The Web Design Identity Crisis

Once considered a child medium of the print world, web design has now grown up. Both the medium and the discipline have matured to a point of self-discovery. While in our rebellious stage we shunned the very name of print with relation to our field. Now, we’re recognizing and returning to a bit of our print roots. But, we’re also realizing that we really are our own discipline of design. Like others, but different and with our own unique challenges.

During the early rebellious years and into this age of self discovery we’ve tried to compare ourselves to other design disciplines. The top comparison is with architecture, most often in regards to the process. The designer is the architect, making a plan for what will be built. The developer is the construction worker turning that plan into a reality. A grand thought, but this is far from graphic design—the true parent of web design.

Graphic design is communicating and conveying a message in a clear hierarchal form utilizing typography, colors, shapes, and images in a coherent layout to reach a particular audience. To quote the AIGA1,

Graphic design is a creative process that combines art and technology to communicate ideas. The designer works with a variety of communication tools in order to convey a message from a client to a particular audience.

The future of web design needs to be viewed through the lens of graphic design. Ultimately the designer, not the developer, should be responsible for the look-and-feel of the final design in browser.

Now, comparisons aren’t bad. In fact, they can help explain things when our own vocabulary falls short. I find a web designer is more like an interior designer than an architect. Though interior designers make the plan, they also have a hands-on role in executing that plan. In the same way a web designer should be hands-on throughout the process of creating a website. Web design is also like industrial design. Unlike most graphic design mediums, web design requires a high level of awareness to the audience’s interactions and use of the end product.

The future of web design will be formed through the challenges of this rapidly evolving medium. As the web design discipline matures it cannot live in the shadows of older design fields, but must stand on its own.