OK, “dead” might be a bit of an exaggeration–but not much.
People have been predicting the end of the internet for nearly two decades. Some experts claim that web’s role in ecommerce will be greatly diminished within months; others suggest it is already so different from what it was, the internet is dead already … at least the internet as we know it.
Here at Spilled Milkshake, our stance is that the internet is alive and well. It’s simply changing, something it has been doing fairly consistently since it was invented. The web isn’t dead–but what about web design? Same thing, more or less: it’s changing, and in many ways “function” is stomping all over “form.” That’s not a new thing either, but for some reason designers seem to be having trouble adjusting.
This is partially because web came on the scene as a blank slate. At first, there was no standard: the best designers could do was attempt to mimic print design and functionality. It very quickly became obvious that that didn’t work, although some designers kept trying to make that “square peg/round hole” thing fit for a few years.
Other designers, however, started seeing web design as a new frontier, where the only limits were creativity and load time. Some really great designs came out of the early 90s–maybe not great by today’s standards, but given the timeframe and the available tools, outstanding.
What was even better (relatively speaking) was the fact that most clients had no idea what the web was or what it was capable of … meaning designers could justify almost anything they wanted to do Form trumped Function, no doubt about it.
But the web changed, clients got more savvy, and user interfaces needed to change as well. Not everyone got the memo, apparently, because we still see new sites coming out with pretty but wholly dysfunctional designs. We still see designers trying to make a statement, or pushing the boundaries of the genre, or simply breaking rules in an effort to stand out.
But the rules are there for a reason. So before you settle on a designer, check out these new rules of web design:
- Different = Confusion. Customers don’t spend all their time on your site … and in fact, your site only represents a small percentage of their web time, even if you’re Amazon or eBay. So if your site is drastically different in the way it looks and how it operates, that’s only going to confuse people. And confused users click away fast.
- Websites Must Multitask. Have a picture that looks and loads great on a 36″ monitor can become a blur on a tablet; type that works fine on an iPad becomes unreadable on a smart phone. Interfaces simply HAVE to be dynamic in this day and age, creating a user experience that is as seamless as possible across devices. Unfortunately, that often means that clever design elements have to take a backseat to performance.
- Third-party Content. There was a time when you put what you wanted on your website, and everybody else be damned. Times change, however. Sites now exist based on syndicated content and affiliate marketing, plus outsourcing of things like payments, ads, videos, forms, and the like. Content flows in and out of your site without your input. But since this same information (is also interacting with other sites, your user interface needs to have standardized portals to accept the same data.
Even as website architecture becomes more standardized, there will always be room for content design. Each product description is different. Every article is different. Illustration needs will vary. Every client will face different challenges in providing information to drive sales and nurture growth–not to mention reduce returns and chargebacks.
It will always be necessary to determine the best approach to describing each unit of information–and that’s where the designer’s real job starts.