An Event Apart: Great Responsibility

by Luke Wroblewski December 11, 2011

In his With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility at An Event Apart in San Francisco, CA 2011 Elliot Jay Stocks talked about what matters in effective Web design (hint not new technologies). Here's my notes from his talk:

  • There’s a negative side to focusing on the latest technologies in your Web designs. While these tools are useful, they are not a silver bullet for good Web design.
  • The Web 2.0 look used a lot of gradients (through images), glossy sheen on nabbers and buttons, rounded corners, and more. Many designers jumped on this trend, which resulted in lots of sites that looked the same.
  • Apple understands the value of planning things out to the last detail. Which creates a sense of high quality. This attention to detail is much more important than any popular visual design trends.
  • The distraction of the real: attempting to mimic real textures, backgrounds, and dimensions. This is an aesthetic layer focused on making things look “real”. Many times underneath the surface, though, the underlying design is not effective.
  • It’s tempting to get into textures and gradients as a designer but ask yourself why you are using these effects? What’s the purpose? Real and perceived affordances communicate interaction.
  • If you are going to make something look like a three-dimensional object, get it right. Otherwise people make expect behaviors that don’t exist in your design.
  • Consider the context when deciding to make something look like a real-world object.
  • Avoid conflicting panes of reality that emerge with 3-D effects without consistent design.

The Importance of Typography

  • Typography is (almost) everything.
  • It doesn’t matter how many fonts you have available to you. You only need a small number of faces to do a lot. Access to more fonts can lead you astray. Think of what you need to “paint” effectively.
  • If you work primarily on the Web, do some print design work. It’s liberating and you can bring a lot of what you learn back to the Web. Jumping between the two worlds gives you a wider range of experience.
  • Work from the type out. This allows you to focus on content first.
  • Typography details make a much bigger impact on your design than gradients, drop shadows, and the other effects designers frequently use.
  • Web fonts have made tremendous advances this year but there’s still a lot of work required to make them look great everywhere (especially Internet Explorer).
  • Look beyond the Web for inspiration. Go outside, read books, experience the world. If you’re only looking at Web galleries, you are just seeing what other people have done before. Looking beyond the Web will give you new ideas.
  • The latest technical specs won’t make you a better designer, finding inspiration outside the Web will.
  • We now have the tools and power to make amazing things but we need to use these tools responsibly.
  • Just because you have access to lots of fonts, doesn’t mean you’ll create better typography.
  • With great power comes great responsibility. Act accordingly.