An Event Apart: Understanding Web Design

by Luke Wroblewski June 22, 2008

Jeffrey Zeldman’s Understanding Web Design talk at An Event Apart Boston 2008 highlighted factors that made it challenging to explain the value and perspective of Web designers but still managed to offer a way to describe the field.

  • What does a person who creates Web design need most? Empathy: the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes.
  • There are lots of obvious insufficiencies of empathy found on the Web: not making links obvious, lack of clear consumer messaging through layout and words, confusion between content & ads, etc.
  • Becoming a Web designer is hard. There are few in-house and educational training opportunities so Web designers need to be motivated to keep learning.
  • One of the main sources for Web design education continues to be people who make products for building Web sites: Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Fireworks. Manufacturers of products promote education of product use but teaching Excel is not the same as teaching business.
  • Few people understand what this profession means. This is disturbing because Web design requires so much knowledge –usability, information architecture, visual design, coding, etc.
  • Organizations that are more cutting-edge (start-ups) provide more advanced roles for Web designers than traditional organizations.
  • There is a lack of ownership of Web sites. Different departments are in charge of Web solutions but these groups are rarely focused on user needs.
  • How do you find centers of excellence for Web design? Award programs perpetuate similar solutions. Journalism is biased towards sites that are making money.
  • How do we get to good Web design? One person at a time. We need to move toward a shared understanding of empathetic Web design.