The Community Of Over 578,000

Home ›› Design ›› The Layers of Design: the style layer

The Layers of Design: the style layer

by Andy Rutledge
Share this post on
Share on twitter
Tweet
Share on linkedin
Share
Share on facebook
Post
Share on reddit
Share
Share on email
Email
Share on print
Print

Save

Style is an important layer in the design process and is not to be neglected.

Designing for the Web, as I see it, is a multi-layered process. It’s a process in which each layer addresses specific design needs related to client aims, brand characteristics and site user habits and expectations. Sadly, the last of these layers to be applied in the process, the application of style, is an oft-maligned element of design. Style for its own sake or by itself is not design, certainly, but stylistic concerns are important to successful design.

Even so, any day of the week you can find designers in online forums criticizing web page graphic designs for having style. Prime targets for criticism these days include rounded corners, gradients, drop shadows, large buttons, fat icons or a worn look. Some designs garner criticism simply because the title font is Trebuchet MS.

Much of this criticism is explained, ostensibly, by relegating these graphic elements into the dreaded and cliche Web 2.0-look category of graphic design. It seems that once a cliche is defined, all of its characteristics must be persecuted without thought or consideration for context; at least by those who lack relevant understanding.

Now certainly these or other graphic elements can be ill-used and irrationally applied to design. But like all graphic elements, each of these has communicative value and contributes to the message conveyed by the page design. A designer must know what each of these and other graphic elements communicates and use them where and how it’s most appropriate. Indiscriminate use of stylistic elements in design does indeed amount to needless affectation or embellishment. Nevertheless, style is an important layer in the design process and must not be neglected.

Layering

Breaking the design process up into layers is a useful mechanism for ensuring that the effort is comprehensive and contextual. By starting with the most fundamental factors in the design and designing them to be contextually appropriate, you can build successive layers of the design on the right sort of foundation.

Once you’ve got a clear picture of the client aims and desires, brand considerations, site and specific page purposes, target user habits and expectations and the different pages’ contents you can begin with the most fundamental layer. Different designers might categorize the layers differently, but my basic suggestion for layering would be:

  • Information architecture Start by deciding and/or planning for what information is available where, when, and under what conditions throughout the site.
  • Interface behaviors Specific behaviors are sometimes required or advisable for certain interface elements. These often affect the design effort from both a functional and visual standpoint.
  • Visual hierarchy of the content It’s often beneficial to provide clues to what’s most important on the page, next important, and so on.
  • Layout The fundamental visual framework to support the previously mentioned elements.
  • Style The look and feel of the page/site must support all of the above and tie things together neatly.

Each layer is important and, done well, contributes to the wholeness of the design. Leave out one layer and the design will fail to reach its potential. One could go so far as to say, as I have on a few occasions, that designs that ignore one of these layers are simply poor designs.

Elements of Style

The application of style to the design might be subtle or heavy-handed, according to the context, but no amount of stylistic application can be said to be too little or too much in and of itself. Context matters in every aspect of design and this is certainly true of stylistic concerns.

Let’s take a couple of those much-maligned interface cliches for example. Note that both Blogger and Sprint use rounded corners in their page designs. However, these sites don’t use the same sort of rounded corners, and for good reason. Each is chosen for specific effect. Do you know what that effect is? These sites’ designers did.

Both Blogger and WordPress are weblog software application websites. However, Blogger uses lots of gradients, drop shadows, fat icons and rounded text in its main page interface while WordPress does not. Know why? These sites’ designers do.

There’s no two ways about it; style matters. And style applied to a web page design is not always just style for its own sake. It’s often a vital supporting element in effective design. Competent designers understand this. The nattering nabobs and little design generals of the online forums do not. Which is why there’s a difference between getting paid and getting comments in a forum.

So don’t mistake the presence of style for a lack of substance. Don’t forget context when evaluating or applying design. And don’t work for comments by doing what’s popular – work for clients and get paid for doing what’s effective.

post authorAndy Rutledge

Andy Rutledge, Andy is a father, husband, designer, cyclist, composer, and curmudgeon. He is principal at Unit Interactive (https://unitinteractive.com) and writes about design and professionalism on his own site, Design View (https://andyrutledge.com).

Share on twitter
Tweet
Share on linkedin
Share
Share on facebook
Post
Share on reddit
Share
Share on email
Email
Share on print
Print

Related Articles

Building digital products for the web’s next billion users
  • Connectivity issues are further inflated by accessibility gaps. This, in turn, undermines user experience and creates obstacles for the wider use of digital products.
  • When designing for users, it’s worth considering such issues as poor connectivity, accessibility constraints, levels of technological literacy within different countries and cultural barriers.
  • In order to satisfy the needs of the next 3 billion users, it’s vital to build inclusive and accessible products that will provide solutions to the critical problems the next generation will face.
Share:Building digital products for the web’s next billion users
The Liminal Space Between Meaning and Emotion
  • To innovate well is to search for meaning behind the innovation first. This requires investing time into discovering what users need and think of unique ways to serve them and better solve their problems.
  • Emotions are widely misunderstood in UX design and often manipulation is used to predict user behavior. However, a much better approach to UX design is storyscaping, which aims at empowering users, rather than controlling them.

Read the full article to learn more about liminal space and how to apply this thinking to your design.

Share:The Liminal Space Between Meaning and Emotion

Stop frustrating your users. Invest in notification strategy instead.

The UX of Notifications | How to Master the Art of Interrupting
  • As part of UX, notifications are key to leading the user to a better interaction with the product. Therefore, notification strategy should have a central role in UX design.
  • A good starting point is to create a user’s journey map and identify major pain points. This should serve to understand when and where notifications might be of help, rather than create confusion.
  • It’s a good practice to use a variety of notifications and provide the user with opt-outs so they don’t feel overwhelmed.
Share:The UX of Notifications | How to Master the Art of Interrupting

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Check our privacy policy and