Stop being a control freak with your web design

There is no longer just one web

Hop in a time machine and go back about five years. Back then, we only created websites for one platform…your computer. Go back ten years before that and we only concerned ourselves with one or two browsers. We knew that our content would pretty much be the same as it was designed in Photoshop. We were confident our rigid design rules would benefit the design because we, as designers, controlled how the website looked. And at the time, that is what mattered most.

Today our content is hanging out in places we’d never expect. It’s on things like phones, tablets, automobiles and refrigerators. It’s showing up in places like social networks and native applications. Trying to control the design of that content is like trying to control a teenager who just got the keys to their first car.

So if we can’t control it, we have to create a way for it to thrive and be consumed in an unpredictable environment. We do that by being more flexible with our design standards. We start designing knowing designers aren’t in control of that content anymore.

Your website is not a brochure

Photoshop is great at designing a very specific layout, in a very specific way, aka… its form. What it’s not so good at is mimicking the other two major elements of web design: content and function.

All too often designers will hop into Photoshop and create a beautiful website for a client, and then expect the content to flow into that design structure. If we could always guarantee that a site’s content would be the same when we start the design until it launches, we’d be fine. Unfortunately, the composition of content in a website is never “final”, and a website which is designed in a rigid structure is destined for constant revisions.

Pages are for paper

No longer should designers spend time designing every page of a website, nor should there be an expectation that websites are made up of “pages”. The very concept of pages is a carryover from print design. It’s what we knew as designers, so we assumed it was the best practice when we started designing for the web.

The web is an inherently scrollable medium. Our favorite sites, from Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest to Google, scroll vertically through their content. There is no longer a concern with “the fold” because the creators of these sites realize it is impossible to set a universal standard for what is visible.

Sure, these sites do have multiple sections that some would consider pages, but they are used out of necessity, not assumption.

Design content for success

Content doesn’t care where you display it—it wants to be consumed—but not in the same way everywhere. If I’m using my tablet, I’ve likely got more time than if I’m using my phone. If I’m on my laptop, I’m likely multi-tasking, so I’ll be easily distracted. There are a multitude of user-experience considerations when designing content for the web. Knowing your audience and the industry allows you to know where and how that content will be consumed.

The post-PSD web design era

The days of a designer creating a multitude of pages in Photoshop, handing them off to a developer and hoping for the best, are coming to an end. Designers now are participants in a more collaborative web creation process. The designer of a website works in concert with content strategists, writers and developers to execute interactive experiences for the web.

No longer should designers set the tone for an entire website. Designing an entire website in Photoshop isn’t an optimal solution these days, because it is limiting and only allows for a static execution. It doesn’t account for functionality, animation or user-interaction; it just sits there hoping a developer will make it look like the designer wanted.

The web is dynamic, variable, flexible and interactive. Designers should be designing with that assumption.

I’ve often heard, “I want the website I designed to look like my Photoshop files.” This would be an acceptable criticism if Photoshop were a web browser. It isn’t, so we should stop trying to make it work like one. It’s like saying; “I want to make a cake in the toaster that looks like I baked it in the oven.” If you want it to look like what you intended, design in the tool that it will live in…your browser.

A new process

While everyone will bring their own process to the table, you should create a system that moves away from a rigid print design approach. Collaborate with a larger team, taking advantage of their expertise, and push your design. When the process becomes more collaborative, designing for the web becomes less about fighting to maintain a “perfect” design, and more about creating an intuitive and captivating digital experience.

Take advantage of strategists, content creators, and most of all, developers. In the end, they are going to be the gatekeepers of your site.

If you stop trying to control the design of your website and allow for a more open and collaborative process, you will increase your chances of actually launching a website design that you envisioned.