Mobile version (Display Regular Site)

Skip to: Navigation | Content | Sidebar | Footer


Weblog Entry

Design Maturity

October 21, 2005

Via Digital Web, Jess McMullin has come up with one of the best summaries I’ve seen of what design can be. Make sure to grab the continuum model PDF.

Briefly summarized, the PDF describes design as a continuum that progresses from no conscious design to focus on style, then to the form and function level, eventually settling into problem solving, and finally, if you’re lucky, morphing into something redefining and potentially disruptive.

This almost perfectly describes my own professional development, perhaps you’ve experienced similar. Once upon a time, I was all about style. I hung around DiK and K10k and the like. Then I started solving more complex UI problems and working with CSS, which put me into the throes of the form and function phase. But simply placing elements on a page is getting old; I’m interested in influencing what those elements are in the first place, and how they work together.

All along I’ve seen shades of big picture problem solving in my work, so I don’t think you’re ever strictly confined to one level; and just because you’re a problem solver doesn’t mean style is ‘beneath’ you. That’s the one issue I’d take with the PDF as-is; the top-to-bottom layout implies a hierarchy, placing stylists at the bottom. Some days it’s my job to simply style, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.


1
October 21, 04h

“Design” should be a synonym for development as well. It’s not all about graphics.

2
October 21, 06h

As designers become increasingly “Web designers”, I think you see more of this. I encounter quite a few designers who are used to relatively static mediums – print, primarily – who have a hard time breaking away and getting into developing what works for the web.

The first step is to STOP CREATING EVERYTHING IN PHOTOSHOP. This is the biggest failing that I find among designers. You can, quite literally, make every site look great in photoshop. Now, make it look great when my text sizes can be adjusted. Ok, now make it look good on low resolutions. Make it look good when the featured article of the day has a title that’s twice as long.

I don’t think I even need to get into the interactive aspect of things.

Designers who primarily design for the web need to learn how to break out of PS and learn how to actually create what they’re working with. They need to learn how to use html, css, and probably even javascript (although they can probably leave most of the latter up to developers).

The more that happens, the better the web, as a whole, will be. Brilliant developers can create applications that function the way that they’re intended to, and talented artists can come in and make everything beautiful.

3
Dave S. says:
October 21, 08h

“Designers who primarily design for the web need to learn how to break out of PS and learn how to actually create what they’re working with.”

Sorry, but no. You may have had a bad experience or two with Photoshop-bound designers, but you’re generalizing far too much. Almost all of my work starts its life in Photoshop or Illustrator. In fact, anything I start in HTML/CSS is almost guaranteed to be a more rushed implementation, and not as well thought out.

You, and others, may work well with the languages themselves, and that’s great if it works for you. But when I’m planning the layout of a page, I’d rather do that visually than programmatically.

So, I disagree. Photoshop is a great tool for web page design.

4
October 21, 09h

I think the problem is that too many web designers have considered designing for the web purely as “graphic design”. I consider what I do to be user-interface design - which extends beyond just how things look, but how the user interacts with a web site.

I’m young enough to have little experience in print - I really started in design with the web. All of the companies I’ve worked for have used me exclusively for web development. I’m now in an internship with a rather large media company and I’m surprised to see such a separation between artists and coders/ backend developers. I’ve become quite useful because I can both design something in photoshop then translate it into semantic xhtml/css.

I really think that the best designs come from designers who embrace the technical aspects of web development. Look at Shaun Inman - he creates beautiful sites that are easy to use and responsive. I don’t think his work would be as good if he could only use Photoshop.


Kevin - Photoshop or some sort of image manipulation program is almost a necessity for web development. I always start my projects by laying out the page I want to create in Photoshop - but I’m thinking about things like text scaling, browser window size, etc while I’m designing the page. Although the web is certainly not a wholly graphical medium, you can’t ignore the graphic design aspect of it. Although, I do agree with your point that designers who only work with programs like Photoshop and cannot develop the page itself are at a disadvantage to those who can.

5
October 21, 10h

For more on the profound definition of design you should see CPH127.com which is a weblog I co-founded half a year ago. Great to see designers catching up on this!

6
October 21, 12h

For a while now, it seems businesses have been recognizing the value of design. Over the past year Fast Company has done several articles and issues that address design as a business approach. Harvard Business Review published an article last year stating The MFA was the new MBA.

I look at the PDF as a progression, I think that to be a great designer you need to be good in all areas and you are most likely to master them in that order.

7
October 22, 03h

“Almost all of my work starts its life in Photoshop or Illustrator. In fact, anything I start in HTML/CSS is almost guaranteed to be a more rushed implementation, and not as well thought out.”

That may be the way you work, Dave. But that is a pretty broad sweeping generalization when it comes to suggesting that most sites are done this way. I would disagree. Most sites I know no longer start their lives in Photoshop or Illustrator. In fact, a lot of sites start their life in either wireframes (Visio or OmniGraffle) or in plain jane XHTML markup with CSS. I am seeing more and more people “prototyping” with markup than doing “layout” in a visual tool before markup.

37Signals did this with Basecamp, Robot Co-Op did this with 43Things, Boeing did this with their internal knowledge managment system, Intel did this on some of their internal sites, and I am sure there are plent of others on the list that I haven’t heard about yet.

8
Rodoula says:
October 23, 05h

“It doesn’t really matter if you’re using pen & paper or PhotoShop, as long as you use the tool properly.”

I agree with that. I usually skip the Photoshop visualization and go right ahead with the code, but what i always do is sketch out the idea on paper first. I guess that in many ways it is the same thing, except that I first finalize the basic layout in xhtml and css and then start building the graphics. I know many designers have a pretty detailed mockup of a design before they start coding (is this your approach, Dave?).

As far the original article referenced in this post is concerned, it still seems somewhat vague to me even after three reads. The author doesn’t offer any suggestions or pointers on how to reach that higher level of maturity. My design teachers always stress the importance of researching and learning as much as possible about the design ‘problem’ they present their students with. Isn’t that what problem-solving and design-thinking is greatly about? It just so happens that some people leave their design education having learned the importance of that, and some people don’t.

9
Dave S. says:
October 23, 09h

Nick, you misread me. I was explaining what worked for me, and in the same comment recognizing that other tools work for other people:

“Almost all of my work starts its life in Photoshop or Illustrator. In fact, anything I start in HTML/CSS is almost guaranteed to be a more rushed implementation, and not as well thought out.”

Note use of “I” and “my”. And later:

“You, and others, may work well with the languages themselves, and that’s great if it works for you.”

Go back and read it again. I acknowledged that my way is not the only way. The point of my comment was to argue the idea that web designers should not use Photoshop.

10
AkaXakA says:
October 23, 11h

I agree with Dave, it’s far better to work visualy on a webpage design than it is to jump into the code head-first. It doesn’t really matter if you’re using pen & paper or PhotoShop, as long as you use the tool properly.

11
October 24, 04h

It’s not either/or for me. The methodology at Fisher-Price (and lots of companies) is that the client wants Photoshop comps. This will not change anytime soon. And there’s not really anything inherently wrong with Photoshop comps.

It’s up to me to create Photoshop comps AND be thinking in terms of UI/problem solving at the same time. The client isn’t necessarily aware that we’re solving UI problems with comps, and that’s OK. We know that it’s part of design, and we do it anyway. It’s a way of thinking, not a black/white divide of Photoshop comping versus purist start-with-HTML-then-add-CSS-and-maybe-graphics.

12
dave says:
October 24, 05h

Sorry to be picky, but should a guy giving advice on design have a site that does not format a navigation bar properly? http://www.bplusd.org/category/resource-types/books/

Or is it meant to be like that!?

13
October 24, 05h

With exception to the phase of actual conception (which happens in my head, not in PS), the code comes first in my opinion. It is the foundation of a web page and thus the design itself. The initial beauty is in what lies under the hood so to speak. Without that solid beginning, it could be a backwards build, that may very well offer up nasty surprises later on. Graphics are great, but a truly good design should look really nice with images off/CSS on (read: litmus test), or even with styles disabled altogether. I think of imagery as paint and wallpaper. I feel imagery is very important, it’s one of my favorite design aspects, but it needs to be in the horse cart, not pulling it.

14
Steph_B says:
October 25, 10h

…it’s really big misstake when you focus only on style.I completely agree whith Darren Ansley. PDF will take great part at design in a future.