I see web design as practical artistry. I don’t spend hours locked in a closet creating a digital magnum opus. Instead, it’s my calling to use stunning visuals in the service of business goals. I’m sitting down at my digital canvas to make a statement – whatever statement our lovely copywriters and client want to make – and to reinforce that message using the power of design.
Here’s an inside look at my process for finding the right balance of power in a design.
Start with the skeleton
It’s easy to get lost on great new fonts, color hues and more. I could spend all day at Lost Type, ogling and trying out the various letterforms. However, like writing an article (or, say, a blog post), the message is clearer if you start with an outline.
For my design process, this is a wireframe. That’s a simple collection of boxes on paper to make sure I’ve got all the elements laid out in a way that makes sense to the eye and the message.
Spend points wisely
Now, it’s time to flesh out the skeleton a bit. As I create a design, I imagine that I have 15 points of viewer attention to spend (truthfully, I probably have fewer). Every element on the page costs points based on how much attention it draws. So, a large red image is going to cost more than a plain text paragraph.
To check this, I close my eyes. Then, I open them and note the first 5 places my eye goes. Those elements get a point value in this order: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
A classic example of this exercise is Yahoo compared to Google. Load both pages. Now, tell me, where has Yahoo spent its points? Google? At Yahoo, they’re spread out among different page sections. Google, on the other hand, spent all 15 on the page center, where the search magic happens.
Use one job to rule them all
In landing page design, for example, you have one job. If you have more than one job, you’re doing it wrong. Other design types aren’t always this strict, but, generally speaking, marketing design aims to help people make a decision; decide to buy, decide to sign up, decide to contact. So, with Hick’s Law in mind, each design should try to reduce the number of choices to keep decision time to a minimum.
At this point, I have to stop and ask myself: How many points am I spending on my one job? All of them? None of them? Based on that analysis, do I need to adjust the design so that I’m spending more on my page goal, or reducing the number of competing message goals?
Add just enough detail
Once the basics are in place, the fun starts – the details, do-dads, tweaks and adjustments. This part feels like tuning a musical instrument, where the goal is to change the pitch just enough to make a message sing.
The trick is to figure out how to use those details to avoid changing the balance of power too much amongst the elements, but to add some subtle reinforcement to how things are already playing out.
That’s my story – what’s yours?
How do you design? What’s your process? How do you make sure your stay on message and on goal or assign the right amount of attention to each element?