How to Simplify Your Design Navigation

By Jessica Ann
July 9, 2014

We’ve all dealt with a website that has a million menus and submenus with no clear sense of organization. It’s the last thing you want to do to your own site’s visitors, so it’s important to know how to simplify your design navigation. Usability is so important for web design, and it starts with making it easy to navigate a website.

design-usability-1

Have a Plan

A very popular YouTube video about the game World of Warcraft went viral because while it begins with a very calculated, carefully laid-out battle plan, it ended with one of the players simply rushing into the battle blindly, getting everyone killed. The offending player also died, and everyone on his team was very angry with him.

The lesson is clear: if you don’t have a plan, you’re not going to get very far. And your failure is going to make your team, which can include both colleagues and customers, very angry with you. So if you’re building a big website using a website builder, WordPress or some other content management system, plan it out first.

While it may sound strange, the best place to start planning your design navigation is a blank piece of paper. Even if you haven’t selected a website design yet, you can probably predict what types of content you’ll want.

The sweet spot you have to find requires offering visitors easy access to what they’re looking for without cluttering the page and taking attention away from the content itself.

Keep Priorities in Mind

Place the most important pages in a primary, usually horizontal menu at the top of the page. This may include your blog, an about page, and a contact information page at minimum. The fewer the better when it comes to this “main menu.” If you offer a product or a service, a pricing item should also appear in the primary menu.

Use drop-down or menus to include related items with each primary item.  A drop-down menu appears when someone hovers the mouse cursor over the primary item. For example, the “about” menu item may reveal a vertical list of links to related pages like company history, employee biographies and mission statement.

Don’t Fool Your Visitors

Some sites make the primary items impossible to click, forcing visitors to find out the hard way that they need to click a sub-item. Don’t make this mistake: simplify your design navigation by allowing visitors to click on all levels of a menu item.

In the above example, clicking “About” should bring up a main page about your company. Sub-items may be placed in a sidebar menu, conceptually connected to the main menu with similar styling, such as color and typography.

In fact, styling can also be used to make it obvious at all levels of your site where exactly a visitor is at any moment. If someone is reading the Company History section of your About menu, those two items should be highlighted somehow, whether with bolded text or with distinct coloring. Think of this styling like a web page version of the “You are here” dot on a shopping mall map.

There are certainly more complex menu systems for those who need them, but those can also be done simply with these basic principles. The key to figuring out how to simplify your design navigation is to put yourself in the position of your visitors. Think about what they want to see and do, and what you want them to see and do, and you’ll be on your way to a simple and effective design navigation.

 

Writing a Compelling “About” Page on Your Website

By Jessica Ann
July 7, 2014

If your small business has a website, then the “About” page is a critical component that shouldn’t be overlooked. If you’re like many business owners, you’re probably so focused on the design of your site that you don’t see the importance of the “About” page. You may even view it as an afterthought, forgetting the value of it.

FAQ

Your “About” page is likely to be one of the most visited, and among the highest ranked pages on your website. It’s the place where your visitors have the opportunity to evaluate you and judge your credibility. You may not be paying too much attention to it. But your visitors are and that’s why you need to pay it the respect it deserves. A little TLC lavished on your “About” page can go a long way towards making your site and business memorable. This will make people want to find out more about what you can provide.

The “About” page is a one-off opportunity for you to tell your story, explain what your business is about, let people know what you can do to solve their problems and what makes you unique. Every “About” page should be unique so there’s no one “fits-all-sizes” template that works for all types of sites.

Here are some basic rules to keep in mind as you create your own memorable page:

Add some personality – This isn’t your résumé or your LinkedIn profile so don’t just focus on a list of cold facts. Add some personality to the mix. Adopt a conversational tone as if you were speaking to your reader face-to-face. Show that real people run your business by adding images of your team and maybe a short bio. If you want a good example, take a look at Mailchimp’s ‘About’ page. They use simplicity and humor. This is a winning combination that exudes personality.

Show your passion – You love what you do – communicate your passion to your visitor. Tell them what your values are, why you started your business, what your mission is and what makes you different.

Get to the point – Your visitors are on your site to discover if you can do something for them. Don’t bury your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) half way down the page after you’ve told them your life story. They might not get that far. Shout it out up front like the guys at Copyblogger do.

Get Social – Show how you love connecting to customers by adding links to your social networks. Encourage visitors to connect and interact with you in all of their favorite online haunts.

Let your customers do the talking – Don’t be shy – if you have had recommendations and testimonials from existing customers then tell the world about them. Highlight any awards that your business has received or any press coverage you’ve had.

Don’t forget the basics – the who, what, where, why and when of your business should all have a place on your page. Make it easy for visitors to contact you and to ask questions.

Call to action – Tell your visitors what they need to do next. If you want to add them to your mailing list then add a subscription link. Point them to a specific landing page if that’s where you want them to go.

Be responsive – Remember that the Internet has gone mobile crazy when you consider your design and that your “About” page needs to look good on all types of devices.

Do you want your website to be a memorable and passionate personal statement? Don’t make it about you. Make it about your customer. And make it happen on your “About” page.

 

 

 

Grow Your Business By Using Google+

By Jessica Ann
July 2, 2014

Google+ is a relatively young social network, first opening its doors in 2011. But it already has 300 million users. And while that doesn’t compare to Facebook’s numbers, it’s more than Twitter. And it’s a sign of why you’ll want to incorporate branding into your Google+ page to help your business grow.

The right approach with Google+ can help you build a community, enhance your search performance and make it easier than ever for customers to find and contact you.

google_plus_bloggiks

The (Social) Search Giant 

At the end of 2013, Google still had more than three times the search market share of its closest competitor, Microsoft’s Bing. That’s a big lead, and while no good Internet marketer will ignore other search engines, it’s clear that Google should still be a strong focus for any business looking to increase its visibility. One of the biggest reasons for a business to build a Google+ profile is the integration of Google+ into Google’s search results. Companies with a Google+ profile will have it featured when people search for that company. This eliminates all concern about whether someone is really getting the company they’re looking for.

Think of like this: Google+ is like the new kid in school. But his/her parents just bought the arcade where all of the other kids hang out. That poses a problem: few want to be seen as the first to embrace the outsider. But taking that chance might just mean VIP treatment at your favorite spot.

For many businesses, Google+ has yet to prove itself, and setting up a presence will be a risk of time and attention. But that risk will likely pay off when it comes to search results, not to mention being among the first to put down a stake at the younger social network.

A related and even more important component of the Google+/search results integration is Google Authorship. This service allows you to tie your Google+ profile directly to articles you have written. Coupled with a strong cross-linking between your personal profile and your business profile, this can drive traffic whenever your articles turn up in search results. Google includes an image in the special “author box” for such results, and setting this to your business or employer logo further expands the branding power of Google+.

Maps, Mobile and More

Brick-and-mortar businesses will want to pay attention to this part: Google integrates address and contact information from your Google+ profile directly into Google Maps results. This means people searching Google Maps on mobile devices will be able to begin navigating to your business with only a few taps of the screen. And they’ll be able to call you with only one or two taps. This ability to make your business accessible to prospective customers is unprecedented, and Google+ is at the forefront.

Places for Business also includes a customer reviews platform which allows business owners to respond to any review. That makes positive reviews visible to the world, and negative reviews easier to address. And Google says 97% of consumers search for local businesses online. That makes ignoring Google+ and its many integrations a bad idea.

If you’ve ever searched for a great Mexican restaurant or the perfect café while wandering a new city, you’ll know exactly how valuable that is. The plain old search results blend into the pack. But the ones with a Places entry get featured on a mini-map, with an instant “Call” button, as well as buttons to add it to your Google Maps favorites or get directions. That’s real-world value to someone hungry or un-caffeinated, and it’s the difference between new business and being passed over for someone else.

The platform displays no advertising, allows you to edit posts and use markup to enhance presentation (a no-go on Twitter and Facebook, respectively) and also offers a slick live video tool called Hangouts On Air. Hangouts are perfect for streaming events or recording product demonstrations. While Google+ may be the new kid on the block, Google has provided so many useful tools for business owners that it’s really a no-brainer: Google+ can help your business grow because it improves your search performance, helps customers find and contact you and provides a crisp, media-rich posting platform.

 

Why Your Web Design Needs Quality Links

By Jessica Ann
June 30, 2014

The “world wide web” wasn’t called that by accident. It’s an interconnected group of pages, pointing at other pages via links. Links, especially inbound links from other sites to yours, play a large role in how search engines rank you in their results. This means that even if your usability is perfect, and your site is stunning, if you’re not using quality internal and external links, it’ll be hard to get traction on search engines. That’s why your web design needs quality links.

483394999

But what’s a “quality link?”

At its core, a link, or “hyperlink” has two primary components: the linked web page, invisible to readers of the site, and the linked text, which is what readers see. So technically, it’s possible to make a link with only those two items. But it’s not possible to make a quality link with only those two elements. Use a combination of metadata and good old CSS styling to make your links quality.

Oh So Meta(data)

You can include several metadata elements in a link to increase its quality. Metadata is just information about information. So, link metadata describes the nature of a particular link. It can be used to make links more useful or understandable for both browsers and people.

For example, the rel= attribute tells browsers the relationship between the current page and the one at the other side of the link. A blog entry, then, might include in its header or footer the name of the author, linking to his author page. That link should include a rel=“author” attribute confirming authorship. Another example is rel=“nofollow”, which tells Google to ignore that link when calculating the target page’s PageRank.

You can also tell browsers whether to open the link in the current tab, a new tab, or a specific, already-opened tab by using the target attribute. People generally expect links to open up in the current tab, and commentators on best practices discourage the alternatives. Average users will use their Back button. While more advanced users of the Interwebs will know to open links in a new tab by holding the Control or Command keys, on Windows and Mac respectively, when clicking the link.

However, it could be useful to define this attribute in some cases, such as when you’re building a web application that benefits from managing multiple tabs.

You Gotta Have Style

CSS stands for “Cascading Style Sheets” and it’s important to speak this language if you want your website to have some style. Links have five states of being. They can be at rest. Then there’s visited, hover, focus and active. Just like humans, links act either alive or dead.

Each of those states describes something your readers do with their mouse or keyboard. Your CSS should define different colors and font styles for each one. Some designers take control of the underlined look of most links by using border-bottom instead. This gives you more options for styling the line, but retains the familiarity of that underlined style.

The color of each link state should also fit a common palette. No two states should be identical. Color is the perfect quick reference guide for links. It tells your readers whether they’ve already clicked a link, or whether they’re waiting for the new page to load. Use contrast with the surrounding text as well as with the background to make your links stand out.

When quality links are used on your website, then the overall web experience gets better for your readers. Metadata and visual elements, when used properly, give browsers and humans an easier web experience. And that means your readers will keep coming back in style every season.

 

Integrating Your Brand into Your Web Design

By Jessica Ann
June 28, 2014

Your website is the first contact your customers have with your brand. Your brand strategy should focus on consistency and simplicity, coupled with some give and take. Coordinate your web design and your brand by letting the style of your web design inform your branding elsewhere. Here are some ideas:

18441344210

Worth A Thousand Words

If your website features a full-bleed header image (the main photo at the top which stretches from edge to edge of the page), use that image across your social networking accounts, as well. Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter all allow similar header images at the top of profile pages. Consistency across platforms will make your brand instantly recognizable, which helps to stand out amongst the online noise.

Many social and blogging platforms will suggest users follow certain people based on shared tastes, web surfing patterns and other information. Integrating your brand into your web design lends credibility to your profile when it appears among those suggestions. It will provide a signal that the suggestion is indeed Your Awesome Brand, and not a similarly named competitor or impostor.

The Power of Palettes

Your website and social media accounts are extensions of you and your brand. They’re all meant to build the same relationships, generate the same leads and market the same products or services. If you’re doing it right, your written copy or imagery alone will stand out as yours across a variety of platforms.

The color palette you use on your website and in any printed or marketing materials is an easy way to strengthen the ties between different aspects of your brand. All of the aforementioned social platforms allow some degree of color customization. Use that customization to make the transition between your website, Twitter profile and YouTube channel seamless.

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 12.11.13 PM

Bringing It All Together

Header images and color design aren’t the only elements you can use to integrate your brand into your web design. A great logo will be the perfect bookmark icon, profile picture and email signature image. Consistent typography across images and website text is also a good idea.

In fact, consistent copy is key. If you have a slogan or a call to action, make sure it’s worded the same across your brand’s different accounts. Your customers should never feel like they’re navigating away from you, as they visit your online communities.

How to Design a Better Mobile Checkout

By Jessica Ann
June 26, 2014

We’re no longer shopping by walking the aisles and lining up at a register. Instead we’re shopping through our mobile devices. Mobile e-commerce increased by 81% in 2012, bringing in $25 billion. As we look to the web design trends for the rest of the year, it’s more important than ever to think about how to design a better mobile checkout.

186333494

The best way to maintain that kind of growth is to make the experience as friction-free as possible. People shopping in a store will get frustrated and impatient if made to wait in long lines or if it’s difficult to get their questions answered. Just as some brick-and-mortar stores get a reputation for a top-notch shopping experience, an online shopping provider can build a reputation for easy checkout.

Here are some ways to improve the mobile checkout experience and increase the chances your customers will complete the process:

Mobile E-commerce is Increasing

The first step to improving checkout experience is to fully appreciate the situation. Mobile commerce is expected to reach more than $86 billion by 2016. That’s 24% of all retail e-commerce, and the growth will likely continue.

The popularity of tablets undoubtedly contributes to the increase in mobile checkouts, with $24 billion spent from the large-screen mobile devices in 2013. With smartphones having lost their early lead, designers have to keep in mind the rise of tablets as the dominant mobile checkout use case.

Simplify the Process

When someone has decided to buy something online, they have already overcome all sorts of obstacles. It takes a leap of faith for many to even consider offering their credit card information over the Internet. And then there’s the chance what they’re buying won’t look as perfect for them as it did on the website (or the model, for that matter). So once they have committed to a purchase by heading to your checkout page, the process should be as barebones as possible.

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 10.06.05 AM

Don’t ask unnecessary questions, offer annoying up-sells or opt customers into mailing lists. Remember, they’re on a smartphone or a tablet. That means screen real estate is precious. And their attention cannot be lost in frivolous requests. You’ll need to ask for their name, shipping and payment information. Anything else will take up space and frustrate your customer. The worst sin of mobile checkout design is unnecessarily complicating the process. So, include no more that what’s needed to complete the purchase.

Be Our Guest

The only thing worse than making someone fill in unnecessary fields to complete a purchase on a mobile device is requiring them to make a profile with your site. Don’t require account creation in your checkout process. It’s like requiring people in a physical store to take out a loyalty card just to complete their purchase. Many customers don’t want to be bothered, and will go to another store if you keep making these types of demands. Your customers want to buy things as quickly and with as little interference as possible.

Design your mobile checkout experience like you would a physical store. Make the default user a guest, and provide a link somewhere to create an account for those interested. But don’t require anything at checkout except what you need to charge and ship.

Moving Along

The best mobile checkout experience will require one simple page of information and show a big, bright “Purchase” button at the bottom. Compare the Moby and Kay Jewelers checkout pages pictured in this article. The longer the page, the more likely the process will hit a snag. There is always the chance of customer fatigue (“Why do they need all of this?!”), typos and second-guessing the purchase price. By the time they are checking out, customers are eager to give you money, so make it as simple as possible.

If you need more than one page to complete the purchase, provide a clear indication of how far along the process is at each new page. Also offer the ability to move backward as well as forward. This assures the customer they are nearing a successful purchase, and gives them a chance to correct any errors they may have made in a previous screen and maximizes their sense of control.

If you’re aiming to design a better mobile checkout, keep the above ideas in mind during the design process. It will produce the best possible mobile experience for your customers, and will future-proof your design as mobile commerce continues to grow in the coming years.

Why Summer is the Best Time to Start on Web Design

By Jessica Ann
June 23, 2014

Whether you’re creating a new site or iterating on one that already exists, web design is an ongoing process. But you’ve got to start some time. Here’s why summer is the best time to start on web design.

497353757

Getting Some Fresh Air

The number one reason why summer is the best time to start on web design is the ability to work outside. You may want to start in the early morning or work in the early evening to avoid the worst of the heat, but getting out of the office is a great way to liven things up. This is especially true if you’re wrestling with a web designer’s version of writer’s block.

Many employers have outdoor areas for breaks and lunch, and those with picnic tables have a built-in outdoor office for those beautiful summer days. Many laptops and tablets have excellent battery life and enable you to work for hours without being tethered to an outlet. And it’s a lot more fun to work from home when you’re sitting out on the deck or in the garden.

Inspiration is Everywhere

Maybe you prefer to work inside even during the summer, and that’s fine. But there’s something far more inspiring about the bright vivid colors of summer, especially after a long, gray winter. Even the people are more lively during the summer, going to the pool, to barbecues or just playing outside.

Your own vacation can do a lot to recharge your creative batteries. Time away from the daily grind, especially in an exciting or unfamiliar environment, might be just what you need for the next moment of brilliance. Beautiful new places and interesting new acquaintances are a great way to get open to new inspiration.

Prototyping is Easier Without Gloves

Carry a moleskin or other notebook around during the summer. Summer means no gloves or mittens, and no cold hands if inspiration strikes while you’re outside or in the car (not while driving, of course!). A quick hand-drawn sketch is a great way to capture quick layout ideas. If you’re more of a tablet person, that will work just as well, although you may want to keep a stylus around, too.

Notebooks are also great for the beach, where sand and saltwater makes using computing devices risky business. Try coming up with a web design drafted on paper with your toes in the sand and your head in the clouds. PhotoShop is a web designer’s best friend, but it’s not sighted very often at the beach.

You may have your own reasons why summer is the best time to start on web design. Perhaps a cold beer on a sunny day opens you to more unusual and potentially engaging designs. Maybe coffee outside the local breakfast shop gives you the chance to let your mind wander. Or you’re the kind of person that is just happier during the summer. Regardless, see what you can come up with this summer. And have some fun while you’re at it.

 

Emotional Branding and Your Business

By Jessica Ann
June 18, 2014

It seems like a slam-dunk: show your competitor’s pricing and feature set besides your lower pricing and more robust feature set. Any viewer will see they should go with your product, right? Wrong. The missing link between that marketing approach and a successful one is paying attention to what emotional branding can do for your business. The key is to not only show the facts, but to tie them together with an emotional investment in your brand.

spock2

We all understand that logic can lead to better decisions, but that doesn’t stop many from relying instead on emotion. The Vulcan aliens from Star Trek embraced logic in all areas of life, and often scoffed at the human reliance on emotions. The famous science officer and diplomat Spock was the son of a Vulcan father and a human mother. He knew the value of weighing each decision with appropriate amounts of logic and emotion. Good branding is like Spock, always keeping its logical and emotional foundations in mind.

Spock as Brand Manager

You can’t hire Spock as a brand manager, but you can use his lessons on embracing a dual nature to build a better marketing strategy. Few people will want to come right out and say they are emotional about their decisions, but that doesn’t make it less true. Instead, says Rick Sloboda in the linked article, you have to offer a logical hook people can use to rationalize their emotional decisions. But no one shows his or her friends a clever commercial because it’s logical. We share things because they make an emotional impact. And we want to share the experience of emotions.

This is why it’s important to focus on that emotional aspect of your branding – but not to lose sight of the need for a logical hook. Doing so can provide your customers with everything they need to make the  decision to go with your product or service.

The Pros and Cons of Emotional Triggers 

Positive emotional triggers aren’t hard to name. They’re things like love, passion, and innovation. According to author and behaviorist Barry Feig, these are ways of differentiating your product among a sea of equivalent competitors. Pressing such “hot buttons” will cause people to remember and prefer your brand.

But it’s not always a good idea to rely on an emotional trigger. Sometimes emotional branding should be approached with more nuance than simply stamping a name on the side of a product. Steve McKee of Bloomberg Businessweek once wrote about an experience he had taking his son to buy basketball shoes. The first pair his son chose looked perfect for the job. But the Dennis Rodman branding immediately turned McKee off. It no longer mattered to him that the shoes looked comfortable and had a sleek design. The Rodman association immediately altered McKee’s behavior despite his initially logical approach.

Emotional branding can do a lot for your business if you take the time to implement it. The primary issue to consider is what emotion is motivating your customers to buy products like yours. From there, it’s important to be consistent about which emotion you choose to incorporate into your branding. Eventually, you can get to the point where your logo on a product is enough to overcome logic and close a sale.

How to Understand Plugins in Web Design

By Jessica Ann
June 16, 2014

fatcowplugin

It’s important to learn how to understand plugins in web design. There are many options and a variety of platforms that let you add functionality easily through built-in search-and-install tools. Other platforms require you to paste some code directly in your site’s theme. The code that’s added to a website allows you to do certain things that you couldn’t do before – this is what a plugin does.  

It can seem daunting at first. After all, there are thousands of articles and forum posts about plugins for every aspect of a website. And you’re not alone if the mere mention of pasting code into your site makes you nervous. Plugins are powerful because they can usually enable and disable features on a site-wide basis, saving a lot of time and energy.

Vacuums and Web Design

Let’s talk about vacuums. Yes. Vacuums are a great way to think about how to use plugins in web design.

While there are some pretty fancy vacuums out there these days, the concept is still the same: use spinning brushes to pull dirt particles out of the carpet and suck them up a tube into a bag. It’s a simple machine for a basic job, and anyone can do it.

But, just like with plugins, not many people fully understand – or appreciate – all of the bells and whistles involved. And the similarities don’t stop here. Vacuums often come with an assortment of attachments. Some are extensions for reaching into ceiling corners, while others are wide brushes for attacking the dog hair that finds its way under the couch. Still others have a slight curve to them meant to clean around difficult angles.

A Tumblr Example

Most blogging and website tools will work just fine for many people right out of the box. But if you’re interested in measuring the traffic to your Tumblr site, you’ll have to go into your bag of attachments to find the right plugin.

Tumblr doesn’t have it’s own built-in plugin system, but some themes let you paste a Google Analytics account number, and you can always paste the code into your theme yourself. It’s like a vacuum which accepts parts made by other brands.

A WordPress Example

WordPress is the fancy vacuum of plugins. It has a vast library of plugins (more than 31,000 as of this writing). They are broken down into categories based on what aspect of your site they are used to enhance, including sidebar, comments and Twitter. Like vacuum attachments, you can turn them on or off, add new ones and throw away (delete) those you don’t use anymore.

The good news is that Fat Cow has tutorials to get you started. The built-in installation and removal capability makes it a great way to learn how to understand plugins in web design.

The Power of Plugins

Like vacuums and their parts, websites and their plugins are most effective when used by someone who knows what they want to accomplish. If you already know most people find you through links to your website shared on social networks, you can use a plugin to make sure that your sharing buttons are accessible on each page, or on your site’s sidebar.

You can easily add comments to your website with a plugin such as Livefyre or Disqus. These plugins make it super easy to delete or deactivate, with no need to go through and change every single page of your site.

Another perfect use for plugins is font customization. For instance, Google Web Fonts is a free database of typography you can use on your site. You can select one or more fonts and then get the code you need to add them to your site. Once again, WordPress has plugins dedicated to Google Web Fonts, making it easy to add, change or remove fonts from your site.

Plugins in web design are an effective and versatile way to enhance the design of your site. And like vacuums, most sites are compatible in one form or another, and the possibilities are almost endless.

 

How to Understand Digital Design: Creativity is Not an Option

By Jessica Ann
June 12, 2014

It’s important to understand how to target your audience through web design. It could be that thinking of it as merely a tool is missing the point. Many advances start as a tool, but then either trigger adaptation of processes and workflows – or fade away into irrelevance.

One or two employees or stakeholders will mention in passing that they are using this new tool, or that new technique. Eventually, someone will ask them why, and for more details. A decision maker will see the light, and the entire team will soon be “on-boarded” with the new stuff. Suddenly, an early adopter’s little-known toy can become the linchpin of an entire company’s success.

478255099

Design Goes Digital

Design is, at its core, the art of practicality. There is always a driving purpose to which a design is directed. The modern smartphone is most often designed as a “candy bar” because the shape is easy to hold and manipulate with one hand. Over time, smartphones have become larger as use cases have shifted (the original iPhone didn’t even have apps). Photo browsing and reading are now dominant activities on smartphones and the larger screens improve user experience.

Before the digital age, design was a solely tactile pursuit. Whether drawing up building plans or sculpting product prototypes, designers worked with their hands and often in three dimensions. The rise of digital tools and techniques didn’t, or at least shouldn’t, change the approaches taken by great designers. In other words, those who excelled at design before digital are still in a great position to lead.

The Tools Change, But the Goal Remains the Same

Digital design is so much more than a tool. Instead, it is a perspective. Digital design leaders don’t simply know which software works best for a project, or which programming languages to use on the front-end and the server side. They understand great digital design still has the goal of furthering an artistic or business objective. The digital doesn’t displace the practical. It just empowers designers to get there more accurately and efficiently.

The creative types will dominate if they understand this. And those lacking creativity will remain inadequate despite having all the digital tools in the world. Digital design requires at least a working knowledge of the essential languages of front-end work, like CSS and HTML, the ability to mock up designs in graphic design software and to adapt them to many display contexts. But at the end of the day, discerning client or project goals and maintaining that thread throughout the design process is, as it has always been, the most important part of design.

Awareness as Adaptation

Understanding digital design then isn’t necessarily about being a PhotoShop expert or mastering CSS animations. Remember Flash? It came, it saw, it conquered, and then it became an outdated design mode overused by restaurants and unusable on mobile devices. Yes, it’s still the basis of some of the most fun distractions on the Internet.

Digital design is less about being distracted by every possibility. And more about being aware of what is out there, what is outmoded, and what is on the horizon. The real adaptation isn’t in mastering everything that comes along. But in being aware of it and knowing when you’re the expert and when it’s time to call for help. Digital or not, the most important part of design is using creativity to achieve practical goals.