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« Conversions and Making the Right Impression | Main | Optimizing Your Web Graphics and Images »

Graphic Design versus Web Design

I’ve worked with my share of graphic design firms over the years.  It has been quite the roller coaster ride trying to get them to understand the differences between web design and print design.  You need to recognize the distinct differences between graphic design and web design when building a web site.  For this article graphic design should be considered the same as print design. Today I’m going to look at the differences between print and web design, Flash, and what to look for in a graphic designer.

So graphic designers don’t think I’m picking on them, I want acknowledge there are a few really talented graphic designers that understand and respect the differences between print and web.  It’s my hope that their peers take notice.

Designer Centric Web Design
Many designers view graphic design and web design as one in the same.  This is most prevalent with firms transitioning from print and multimedia design into web design. They think that web design and print design are siblings from the same family, like brother and sister. My belief is that they are analogous to second cousins.  There are a few similarities, but significantly more differences.  The challenge becomes  getting old school graphic designers to separate from their roots.

I was once told by a graphic designer “You wouldn’t get it, you’re not an artist.” I think that graphic design can be considered analogous to special effects in a movie.  The visuals can be amazing. Yet, if you don’t have a good story and dialogue it doesn’t matter how stunning the special effects.  High quality pictures and multimedia will never trump high quality content.

The First Rise and Fall of Flash
This was evidenced a few years ago when everyone and their grandmother were hopping on the Flash bandwagon.  People wanted all the bells and whistles for their web site.  You’ll notice that trend quickly died out.  Web site owners quickly realized that Flash wasn’t the most ideal method for delivering content.  There are very few sites that deliver high quality content utilizing nothing but Flash. As a side note: Flash have become an excellent delivery method for web video.

A Constant Battle
Design firms usually endure a significant idea storm when creating web sites. In Steve Krug’s book, Don’t Make Me Think, he does an excellent job of talking about the differences between the various team members developing a web site.  Artists are going to view the project differently than developers.  When you add management into the mix you get even more differences in opinion.  All of these opinions and ideas need to balance with what’s best for the client and the user.

A Short and Simple Example

Take a look at Google and Yahoo.  Together they account for approximately 150 Million searches daily. (Source: comScore Media Metrix)  Users don’t go to these sites because of their graphic design prowess.  They go to Google and Yahoo because the sites are easy to use and allow you access to an unbelievable amount of content.

Looking for a Graphic Designer?
If you are in the market for a graphic design make sure they can demonstrate their knowledge of the differences between print design and web design.  Have them tell you about their web accomplishments in relation to client success. They understand that good design helps to support great content.  Good web designers present their work in terms of striking a balance between aesthetics and information. 

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Comments

AHFX

People just don't understand the differences between graphic design and web design. I wrote about this back in 2005 and it is no different today.
http://www.ahfx.net/weblog/10

Vorzie Studios - Santa Rosa Graphic Design

Interesting that many people still don't get that there truly is a difference between the two mediums. Reminds me of a client that I once had in which I was designing graphics for their web page and every-time that I finished a graphic and tried to present it to them on screen they insisted that I print it out for their analysis. Even thou I had informed them that the resolution settings were not sufficient for print medium, yet they insisted. When they did se the choppy printed results they informed me that I needed to recreate the graphics at a higher resolution. Made me want to scream.

Ingred

I agree with directly above. High quality content is king. This keeps the end-user engaged. Also, the search engines are looking for this too. It's a must-have for anyone who is serious online.

Print&WebDesigner

All the sites you mentioned are destination sites. People go to those sites to perform specific purposes (search, news, video).

There is a difference between a destination site and say a promotional site, or even an e-commerce site. A search engine like Google or Yahoo would be analogous to a yellow pages in print. MSN would be your newspaper. Not much extra design is needed there becuase the content is the destination.

But print catalogs for products usually try to "entice" you to visit their store or Web site by showing you pretty product shots, glossy photos and slick design and trying to convice you that their product is "cool", "sophisticated", "edgy" or whatever by having the "right" model in the "perfect" setting using their product.

Some Web sites are serving the promotional purpose. This is often the role of a Web site for most service oriented or product manufacturing companies where their actual "work" is done offline or is custom tailer for induvidual clients.

Just like print design serves a variety of purposes, Web design does as well and each purpose dictates the design approach necessary to efffectively communicate with the audience.

In searching for a good designer, not only should they know the difference between print and web design, but they should know what design decisions work best depending on the purpose and content of your Web site. A Web site designed like Google won't help a company like Starbucks strengthen its brand loyalty.

Eugene Loj

Benjamin,

Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. You bring up some interesting points. I completely agree with you on clients and salespeople not understanding the differences.

My primary point in this post is that there are still too many graphic designers who are designing web sites like sales brochures or print pieces as opposed to a web page.

Consider some of the top web sites on the Internet: Yahoo, Google, MSN, YouTube, etc. (alexa.com) They're all primarily driven by high quality content, almost primarily text, supported by decent design.

Someone said it best when they stated, "Online - Content is King and Graphic Design is Queen."

I'm not trying to suggest that web sites should be devoid of good graphic design. Good design is really important. But, there needs to be a balance between design and content/information.

Benjamin Jancewicz

"High quality pictures and multimedia will never trump high quality content."

That's not really true... If it were, graphic designers wouldn't have jobs. People pay them to make their work look good, whether it really is good or not.

I hear what you're saying, and I understand your argument, but only the most inane graphic designers don't know the difference between web and print.

I've worked at several firms and own one myself now. Much more time gets spent trying to explain the difference between web and print to the CLIENT and SALESPEOPLE.

That might make for a better argument. Designers who don't understand that difference usually don't last very long anywhere.

Sally

Thanks for article and interesting links. And where I can get more information?

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