So what is visual design? When I first started school studying design, I thought design and art were the same things. They’re not! Although design and art are both about creating interesting and beautiful things for your enjoyment and the enjoyment of others, design is really more about problem-solving.
Going through the quotes here: “Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.” from Charles Eames, a famous furniture designer. “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” from Steve Jobs of Apple. “Design is thinking made visual.” from Saul Bass, a famous graphic designer, and filmmaker. “Think more, design less.” from Ellen Lupton, a well-known graphic designer. “A design isn’t finished until somebody is using it.” from Brenda Laurel, a video game designer who advocates for video games for girls.
And designers are creative. We make beautiful things and solve problems in interesting ways. And it’s not just designers who are creative, either – developers are also creative! Five different developers will accomplish the same goal in five different ways depending on how they view the problem and decide to solve it, just like designers.
As designers, we have to present our designs to our team and fellow designers to get feedback or approval, and make sure the developers can actually do the work we’re asking them to do within the timeline. We also have to pitch our designs to clients and get their approval, which includes explaining what you created and why you think it’s best for them. If they push back, you can take their feedback into consideration and incorporate what you think is appropriate, but you can also explain that you’re the expert and provide the reasoning for the things you did.
So in summary – the design looks nice, but it serves the purpose of helping people solve a problem or accomplish a task. So more specifically, what is visual design? It’s more than making pretty pictures in Photoshop! (Although we do that, too.) Any type of designer asks “why” A LOT. When a client comes to you and says “Hey, I need a simple website,” we need to ask “Why do you need the website?
The visual design also includes information architecture. For us, architecture isn’t designing buildings, but it’s designing the structure or hierarchy of the website. It’s the site’s navigation, how pages link to each other, how content is formatted on each page in real-time, and even your folder structure on the server. Web design is often referred to as UX design or interaction design. These are kind of buzz words, but they’re a good description of what we do.
Visual design, or user experience design (UX), is at the heart of web design – we’re designing for our users. We need to make our sites intuitive and easy to use. The content should be short, sweet, and to the point. The site should provide valuable feedback when interacted with (like highlighting invalid form inputs, or letting you know when something is happening). Maybe you use micro-interactions – small details like subtle animations that communicate the user’s current status, help them visualize the results of their actions, and make the website more fun to use.
And sites need to load quickly. When people interact with our sites, it should be a pleasant experience, not a frustrating or anti-productive one. Notice that I didn’t mention how the site looks – while important, the way a site looks is actually only a piece of the site’s overall design. Sometimes web designers need to write content or edit others’ content so it’s more web-friendly. I’ve also been asked to contribute to my company’s blog.
This may or may not be part of your job, but keep in mind that it might be something you’re asked to do. The visual design may include graphic design – designing things like logos (less frequent) or icons (more frequent). We may also sometimes create website banners for the tops of pages or the homepage, do some photography for content, or create banner ads. Presenting and giving pitches is a huge part of visual design. It’s something you should continuously work on.
What makes a good designer? So to keep up with the ever-changing world of web design, it’s helpful for designers if they have a handful of characteristics. You should be curious. “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
We need to search out the things that are changing and try them, not just it back and be stuck in our ways. We’re dedicated. Many clients appreciate this because they aren’t experts in visual design (even if they think they are) and enjoy the learning experience and talking professionally about the product. Even if they think they know what they want coming in, if you describe things in a way that’s helpful (and not condescending), you can change their mind and even teach them something new.
Teamwork is really important. Work with your developers and incorporate all visual aspects of the project from the start and don’t just expect them to do something that’s outside their project scope or they can’t do within the timeline. Then you all have to start over and get frustrated and angry. If you’re working with other designers, ask for and consider their input and don’t just take over the project and be rude. According to Thomas Edison, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.”
If something isn’t working, we need to keep trying new ways to solve the problem, not just give up and say it’s good enough. It also takes dedication to sit at a computer 8+ hours a day. We’re passionate.
We love what we do and are happy to look at a computer screen all day. We look forward to researching the latest and greatest visual design technologies. “The more effort you put in, the more you will see results. The more passion you put in, the more you’ll grow as a professional,” said Nick Finck, a professional user experience designer from the Pacific Northwest. Or more simply – “Stay hungry, stay foolish,” from Steve Jobs.