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Graphic Design vs. Interactive Design

May 7, 2008
Can a graphic designer design a website? Of course!

But there are risks involved when someone who thinks in terms of paper and inches starts creating designs for screens and pixels.

In this article, we'll look at what makes web design so different, and we'll talk about what to look for in a site designer.

Usability

Ever clicked on a brochure or a business card? I didn't think so.

On the web, your visitors take an active role in their own experience--meaning that if they don't enjoy the experience, they'll take action and leave.

A user-friendly site provides clear pathways to tools, products, or information. It communicates in the target audience's language, and it doesn't leave visitors frustrated, confused, or lost.

Take load time for example. Many designers get so caught up in creating fancy-schmancy landing pages that they forget the user. If your web page takes too long to appear--or if it fails to update users on loading status--you'll lose visitors.

Think of it this way: if graphic designers are warriors in the battle against ugliness, web designers are warriors in the battle against ugliness and confusion.

Accessibility

This goes hand-in-hand with usability: make a site more accessible, and you'll make it more user-friendly.

Accessibility is also a key area of difference between print and interactive: a graphic designer might not consider how a print piece will work for blind people, but a web designer must think about how a site will work for every potential visitor.

It's not only possible to make websites accessible to people with disabilities--it's often mandatory, as in the case of many government projects. And it should be. The web is an extremely useful tool for those with physical impairments.

And keep in mind that accessibility serves all users: in the words of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, "accessible design is good design."

Ease of Updates

Every print piece is frozen in time. Once it rolls off the press, the text on that paper will be the same forever.

The Internet, on the other hand, is all about change. Interacting with an out-of-date site is like talking to a wall: it feels futile, lonely, and downright silly.

To make sure your site continues to feel current long after launch, your designer should forego the cutesy, clever, or trendy in favor of the clear, classic, and lasting.

Important considerations might include text vs. graphics, links vs. buttons, horizontal vs. vertical navigation, or the need for standard fonts (critical for dynamic text).

And, with content managers like Mighty-Site putting updates into the hands of site owners, web designers must create templates and style sheets that will continue to look great every time you update content, add pages, or change images on your site.

Search-Engine Friendliness

If you're concerned with your rank in search listings, you need to choose a designer who'll help you speak to search engines.

Some of the elaborate, flashy sites we see these days are in fact invisible to search robots.

A good interaction designer won't let this happen: she'll respect your SEO needs and create an attractive, content-ready design that search engines will love.

Browsers and Monitors

It's true that computers and Internet browsers evolve quickly, but don't forget that consumers are slow to change. We all know that guy who bought his monitor back in '96 and still swears by it in 2008. In fact, around 8% of all web users still have their screen resolution set to 800x600 pixels.

A website that launches today might be viewed on hundreds of different screen types, in any of 4 major browsers. This means that words will wrap differently for different viewers, colors will fluctuate from one monitor to the next...the list goes on.

It's hard to plan for this level of variability. But an experienced web designer knows how to handle the challenge.

That's why at Orbit, we check every web design on a variety of monitors and test site functionality across all major current browsers and platforms. It's an essential step in effectively catering to online audiences.

To view the original article in its entirety, copy and paste the following link into your browser: http://www.orbitmedia.com/pages/april_2008/146.php. Please feel free to link to this address from your own web site.
About the Author
As a principal and strategic director at Orbit Media Studios, Andy draws on his knowledge of marketing, usability, and interactive design to lead strategic planning for the firm and its clients. Orbit specializes in web, print, and video design & development. Orbit Media Studios.
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