Web designers are all over the the web business anymore. And yet if you really look at the whole world wide web experience, there is actually only a small percentage of websites that could really be considered remarkable places to interact. If there are so many web designers, how come the web doesn’t seem, overall, to be designed very well?
Perhaps because what is typically called web design is a very limited and misunderstood label for appearance as opposed to what web design aught to be about: function. Interacting with a website, because of its visual primacy, certainly benefits greatly from appearance. If it looks like scratchy wool, it won’t wear well on users. But it’s really interactivity and usability and attractiveness of a site’s entire experience that matters. Design is about flows, functions, engineering, purpose. It is beyond appearance and means something entirely different from what it generally purports to be.
Jeffrey Zeldman at A List Apart offers a succinct, thorough and accurate definition of web design:
Web design is the creation of digital environments that facilitate and encourage human activity; reflect or adapt to individual voices and content; and change gracefully over time while always retaining their identity
That’s poetry. Imagine how much better the web would be if designers viewed their tasks from this kind of definition. Wouldn’t things look and work much better for us? Isn’t what we really want from the web are experiences that “facilitate and encourage human activity”? Isn’t’ that where all of the advances are leading us (or should lead us)?
I think all of the fuss over whether to use phrases like “Web 2.0” or “Web 3.0” amounts to basically confused talk about something very simple: Web Design. Google works because of its design (it’s appearance is simple and fairly bland, but the design is complex and remarkably useful). Apple works for the same reasons. We really do need to change our minds about web design if we all are to enjoy a productive, meaningful and beautiful experience–not just on the web, but in our lives. Understanding design is understanding our world.
Perhaps we should introduce a new phrase into our parlance, one that encourages us to live our dream of a better world wide web: Web Design Really. After all, a dream is a fantastic design. And web design is a dream made real. As technology changes exponentially, design will become increasingly important. Eventually the web will open up through other portals besides desktops, laptops, iPhones: radio frequency tags (or their future equivalent) will enmesh and embed us tightly and deeply into the web. Bad designs lead to bad dreams. Bad dreams fast turn into nightmares.
So what is web design really? It’s our gateway out of dystopia.