Designing for function is an elusive skill that sets effective designers apart from self-indulgent ones. To put it in better terms, it is knowing and understanding the development process that comes after the design stage of a project. Good designers know in advance what it will take to make that design happen and design for that process, instead of in spite of it.
And what they don’t know, they ask before the first sketch is made.
This is a principle that is definitely not new, but for some reason, it seems to not have yet translated to all designers when they are creating for the web. Web designers today fall into one of two categories:
- Designers who pass their designs off to a developer
- Designers who develop their own designs
In print, it is rare to see a designer who will personally mix ink colors and run the press on which the designs will be produced. Designers and printers have long needed each other in order to run their businesses, and have established a working relationship – and an understanding of each other’s part in the process – that allows them to be compatible.
Not to mention, print is a medium with a variety of static variables – that is, the designer can choose the exact environment the designs are going to live in. The designs do not need to fluctuate to account for possible circumstances that are less-than the ideal environment.
Online, designers and developers are often working for the same creative team (if they are not, in fact, the same person), yet the understanding between them tends not to be as complete as the printer-designer relationship. Often, designers who are accustomed to working in print understand good static design practices and try to apply these same principles to their online designs. In these cases, we see inflexible elements trying to live in a dynamic environment where several variables are outside the designer’s control.
What it boils down to is this: designers who are also web developers understand the limitations of the medium they are producing work for. In the process of wearing both hats designers in this category also tend to think as a developer early on in the planning stage. Adaptability is key on the web, and having the skill-set to know in advance what you may need to accommodate for is crucial for success.