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Help Them Help You

by Megan O. Read
4 min read
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Give colleagues a basic introduction to design to improve communication.

Bad Web design is usually easy to spot. Even the “untrained” eye gets cross when visiting a site that has confusing navigation, hard-to-read fonts, or music that is impossible to mute. Most visitors will simply leave the site rather than sinking any more time into it.

Not everyone can easily define what makes up good Web design. Shoot, many people can’t even define what a browser is. For those who aren’t Web designers, website fundamentals can seem foreign and confusing. Web design standards have also changed a lot over the years. Lynda Weinman’s first book on Web-safe colors was groundbreaking when it was first published in 1995. But now, while knowing about Web-safe colors shows that a person has been around the block, it’s not necessarily a Web design standard anymore.

Enter Web Design Fundamentals, by author James Williamson. This online training course from lynda.com is a straightforward introduction to why and how Web design works. If you’re just starting out in Web design, or perhaps you’re working with clients, bosses, or colleagues who have little or no understanding of Web design, this is an ideal place for anyone to start.

In every field of design, across the world, every single designer (Web, user experience, graphic, interior, fashion, etc.) has had a boss or client wrinkle his nose, hem and haw, or flat out reject a project because it “wasn’t the right color.” Please note that “wasn’t the right color” can be interchanged for any seemingly random, and often arbitrary-feeling request by a boss or client who doesn’t fully grasp the logic (and brilliance) behind your well-thought out design solution. If your stakeholders and colleagues have a basic understanding of how and why Web design works, they’ll be better able to give you useful feedback and direction, ultimately making you a happier and more productive designer.

This excerpt from Web Design Fundamentals challenges designers to consider the content of their design, over the flashy gizmos and widgets that they, or their clients may think are necessary.

It’s also important to remember that for the Web, you’re not just creating visuals. You’re building a user interface that should satisfy the needs of both the client and the user.

that in mind, let’s take a moment to examine a typical workflow common to many Web designers. First, you should explore the goals and the audience of your site. I cannot overstate the importance of this step. Many times I’ve sat down with the client and although they know they want a website, they haven’t really sat down and prioritized the site’s goals. Before the first thumbnail sketch, you should make a list of all the things that the client wants to accomplish with the site, and then compare it with the needs of the target audience. Prioritize the functionality of the site and make sure that it’s going to respond well to both the client’s goals and the user’s expectations. Completing this step will give you a solid design direction, and give you an idea of the functionality needed to meet those goals.

Next, make sure that you focus on the content of the site, and making that content central to the site’s design. More so than in print design, on the Web, content is king. All the animation, video, and cool graphics in the world won’t prevent a site from failing if the content isn’t clear and accessible. In fact, I’ve often seen the design elements of the site restrict access to the content and make it harder for users to find what they’re looking for.

Remember, good design is often clear, concise, and uncluttered. Now that’s not to say that you shouldn’t focus on the visuals of the site; just that in regards to the Web, those things should enhance and draw attention to the content, not distract from it.

James’ teaching style is clear, and approachable and in just under three hours of training viewers get a complete overview of what to expect when expecting to become a Web designer. He keeps the concepts simple and uncluttered, and encourages people to mimic that approach in their designs. While this training course doesn’t necessarily teach the step-by-steps of how to build an entire hand-coded site with drop down navigation and fancy rollovers, think of it as the Lonely Planet guide for Web design.

Mysterious Web terms and acronyms that are so frequently used (WYSIWYG, RSS, SQL, DTD, OMG!) are defined in this course. Checklists of the tools needed to accomplish all levels of site building are given. Approaches to website layout and design are mapped out. For some people, approaching Web design without any help or preparation can be as daunting as hoping on a plane to Antarctica with no luggage, map, or proper clothing. This training course should be assigned viewing for anyone who has ever thought they needed a website, but had no idea how or where to start, and perhaps, gently suggested viewing for stakeholders with a limited Web design background.

Since lynda.com has been in the business of creating software training videos and other materials for the last 13+ years, there are lots of nuts-and-bolts Web design courses to follow James Williamson’s Web Design Fundamentals with. This particular course just might make all of the other lynda.com courses seem a bit more accessible, and might make your clients, bosses, etc., a touch more manageable.

post authorMegan O. Read

Megan O. Read, Megan O. Read has worked in the design industry for 15 years. She earned her BA in Art with an emphasis in graphic design from San Diego State University in 2000, and has been continuing her education in software, design, writing and client relationships ever since. In addition to owning and operating her own craft website radmegan.com, she works for the online software training company lynda.com as the author relations manager, and is a regular contributor to the lynda.com blog. For more information on the available courses and subscriptions at lynda.com check out the lynda.com website. And check out Megan's weekly blog posts at blog.lynda.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @radmegan.


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