5 suggestions for print designers moving to web

I’m not a web designer, by any means. Sure, I have a graphic design certificate, but my design skills pretty well peaked in 2003 when I completed the online program (although my portfolio is still featured on the sessions.edu site!)

But as someone who’s been taking amazing designs and making them functional for close to a decade, I have some ideas as to what makes design work for the web.

1. Anticipate changes

Who reads webpages anymore? People want content to be updated frequently. That means limit the custom typography or graphic headers (or at least consider how to use custom fonts on your site. Look at blogs: they are really text documents, perhaps with an image inserted. If the image isn’t there, the page is still available. If every page on your site requires a custom graphic before it’s published, you’re slowing down your time to release. Similarly, don’t build so rigid a design that the change of a word or phrase will throw off the entire page layout. Things change

2. Respect the medium

Unless you’re building an RIA (rich internet application), these are PAGES. They should read like a page, with a title and body copy. Think about your content as you would a text document: is it logical from a glance what the hierarchy of content is?

3. Be consistent

Unlike a print ad that may stand on its own, a website is a complete entity. Use the same conventions across the site, in terms of fonts and layout. If you deviate from it, make sure it is intentional and of benefit to the site visitor.

4. Anticipate people arriving on any page of your site

With Google indexing every page of your site and people being able to share pages with friends, you must anticipate that not everyone will visit your home page first. Does your site make sense to someone arriving on an interior page? Can they navigate elsewhere through the site?

5. Get an interaction designer to help

…yes, it’s a cop-out. But one key feature that web offers over print is the opportunity for interaction. There is no equivalent in a print design for error messaging, progressive disclosure, or user flows. I see the evolution from print to web design as both a widening (you are designing a series of pages that are related) and a refining (you are designing components or micro-interactions within a single larger design). Many will argue that an Interaction designer uses none of the same tools as a graphic designer, and I shouldn’t assume a straight-forward transition. Yet I’m not sure that every team can have both an interaction and a graphic designer, so at some point those skill sets need to merge.

As Jakob Neilsen stated back in 1999:

Anything that is a great print design is likely to be a lousy web design.There are so many differences between the two media that it is necessary to take different design approaches to utilize the strengths of each medium and minimize its weaknesses.

  • Print design is based on letting the eyes walk over the information, selectively looking at information objects and using spatial juxtaposition to make page elements enhance and explain each other.
  • Web design functions by letting the hands move the information (by scrolling or clicking); information relationships are expressed temporally as part of an interaction and user movement.