The Challenges of Digital Design:5 Things A Print Designer Learnt On Her First Web Project
In an age where digital design is at the forefront, I thought it was important as a trained print designer to brush up on my existing digital skills.
After joining Attacat in January 2013 I was given the brief of re-designing our (forthcoming) website and creating a new (now live) space for our Marketing Training Course. As this was my first web project, the entire process taught me many new and valuable skills – including ones that can only be learned by diving in head first.
Digital design is very different from print design. The final product is not flat or static, so it is necessary to design something that creates a unique or exciting user experience. This is a process that requires a different but very important set of capabilities.
Here are the 5 main things I learnt during this process:
1) Things will not look the same
Things will not look exactly the same onscreen as they do off. This is something I learnt very quickly in the design process. After I was finished designing my wireframes for a webpage I would hand them over to Chelsey, the Attacat developer, so she could ‘work her magic’. After she translated them into HTML and CSS I expected pages to look the same way that I designed them – clean and polished. When I asked Chelsey why the pages looked a bit different to my designs she replied, ‘It’s not InDesign Danielle’. (Adobe InDesign is a desktop publishing software used by designers to create brochures, posters and flyers amongst other things. Some may describe it as Microsoft Word on designer steroids).
My training taught me to be very detail oriented and precise – print design allows you to be a perfectionist. With web you have to learn to accept the fact that things are not going to look exactly the way you intend – and the sooner you realise this, the better.
You cannot simply replicate something that has been designed for print on screen. You have to take into account that your design will look different on the various devices people will use to interact with it (such as mobile phones and tablets, nevermind the numerous browser options available). As more and more people are accessing the web in different ways, you have to design for the specific media they are using so that their experience is the best it can possibly be. For your design to be the best it can possibly be you need to make sure it stands up to a range of user experiences.
2) It always helps to know some basic web skills
Sometimes things that you can do in Adobe programmes are simply not possible to recreate on the web, so having a basic understanding of html is always handy. I admit I don’t know half as much as I should, but at the same time I am lucky enough to sit next to Chelsey, who is always there to set me straight and tell me ‘Yeah, that isn’t going to work Danielle’. I am then forced to accept the fact that things will not look the same on the web as they do in print, which brings us back to point one.
3) You have to create a great user experience
The possibilities with web design are endless. You are not restricted to size/space in the same way as you are with print, so you can create as many pages as you like that scroll as much as you want/need them to. The internet is a very competitive space, and to keep up you have to step outside of print constraints and be as creative as possible. This means there is a huge demand and opportunity to create great user experiences.
4) Colour is different
Print colour works in CMYK mode because this is the way printers work, whereas web runs in RGB due to how screens produce colour. Both modes render colours very differently. Just ask Christie about the troubles she has encountered whilst trying to get new mugs for Attacat. You cannot expect printed colours to look the same as colours on a screen – and vice versa.
5) Type is more restricted
Print designers have an amazing array of fonts that they can choose from when they are designing. Typography for the web is more restricted, largely because in most cases the font that is shown on a screen needs to be available either on the user’s device or hosted on a web server. Though this vastly reduces a web designer’s options, there are a growing number of webfonts that can do a pretty good job. For example, Google Fonts has over 600 font families to choose from. Not only are there fewer font choices, but the web renders fonts differently so sometimes they do not appear as clear and sharp as they might in desktop software. In addition, typefaces look different on various devices and browsers and it is very difficult to Kern text (Kerning is the spacing between each letter) on the web!
Although tons of things are different when designing for the web, you have to remember that basic design elements, such as grid structure, remain the same. I now believe that it is crucial for all graphic designers to understand the basic elements and capabilities of both print and digital design. Being able to apply both fields of knowledge when designing will make you a stronger designer in general. Print is far from dead – I still enjoy designing for print – but at the moment I am learning from and enjoying the challenges of digital design.