As a web developer and designer, I generally find myself in one of three distinct situations, design-wise, for new web site or web site redesign projects:
- The client asks me to design a new web site for them.
- We (the client and I) decide to use a pre-built theme or template (for example using RocketTheme, my personal favorite) and then customize that theme for the client’s needs;
- The client has a designer already, which has two possibilities:
- 3a: That designer routinely designs for the web.
- 3b: That designer is an old-school print-only graphic designer who’s used to doing logos and brochures.
While I’m happy to work on projects from items 1, 2, and 3a … item 3b, above, can be kinda-sorta-definitely a total nightmare.
Where Print Designers Often Fail
Basically, they routinely screw up these kinds of things:
- Because they’re used to print, where a document is not “alive,” they approach everything as a static, unchanging entity. In the rare times that they think about things like what links might look like, or what color they should be, they usually fail to spec out what the behavior of such things should be in the “hover” state. They simply don’t think like this, so the easy stuff gets ignored.
- Same for forms. They don’t like thinking about them, generally, and often come up with strange or unusual user experiences, and/or over-complicate them.
- They have an under-developed sense of how things work online, and might do things like place graphics in pain-in-the-butt locations, or specify weird or unusual fills that don’t properly distinguish between concepts like background images, background colors, and normal graphics. Because they lack a technical understanding of how the web works, they tend to mess these things up.
- They rarely think about templating issues, and often treat each page as its own mini-brochure instead of thinking in the way that content management systems (CMSs) work (with a templating system that separates template from page content). Thus, they come up with designs that often vary in places where they should be consistent (e.g., in a global footer, for example).
- They often completely ignore menu structuring and menu design, as that area generally requires in-depth knowledge of how the CSS works and what the possibilities even are in terms of menu design.
- Same for other typical online-type features like galleries. They might say “put a photo gallery here,” but they won’t recommend a certain type of gallery or a specific behavior.
- Also because they’re used to print, they tend to not address the flexible and responsive nature of web sites. They’ll usually design based on a typical, static printed page size like 8 1/2" x 11" or perhaps something a little bigger. Or, they’ll base the design on their particular laptop or screen size. But they won’t think about wide screens, desktops, tablets, and the huge variety of mobile devices.
- The overall idea of user experience isn’t something they’re professionally involved with, and so you get a lot more design elements that appeal to the designer personally rather than time-honored web-based practices.
- And forget about structural SEO considerations that might dovetail with design in some way.
A print designer, in short, lacks the big picture knowledge that comes from online-first design experience.
Avoid the Headache
Look, no one wants to take your designer away from you. Very few web designers I know want to get involved in doing your business cards or print flyers. If you want to involve that person, then the best way, in my view, is to put him or her on the review team. Let them chime in on designs in progress, if need be. But, make that resource secondary to a dedicated web design professional. It’ll all work out better if you do.
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains three blogs — Hawthorne Crow, Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine, and Wonderful Words, Defined — and contributes to various Medium pubs. Connect at JPDbooks.com, Amazon, FB, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest screwball literary novel, CHROO, is a guaranteed good time.