Canonical web design

I’ve mentioned this Joshua Porter post to a number of different people over the last few weeks. It should be compulsory reading for any designer working on an interactive web site …

You can’t appreciate a web site in the same way you appreciate a logo or a poster. When a logo works, it makes you think certain things. Makes you think about the company, their influence, their reach. It’s about branding. The IBM logo suggests a solidity, the rock that is Big Blue. At this point, after you’ve thought these things, you’re done. There is nothing else to do. Maybe you’ll consider their products in the future.

When a web site works, on the other hand, you’re using it to do something. You might be looking for your next favorite book on Amazon, or searching for a critical piece of information on Google. You’re using the web site…interacting with it, having an experience that, contrary to logos, involves you. You are inputting information, asking questions, getting answers.

So, as a web designer, there is no analog to ‘look at this logo and see how it stands for a company’. That’s relatively easy for graphic designers because we can quickly appreciate the way a logo graphically depicts some attribute of the company: ‘solid, blue, Big Blue, trustworthy’. Even if we don’t like the company or if its never done anything good for us, we can make this judgment of the design of the logo.

But in web design, we can’t pass such sophisticated judgement on a design without having an actual experience with the web application itself. Without actually experiencing the value first-hand, we can’t look at a web site and say ‘hey, that web site is well designed because it represents the company well’. This is the primary disconnect when talking about judging great web design. You’ve got to experience it in a real way to know if it is great.

If you want to read more I recommend you start with his “Five Principles to Design By” on his about page.