What do Designers know?!
Around 1990, new technology gave tools to those with no design skills, to get creative and have a go…
Suddenly, design education and in-the-field experience became less important than the software itself!
Like many, I’ve witnessed first hand, how new technology has continued to encourage users to pick up these tools without any skill or talent. How did this happen?
Stage 1: Desktop Publishing
In the late 1980’s the Apple Mac made desktop publishing mainstream. I was working in an illustration and typographic studio at the time.
Over night we lost most of our newspaper advertisement work.
Marketing Executives, Secretaries and Advertising space sales people who’d never studied design or even gone to art college, were let loose on this software. We assumed, these individuals without a design degree between them, would keep this work in the design studios. We were wrong.
So appalling layouts, bad colour choices and just a few fonts were used badly… everywhere: Arial, Times New Roman & Microsoft’s notorious Comic Sans. Luckily, limitations of printing technology meant this was mostly restricted to internal communications.
Stage 2: The Dot Com Panic
At the turn of the century, the dot com boom saw a panic demand by businesses for websites. This time, I embraced technology, doing a post grad’ course in web programming.
Being such a visual media, I expected to meet lots of like-minded graphic designers, looking to create work with computer code. I was the only student on the course with any sort of design background.
Predominantly from IT, the remaining were from engineering and accountancy. Now techies were having a go at design. Some of the worst looking, high profile websites, were built during this period. Here’s one from Warner Brothers!
Stage 3: Template Websites
The rise of modern browsers like Chrome in 2008 made it possible to create blogging websites. Pre-written style sheets(CSS) determined layout and fonts.
Blogs could be published without touching the code, needing design skills or editorial approval for that matter.
In time, they developed into full Content Management Systems. Now entire sites could be built, using template driven ‘themes’.
Professionally produced, these ‘cookie-cutter’ themes simplify the creative process to a series of options. So why do clients approach people like myself wanting a site that doesn’t look like a theme?
The main purpose of bespoke design is to give content impact, by juxtaposing many design elements and balancing each one. Visual hierarchy is created to vary emphasis, based on the importance of the content. You can’t automate that process.
Themes vs. Bespoke Design
This is the era we live in. Complex themes, typically built using 1,000s of files of code, deliver sites that look tidy and professional.
They can also break. If the theme author fails to write new fixes and security holes, (due to changes in the software it works with) a website can fail. They also aren’t designed to get the best out of your content design-wise. That’s because they’re designed without knowing what the content will be.
Given web design’s main role of influencing visitor behaviour, this misses this point. Raising client’s awareness of these benefits is a battle as old as bespoke design itself.
For those who work outside the field, it’s impact is often only recognized once shown. Designers owe it to everyone to explain, and ideally demonstrate, how their design has increased engagement and enquiries.
Only then, will clients stop taking the design bypass on their way to a website build.