio. I remember there was a client who wanted the track to be more ‘funky’. The reply was “Sure, I’ll just press the Funky Button”.)

Treat People Like VIPs

True to my musical roots I’m a subscriber to New Music Strategies, a blog written by Andrew Dubber who certainly knows his stuff about the way the music business is changing. And, more to the point, how it’s not changing fast enough.

A recent post from him had this great quote:

Customer loyalty increases exponentially relative to the degree to which you make them feel important.

Absolutely. A few of the ways you can make customers feel important are:

  • When they ring up, have a human answer the phone
  • Be courteous and helpful
  • Respond to enquiries quickly
  • Trust what they say

How many companies fail in these simple points? Too many. What other ways have you been made to feel special – or been made to feel awful – by companies you’ve dealt with? What’s your top example – and worst gripe – with companies dealings with you?


Everyone knows I’m a fan of the Prototype JavaScript framework. But even I realise that for a novice getting the best out of it can be a daunting task. So I wrote a simple library called Performer to allow you to use some of the Prototype features without writing a single line of javaScript, instead using CSS rules.

There’s now another way for people to get started with Prototype using Protoscript, a simplified language that gives you lots of nifty features such as fading, drag-and-drop, toggling and much more. It looks good, although it like many JavaScript libraries (except mine, fnar fnar) it doesn’t provide you a way to separate JavaScript from HTML without some extra work. Still, the drag and drop thing is cool.