An Event Apart: Understanding Web Design

by Luke Wroblewski February 16, 2014

At An Event Apart in Atlanta GA 2014, Jeffery Zeldman explained why we all need to represent and evangelize Web design so others understand what we do and why. Here's my notes from his talk Understanding Web Design:

  • The Art Director's Club in New York has recognized many influential designers over the years. Their process is exhaustive but only 2 out of 20 people judging the interactive category had built Web sites before. They were judging TV ads as interactive media because they were on the Internet.
  • Something is wrong if a web page can win a prestigious award for interactivity when the only interactive elements are a play button.
  • Sales are a measure of effectiveness. Awards are a measure of greatness.
  • But most award shows treat Web design as an afterthought of ad campaigns.
  • When the agencies that judge our work don't understand it, how can our clients and our teams?
  • People hire you because you understand Web design and they don't. But this is also your greatest weakness. Our partners need to understand what we do so they give us the autonomy to do our best work.
  • This year the Web turns 25. Who is highlighting our work and explaining why its excellent to others? Nobody.
  • When Facebook's mobile app moved from HTML5 to native, the press focused on the technical implementation issues and whether Web technologies were appropriate for mobile. Instead, the conversation should have focused on the experience.
  • Facebook approached mobile as a technology problem, when it was really a design problem: how to remove needless complexity from the Facebook experience, regardless of device used.

Judging Web Design

  • We don't design for browsers. We design for people. Layout is always the servant of purpose.
  • We create better design when we understand our medium.
  • Web design is not book design or game design or poster design. It is more like type design (it enables others to tell their story). It is more like architecture (people take over the space and make it their own).
  • Web design is the creation of digital environments that facilitate and encourage human activity; reflect or adapt to individual voices and content; and change gracefully over time while always retaining their identity.
  • Web designs are like typefaces. Some impose a personality through their style. Others recede and let the style of content take over.
  • Web designs are like buildings. Many are similar but differ in the details.
  • A great website makes interaction easy. A great website guides you subtly toward your heart’s desire. Great web design can be invisible or in your face. Great web design delights.

Creating Partners

  • Every designer is an ambassador of this profession.
  • Push your way in to the right conversations.
  • We may need to use the wrong reasons to do the right things. We went to the moon because we were afraid the Russians would get there first.
  • Semantic mark-up only became important because of search engine optimization.
  • Your boss may never care about the Web for the reasons you do. Your job is to find the reasons why they care.
  • We need more evangelists than rock stars.