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Design Dump - Keeping You and Me in the Loop!
Todd Bertsch : From Print Designer to Web Designer

From Print Designer to Web Designer

Take the leap but don't get wet…I did.

By Todd Bertsch

There are two schools of web designers. Graphic designers who mainly focused on print design their entire career and later entered into web design. And web designers, who have always been web designers and have no prior design background. Which school is better? Neither.

It doesn't really matter what school of thought or training you come from. It's all about how you adapt and adhere to certain principals and standards.

I came from the school of print designer turned web designer. I was fortunate to jump on early (around '95 with Adobe® PageMill), but I've made several mistakes along the way.

One might naturally think that a web designer who has a design background or education would be a more skilled web designer. This is definitely not the case. In fact I feel that most graphic designer's turned web designers really miss the boat in some crucial areas. This is the same boat I missed for several years.

Yes, like any medium you must follow a set of guidelines and specifications. And Yes, we as designers, no matter what school, must strive to create the most effective design solution for its particular problem. But in web design, we must strictly adhere to rules. These rules are the Web standards. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that every website should look the same. That's where our design intuition comes into play. What I'm saying is to follow the basic standards that users have come to expect. I'm not going to design a business card and put the contact information on the back. That would NOT be normal. People are NOT use to that. Yes, it would be different. But NOT practical.

However, if you're designing a site for an ad agency or for a photographer, musician or creative of sort, there will be much more freedom to break the rules and standards, as your audience will be a very small niche and expect these kinds of creative endeavors. The vast majority of your work will be for the "norm". Normal everyday people who are using the internet to find information about a service or product.

This is the BOAT that I missed for several years.

I was so caught up in "design mode". I was consumed with making my sites so different than everyone else's, that I was really missing out on what my audience wanted and expected.

Web Standards.

There is a reason why 80-90% of most websites have navigation panels that are on the left or top of the browser. There are reasons why the company logo is always in the left hand corner. There are reasons why most hyperlinks are in blue. There are reasons why most sites have the same naming conventions like "Contact Us" or "About Us". There are reasons why Internet Explorer browser is 80% or more of the market. Yes, these are basic rules and I'm sure we all follow these rules. However there are still many web designers who are missing that boat. These are the Web Standards. I didn't create them. And NO, I don't necessarily agree with all of them. But they are what they are. For some reason they just resonated with people. And this is what people expect. This medium is only about 10 years young. And we are still learning how people use this medium. But there's no denying that people are use to seeing something a certain way and don't like change. Don't make them work to find what they want. Just give it to them.

It's simple really. In order to have a successful website you just need to learn who your audience is, and what they want. Are they men, women, age 20-54, with little to no internet experience? What are their tools for viewing your site? Netscape 2.0? I doubt it. But you never know. Are they mainly PC or MAC? And, what are they looking for on your site? What do you want them to do when they get there?

Ok. Well it's not that simple. There's a lot to learn. Many questions to ask. But once you find out these answers…you'll be well on your way to designing a great looking and functional website that your users want.

I won't begin to run down the list of do's and don'ts of good web design. That's for another article. But I will tell you that once I realized that I must adhere to these standards, and to not design something just to be different. It made me much more of a valuable, professional and successful web designer.

If you can bring in the ideals of form and function to the design of a website, and strictly adhere to the standards of the web, I think you'll find that your clients will be happy, because their customers will be happy. If standards are what they want. Then give it to them. It's the fine balance of great design.

Form and function. Finally.

The two words that were rammed into our head all through design school, come to fruition! I guess they knew what they we're talking about after all.

Print to web. Take the leap, but don't miss the boat. •

© 2005 Todd Bertsch. All rights reserved.

Todd Bertsch received a Bachelors degree in Fine and Applied Arts, with a concentration in Graphic Design, from the University of Akron. More »

6/21/05