Web Design is in the Details: An Interview with James Pannafino

In a recent interview, Millersville University professor James Pannafino talks about the misconceptions that many designers have when it comes to web design.

Q: You say web design is in the details. Can you tell us about what details you think are most important to the design process?

A: Understanding user experience and the many factors that are involved is one of the most important parts of the web design process. It’s difficult for some to put value into something that doesn’t have a visual or tactile end product. During my presentation and in my new book, Interdisciplinary Interaction Design, I discuss the use of signals and cues. The designer can’t just assume the user knows a button is a button or a link is a link, you have to develop a system of color choices that will become intuitive for the user over time. The funny thing is user experience isn’t all that new, industrial designers have been thinking about user experience for ages. Do you think a company who makes a toaster is going to build and mass produce something without testing it? Why should a website be any different? Good web design is part strategy (research, planning and design) and part tactic (testing and development) Both need to be considered and seen through.

Q: What are the aspects of the process that often distract designers from the components of web design that can really make a site successful?

A: A fundamental component that tends to distract some designers is that you can’t design for a fixed size. A designer can’t just hand off a design to a developer without instructions on how the design might change across screen sizes or mobile devices. Sometimes this endless canvas thought process is difficult for people to get over. Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan talked about the difference in hot and cool media and how our senses and perceptions affect how we experience digital media. There is a difference between reading a printed book and watching a video on a screen, designers need to be aware of how humans interact with media presented to them.

James Pannafino teaches you how to simplify the web design process on December 6!

Join James Pannafino for a live tutorial where he’ll teach you about seven aspects of web design that are often overlooked, but can take you from square one to finished product without all the headaches.- Learn more!

As far as the design and development process goes, a designer should never just hand off flat files to a developer or programmer. They should always work as a team and check with each other throughout the process. I even recommend working with a developer before the design is even started. The best designs come out of clear and transparent teamwork. Always test and review and go back and make design changes when necessary. Web/Interactive designs are never truly done, they evolve and change as the experience and user changes.

Q: When it comes to speaking the language of web design, are there any terms that are consistently misused?

A: Wireframes, many designers think that they are sketches of a website, when they really are meant to specify areas where real content will reside before style or complex functionality is developed. While wireframes look simple, they are based on content audits and research studies that speak to what the user might except from a given design. Another basic term that often gets misused is animation on a web page. Animation is when illustrated characters are walking and talking. Motion design (often integrated in web page design) is the art of moving type, graphics and imagery in a meaningful way to enhance page content. Graphic designers have been moving imagery and typography for awhile now, Saul Bass’s title sequences are a great example motion design.

Q: For someone transitioning from print design to web design, what are some of the common mistakes beginners make, and how can those be overcome?

A: In general a common mistake is to have the overwhelming feeling that you have to know everything to be a web designer. The field of interactive design is very broad and specialized, a creative individual can go into content strategy, user experience, visual/concept design, the list goes on. You don’t have to know everything, find a niche and then develop a fundamental understanding of the other sub-disciplines so you can talk and collaborate on projects.

At this point web design has a history to it, it’s important to learn that history and all the aspects that come with it. While I do think understanding basic markup language (HTML/CSS) is good, I think too many print designers think that’s all they need to learn because they’re already a good designer. If you really want to learn web design, start with the timeless fundamentals that deal with experience, choice and functionality. Become a sponge and try to see where these principles overlap with the function of web page design.

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