Appreciation of the material we work with

Today I’ve heard the best perception on how to go to the next level in craft we all call web designing and this is from a collegue of mine at work.

In the past, famous artists experimented with the materials they were using. Arylic paints, oil paints, wood, stone, clay, glass, metals etc. and in the morden world, plastics, carbon fiber, foam, etc.

I remember how Karim Rashid shared that understanding the intricacies of the manufacturing process would enable the designer the know how on how to go about designing a new product. Also the importance of knowing how to design in an efficient way so as not to compromise on the affordability of the end product.

For the web however everything is digital and there isn’t really a physical “material” that web designers work with. However we work with HTML, CSS, Javascript and the likes. These are what makes up the web. These are the “materials” that we who call ourselves web designers work with.

So in order improve ones understanding and to go to the next level of web design, take a break from photoshop and start your text editors. Start reading up on CSS and experimenting with AJax, start understanding grids, start understanding how some content management systems work, start understanding web infrastructure, start putting yourself in the shoes of webmasters who need to update the website you build daily.

This colleague who shared this with me is not a designer, he is not even design trained, but instead he is an excellent developer, a great observer. Thanks, you know who you are.

3 Replies to “Appreciation of the material we work with”

  1. I fully agree with the above. In fact it basically touches the same issue Jeffrey Zeldman described in ‘Style versus design’ on and something I tweeted about.

    In my humble opinion most or at least a lot of web designers today are excellent with their tools – as long as it’s Photoshop or Fireworks. They barely have any knowledge of the medium they design for both technically and layout-wise. Compare this to the more traditional print designer who usually has a vast knowledge of paper, colour, layout, typography etc.

    In view of designing web content it wouldn’t hurt to know a bit about layout, DTP, just the basic structures of laying out content like one would for say a report, a book etc with different levels of headings, paragraphs, unordered and ordered lists etc etc.

  2. This would be an excellent post, had it not been observed by a non-designed-trained web developer who probably only worked with the code, JS, CSS, the ideal designer should also have produced.

    Other than appreciation of the material, we should also appreciate the efforts of those who work tirelessly with “could-be-better” deliverables. In print, the publication is the end product. On digital, layouts is only the beginning. There’s still a team behind the codes handling the layouts.

  3. I find that a passionate web developer will be able to appreciate and understand how all the pieces fit together, because it is what we do – we understand how things work and then we try to put all the snazzy bits together. On the other hand, designers focus more on the look and feel, and more often than not, fail to understand how their design can fit with the grid of a CMS. In an ideal world, my designer will be able to give me a design that exploits the CMS’s theme to it’s fullest potential. But we don’t live in an ideal world, so we have problems when Account Managers end up showing mock-ups that can’t be integrated with the selected CMS.

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