Aug 27, 2010 by Aaron Rubman
Scott McCloud describes six elements of design in his visual textbook Understanding Comics.
- Two weeks ago I looked at idea and form, which sit at the core of the creative process.
- One week ago I examined idiom and structure, and what role they play in web design.
- Today we finish the journey by looking at craft and surface.
The craft is all the accumulated bits of knowledge and technique that let an artist turn their ideas and design decisions into art. Online this typically means a knowledge of computer code, common browser errors, methods for creating specific visual effects, and various other best practices. A site that loads quickly, runs without errors, and maintains consistently professional brand messaging throughout has been well crafted. To pull this off seamlessly, the whole of the web development team plays a part in the crafting process, as each has their own area of specialty. Part of Marissa’s skill here at MB/I has been to build a team of consummate craftsmen that includes Natalya, Wendy, and Zac.
The surface of the design is simultaneously its most and least important element. Most people will decide whether or not they want to stay on a website within a second of landing. If you don’t look to be professional and up-to-date, you might as well bid your web traffic a bon voyage right now.
It’s also easy to over-invest in the surface. Ten years ago, everyone who was anyone would have a Flash landing page. Now they’re out of vogue, and often viewed as just one more click or delay before a visitor can get to the real content. The new fashion is social media integration, and for the time being you ignore it at your own peril.
However, the surface really is just the outermost layer of a design. No matter what decisions you make, they will eventually pale in the face of the next new thing. What’s really important is the strength of the underlying ideas, infrastructure, and craft.
Besides, now that Content Management Systems are in widespread use, it is easy to build a new surface layer to polish up an otherwise sound design.
Other Philosophies of Design
Understanding Comics spoke directly to my personal experiences because of my interest in semiotics (the study of meaningful symbols) and the many years I spent studying the cartoonist’s craft. However, I am always interested in reading other takes on the design process. If you have any other design books to recommend, please do so below!