The Power of Design

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What is design? We mostly know a well designed object when we see it, like the recently released Apple Watch. It resonates, it feels useful, it elicits pleasure. And when we come across a bad design, it grates, it doesn’t work and can be down right annoying.

Design is a process for creating something and design is the shape, form or fashion of that finished something. When it comes to websites, design is not just in its visual appeal. Design affects or drives all its components.

Starting with the visual side, there are the elements and layouts of the website pages. How the navigation works, its menus, dropdowns, iconographic links and its images, photos and graphics. When designing a website there is the part where we identify what needs to be done – its functions. Then with some reflection, we create a particular feel that’s not always predefinable and can be very subjective.

Going deeper, the architecture of the code that drives the site can be either an engineering marvel (good design) or a developer’s nightmare (bad design)! Fortunately, Content Management Systems like WordPress have abstracted the essential functions of websites: administration and presentation. WordPress has its own jargon to communicate these abstractions, such as themes, templates, pages, posts, widgets, plugins, and media. WordPress in turn is built on a scripting language (PHP) that sits on the servers and communicates with databases. PHP also had to be designed, the database structure had to be designed, the database language had to be designed. It goes on.

A modern web page includes lots of different parts. JavaScript, another scripting language ‘knows’ what the browser can deal with and can control a page’s behavior such as expanding and collapsing text blocks. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) declare many of the attributes of elements on a page such as their size, color, position and opacity. CSS sometimes includes behavior, such as transitions to fade. These too had to be designed. You can see it gets complicated!

To make life easier for developers, premium themes (available for a fee) can package a large percentage of the internal components of a project. Such packages also need to be designed.

The scripting languages I mentioned rely on underlying system components – that had to be designed. On the one side are the software components of the browser, the operating system (iOS, Android, OSX, Windows, Linux etc.) and the desktop, laptops, phones, phablets and now watches that they run on. On the other side are the computer servers (hardware), their operating systems and web servers (software). In between are the communications components such as, modems, routers, cell phone towers, satellites, gateways that make up the internet with the servers. Each of the communications components has its own software, hardware and firmware – all had to be designed.

With all these different design needs, there are a lot of different disciplines represented and in many different flavors: technicians, engineers, programmers, artists, linguists, even managers and rocket scientists.

In reflection, it’s amazing that it all works. Perhaps, after science that leads to technology, design may be one of human’s greatest triumphs! Design is the fabric of civilization.


Please contact us for more information and examples of good and bad website design that might be important to think about as they relate to your next web project.