Summer 1997

Stop worrying and learn to love the Web

Designers overcome their initial contempt for a low-resolution medium to bring clarity to the World Wide Web

Graphic designers have been late to embrace the web, leaving its coarse screens to whiz kids and desktoppers. The low resolution of the computer interface has for a long time put off designers, who are used to working in ever-growing detail for printed media – even if they are designing those details on screen. The software is intricate: this may be why so many websites look like the templates or standard examples from HTML programmes or software such as Photoshop – Web graphics have for a long time been technology driven.

Yet, when graphic designers started to realise that they should get involved with web design, many of them made the mistake of transposing what they were doing on paper to the new medium. This resulted in loads of JPEGs and GIFs that would have looked great in print, but turned out completely muddled on screen.

Maybe the biggest reason why graphic designers have held back is that the visual aspect is only a small part of the overall site design – the technical limitations of the medium leave little room for the visual exuberance coveted in contemporary print. A website is a bunch of loose “pages” connected in many different ways, so the first task for a designer is to structure the connections between the pages. The second is to design the readers’ navigation through them. Web design has to pay attention to matters that are treated routinely in print media – the chapter titles and page numbers.

So graphic designers are teaming up with illustrators, software operators, editorial and interaction designers to cope with the complex mix of interactive possibilities and technical limitations that the new medium offers. On the Web, time and movement become extra elements of visual design. Choice needs to be designed in clear and strong ways: cross-references, or phrases such as “continue overleaf” are echoed in a host of links on the screens of a website.

Graphic design for the web must unite these functionally disparate elements of a site’s screens: the navigational apparatus, typography and decorative embellishment of the editorial content. The best thing designers can offer to this multifaceted medium is visual clarity and consistency.

First published in Eye no. 25 vol. 7, 1997