…done is good, but done well is so much fucking better.
At my current job, I’m technically a web designer. In spite of this title, I’ve always identified myself as a print designer who understands the web. That may or may not sound horribly blowhardy; but it’s true. I love print design. I love using InDesign, picas, X-Acto blades, Super 77, and never ever having to worry about things like browser compatibility. My Twitter profile reads: “I’m a recovering print designer learning to make nice with the web”. While this expression is intended to be funny, it was born from a reaction to the unspoken divide within the industry between print and web professionals.
It seems that as the web matures, that divide is slowly eroding. The web is undergoing a visual renaissance of sorts, and arguably, the driving force is typography. In the industry this is being met with enthusiasm from both design and technical thought leaders. It’s also opening the door for print designers willing to make the leap.
It’s an exciting time to be a web designer. But simply jumping in may seem scary. The reality is that the industry is at a point where it honestly needs more people from print and editorial backgrounds. More designers who hail from a certain area of expertise: typography.
For over a year, the web design industry has been vocally pushing for a much more content focused, typographically rich approach to the design of the web. While it may sound like “Communication Design 101” to designers from a traditional background; up until now, the web was not quite ready to be designed to that degree. Sure, there was Flash, and the use of images for text, but neither of those techniques really ever made sense for the text-heavy nature of the medium. The idea of a visually mature web is new and exciting, and rightfully so. The following are three popular themes that are representative of this current state of excitement. I’m going to attempt to break these concepts down in order to illustrate just how print friendly they truly are.
Content First is a phrase recently popularized by web designers and content strategists alike. It is about both designing for real content, as well as elevating the importance of content strategy in the process of creating websites. Naturally, us print designers have been in the business of “designing for content” for decades and then some. However, unlike print design, this doesn’t mean that one should expect your client to deliver drafts of real copy to design with. In a realistic design process, it’s the idea of truly understanding the content requirements of any page template you are designing. Properly constructing the layout and design system behind it, in a way that allows certain elements (think: video players, image slideshows, or pull quotes) to display or not display without resulting in a broken looking page.
The Typography Out approach, is just what it sounds like: designing from the type outwards. Again this is something print designers already practice, not only out of necessity, but because it works. The fact that this is a revelation in the web design world is partially due to the shear number of visual elements that inhabit your average web page. Historically, web designers focused their design attention on header graphics, navigation tabs, buttons and other interface assets. I believe it is also due to the typographic limitations of the old web. The constraints of Georgia, Verdana, Helvetica and Arial left little room for excitement in the realm of typography. Now, with the advent of web font services such as Typekit, we have the ability to actually design with live type.
Responsive Web Design is the idea of designing web experiences that can adapt to the screen size of any web-capable device. From laptops down to smart phones, the layout visually restructures it’s content to make the best use of each device’s screen real estate. As the viewport changes, typographic measures have to adapt, and key aspects of readability adjust to the proportions the screen’s width or height. Complicated as it may sound, this approach to web design has as much to do with code as it has to do with the proper use of typography. With a print designer’s honed knowledge of hierarchy and grid systems, the concept of designing flexible layouts feels like a natural extension of our skills. Not to mention the fact that it’s just really freakin’ cool.
At the core of each approach is the thoughtful design and application of a typographic system. While your native typographic skill sets may be the ticket in, there is still plenty to be learned in regards to designing for the web. The web has a tendency to ask a lot of it’s designers. In order to grow within the industry, designers must infuse their foundational skill sets with web disciplines like user-experience design, content strategy, and of course code. Coding aside, much of this is sort of second nature to a traditional designer. These are all specialties within reach. The idea is not to become an expert in these things, but to recognize them as parts of a new means of production.
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…I do pencils pretty quick in blue. Pencils are a rubbish stage for me. I can’t spend hours petting a drawing with an impermanent tool. Comics are birthed in ink.