Think of it this way: Design is a problem-solving process, with designers as change agents.
Effective design is the combination of form and function to successfully solve a problem be it the production of an automobile, the construction of a building, or the publication and promotion of a web site to address the problem of disseminating information or selling products or services. The designer is the means by which changes are made. He or she uses the tools available and works within defined constraints.
The terms “designers” and “marketing” have not lost their meaning, as B.L. Ochman suggested in her article, “When Design Is NOT Design.” Instead, those terms are continually being redefined and redirected as our new web medium and the tools for it evolve.
In my view, the web designer is neither the coder who tends to whine about the graphic designer’s lack of understanding of the web, nor a pure graphic designer vested in print’s four-color processing. Rather, the web designer represents a hybrid made up of the marriage of these two often conflicting but necessary talents that allow the successful designer or design team to create effective web sites.
Web designers today are limited by the unsophisticated level of user technology. A very large number of web site viewers are using version 3.0 browsers, 28.8 and slower modem connections, and low display resolutions. When browser standard non-compliance and their 256 color palette are factored in, the web designer’s abilities are largely limited if the goal is to not completely exclude viewers. These constraints have again redefined the roles of web designers as the graphical and navigational possibilities are limited, creating a web design plateau.
Today the trend is toward interactivity and personalization. Interactivity comes in the form of real-time transactions and individual data gathering. Personalization comes in the form of tailored content based upon the particular viewer at the screen. More doors have opened that redirect the efforts of designers. The coder’s goal then tends toward making these functions more secure and efficient, while the designer implements them into the overall web site design.
The tendency to lean too heavily on sophisticated tools and techniques that are beyond the capabilities of many users must be checked on a regular basis. Successful web designers will be those who are able to incorporate tools and techniques as they become available, but who don’t compromise usability.
So let’s get back to the original question. When is web design effective? When is the problem solved?
When the viewer’s need for information, products or services is satisfied. When the site is visible to the greatest possible audience. When strong content is displayed.
When that content is current and relevant. When the site is visual appealing. When the site is easy to use and information easy to find. When the site loads quickly. When the transaction of information is seamless.
All of these are requisite elements of effective web site design, requiring the collaboration of multiple talents.
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