5 Things to Ignore When Designing Websites


Designers have enough to worry about when doing a design. From trying to decipher what the client wants, to getting a hold of the appropriate assets and choosing the right colors and fonts to use, which only scratches the surface of what goes into a good web design.

Here are a few thing that you are safe to forget about when you’re designing the website, you’ll have plenty of time to think about them later on with the other people involved in building the website.

Trends

It is very tempting to see what is hot in the industry and jump on the bandwagon, producing similar designs. I try and avoid trends in my work, for two reasons.

I want my design to stand out from the crowd, having a design that is like everyone else’s, makes that very difficult. It is much better to be the one starting a new trend than being someone who follows them.

You also want to avoid picking a style just because its popular right now. Picking the right style for the website is better for the long term success of the project than what is techniques or styles are hot right now. Even if something isn’t in vogue right now doesn’t mean you can’t use it for your design, especially if it is the right one to you.

HTML/CSS

It has often been said that a good designer should know HTML/CSS to avoid problems while coding. I say that’s not the designers problem. If designers start to worry about what HTML/CSS is able to do we will never push the boundaries of what is being done.

Also, a designer won’t have the time to stay a breast of all latest developments in front end coding (it’s not their job to do so), so what they think is or is not possible may not be accurate.

Updated: The reality is that most designers have at least a basic understanding of HTML/CSS, some are able to code their own designs, and yes that is a good thing. Even still I’m suggesting that while you are designing you forget what you think know about how the design will be built. If you start thinking about that, you’re not thinking about what is best for the design. Yes you will work with your team to figure out if some things need to change in the design due to the implementation details (usually time is the biggest factor). It is better start with what you want to do and scale it back, than self edit as you design.

Cross Browser Problems

Similar to ignoring HTML/CSS capabilities, designers should ignore problems cross browser. Just because something isn’t possible in IE, mean’s you shouldn’t design it. Let the front end developers worry about hacking the browsers to make sure things work cross browser. They may come back to you to create a slightly different treatment for the older less capable browsers, but that’s ok.

Bandwidth

With the proliferation of the high speed connections, speed of connection is something you shouldn’t worry too much about, unless you’re designing for mobile devices, and even some of those have high speed connections.

Yes there are many people out there still on dial up, or other low bandwidth connections, but you really shouldn’t let them be the rulers of the design. If it turns out that low bandwidth users are a big issues it is easier to scale back the design than scaling it up.

SEO

Don’t design the website for search engines, design them for people.

Google is the god of free traffic (paid too!) and this can influence people to change the layout and design of their websites to improve their rank. This is one of the worst things you can do. The primary ranking criteria for Google is back links. Design your pages for search engines and users will hate you, and you’ll have no backlinks, and your Google ranking will suffer. Treat your users well and Google will treat you well too.

What things do you ignore when designing?

Response to some of the comments below:
Designers are getting more involved in the build of websites, this can lead changes in the design due to build factors, not because it is the best thing for the design. Sometimes these changes are necessary but often they are not, they are made due to the designers understandable lack of knowledge of current development techniques. Yes it can be helpful for a designer to know how the build of a website is done, but that knowledge should not affect the design just because they think something is hard or easy in the implementation.

Some people have suggested that this article says that these things are responsibility of other people and so the designer should ignore them, and that this is awful advice … A designer typically works as part of a team to design, develop and deploy a website, I think it is wise to rely on other parts of team to do the things they were hired to do. To think a designer should do it all, is irresponsible and definitely won’t produce the best website for the client. Yes there are a few geniuses out there who can do it all, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

In the comment people have suggested it only 20 minute to learn HTML/CSS so why shouldn’t a designer learn it. That’s is simply a foolish statement, sure you can pick up the very basic rules in that tiny amount of time, but to be able to do a good job of coding a website is something that people never stop learning.

About Mubashar Iqbal

Mubashar Iqbal is the creator of Most Inspired, a web designer and developer, who has been building websites for over 13 years. You can read his blog at Mubashar Iqbal
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95 Responses to 5 Things to Ignore When Designing Websites

  1. Lars Weimar says:

    While my analogy could have been better, you didn’t really address the rest of my thoughts.

    Anyway, no offense man, but this post was an ‘epic fail.’ Can’t say I’ll be reading more of yours in the future…and if you continue to think like this, I’ll be surprised if you’re still doing this in a few years.

  2. Hello Mubashar, I have to admire you for having your own opinions and doing things your way. At the very least, no one can accuse you of not being able to think for yourself.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think that your blog post did a whole lot to ease growing tensions between designers and developers. While I do agree with you in principle that it is better to focus on one skill and get really good at it, in this case, the design work, than to get so bogged down in technical details that it affects your creativity.

    However, in my opinion, much like a painter should familiarize himself with the technicalities of various paints, brushes, and canvases, a designer should familiarize himself with the medium in which his design will be displayed. In the end, it doesn’t matter how good or creative your work is if doesn’t display properly.

    Unfortunately, designers and developers seem to think of each other as enemies for some weird reason, and that is just tragic. Both sides are important in the long run, and when people can learn to start working together more and stop demeaning the work of each other, things will get a lot better.

    I retweeted this article, not because of your advice, but because I wanted people to see how counterproductive egos and bickering are. Nevertheless, have a great day!

  3. Andy Ford says:

    I commend you for the HTML/CSS and Cross Browser points. While it’s ideal for “web designers” to be highly skilled in graphic design and HTML/CSS, a lot of people are highly skilled in only one.

    I am highly skilled in HTML/CSS and my graphic design skills are good but certainly not great. I work with designers who are highly skilled designers but leave the HTML/CSS to me.

    It’s very rare that a design has to be compromised due to implementation difficulties. But I’ve witnessed a lot of designers hold back on their designs because they *think* it can’t be implemented.

    I say let highly skilled designers do their thing and let highly skilled front end engineers have the challenge of implementing it.

  4. @lars: I’m not sure what point you raise that I haven’t addressed in my comments.

    I’ve said before it would be nice if designers could know HTML/CSS inside out, but I don’t think that is reasonable if they are designing all day long. If your job includes doing the coding you can probably stay in the loop, most others can’t. Given that reality I say let the HTML/CSS experts tell you what is or is not possible.

    I’m sorry you won’t be reading the blog anymore, but I can assure you I’ll still be here.

  5. @Trey: Thank you for taking the time to post your comment, and for retweeting even if it’s for the wrong reasons.

    The comparison with painters is little invalid I think. A painter will be responsible for using the brushes, paints, and canvases to produce the finished art work. A web designer (unless they are coding their own design) won’t be using HTML/CSS, yes as we both agree it would be nice if the could know HTML/CSS, but that isn’t always possible.

    I’m not sure where you got the thing about ego’s from in my post, maybe it comes from your own experience. I haven’t suggested that designers draw a line in the sand (I started as a developer by the way) and insist that developers code it, quite the opposite in fact. The point of the post is to work with other more skilled (in some areas) people to produce the best results. The ego problems I’ve run into come from the other side, where people think they know everything and insist things be done even when others recommend changes be made.

    Perhaps I’ve been fortunate but the people I’ve worked with have been very open to discussion, sharing their thoughts freely to produce the best work. I’ve never considered the other parts of the team as enemies, and there is little if any tension.

  6. @Andy: Thank you! Perhaps if I had articulated myself as well as you have I wouldn’t be getting so much flack 🙂

  7. Skyrocket Labs says:

    I fail to see how a web designer can get away with NOT knowing XHTML & CSS these days. IMHO, someone who draws a web site layout in Photoshop but can’t hand code it isn’t a web designer at all. They’re a graphic designer. Nowadays I see a much larger difference between the two skill sets.

  8. I am not a web designer or code specialist. But interested in developments in the field because of my ambitions to be a web publisher.
    I was looking for very basic info to use blockquote styles to improve my blog, when I happen by chance looked up your article linked on css-tricks. I found the article quite astute. As I continued down and read some of the comments, I was amazed at the storm your article had created! Of course you have been able to hold your ground very well.
    Andy did put it in perspective pretty well. Excellent article. Will sure be following your blog more often.

  9. @Skyrocket Labs: I never suggested that a designer shouldn’t know HTML/CSS, but it is hard for a busy designer to keep a breast of all the latest front end coding techniques, so what they think they know about HTML/CSS shouldn’t affect what they design.

  10. @Jasmine: Thank you for leaving a comment. I read plenty of blogs where I don’t totally agree with the authors, but enjoy the discussion that it creates.

    Happy to have you as a reader.

  11. Jordan Clark says:

    Hi all, this is my first post here. I actually found this article quite helpful; I was not, however, surprised by some of the negative commentary. People can sometimes take things too literally online – I don’t think for a moment that Mubashar meant “ignore” quite that literally – what I think he is trying to say is: worry about these things later, don’t let them get in the way of your design.

    Many times I have found myself thinking, “that would be a good idea, but it will require three nested DIVs” etc. etc. (I can’t design to save my life, btw, but I try!) This article is just trying to expel that kind of thought (or at least, to put it on the back-burner).

    Anyway, people shouldn’t get so irate about some expressing their opinion – I don’t see a “W3C Recommendation” banner anywhere on the post, so relax!

  12. @jordan: Thanks for taking the time to post your comment, its much appreciated. Your example was exactly the kind of thing I was trying to get people out off.

    I’m a little taken back by the reaction of some people. I knew people would disagree with my thoughts, that’s normal, but the extreme to which people have gone is a little surprising.

  13. Mike says:

    Awful advice except #1, possibly.

  14. @Mike: I hope I’ve made my position clearer on Twitter. I’ve also updated the post above to include:

    Some people have suggested that this article says that these things are responsibility of other people and so the designer should ignore them, and that this is awful advice … A designer typically works as part of a team to design, develop and deploy a website, I think it is wise to rely on other parts of team to do the things they were hired to do. To think a designer should do it all, is irresponsible and definitely won’t produce the best website for the client. Yes there are a few geniuses out there who can do it all, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

  15. Scelza says:

    The comments here are great, for the most part. The article was a bold one, and struck up quite a bit of controversy. That’s a good thing.

    Not everyone will accept Mubashar’s ideas, and yes, I don’t agree with them all. What I would feel more comfortable agreeing with, however, is replacing the word “ignore” with the phrase “temporarily put on a shelf”. From that frame of mind, it’s not saying that you should be oblivious to the five points, but to not let them influence your design and creativity.

    Follow up with some of the points after the design, and refine as necessary. Putting the blinders on for a bit can help you design outside of the box, instead of feeling confined within it. This helps to create new innovations that others may someday find useful, and maybe, just maybe, start a trend.

    Keep the comments coming, but keep them constructive. This will benefit us all.

  16. @scelza: Thanks for the comments, I agree totally.

    I’m happy to see comments that disagree with me, as long as they are constructive and provide their point of view.

    Also, you are correct my choice of words didn’t help with the controversy I created, but “ignore” reads a little better than “temporarily put on the shelf” 🙂 I did try and follow that sentiment by saying “you’ll have plenty of time to think about them later”.

    People have a tendency to react to the title of an article instead of fully reading (and hopefully understanding) the article.

  17. Stone Deft says:

    The first one is a good point, we don’t want our design to look like any other stereotype trend-based design, but ignoring CSS and HTML is not a good advice and logically you don’t do web design if you don’t know either.

    Cross Browser compatibility is for the developer but SEO will fail if the designer doesn’t consider it in his design( w/c is bad)

  18. @Stone Deft: I’m still at a loss as to why you need to consider HTML/CSS while you DESIGN website. Yes if you want to code it fine, go ahead learn HTML/CSS and do it, but a lot of designers don’t and shouldn’t have too.

    As for SEO, please explain to me how the DESIGN of a page is going to affect SEO. Yes the content and the and build is hugely important for SEO, but the design?

  19. Sounds like a lot of the people commenting and leaving very harsh criticism don’t really understand how most design companies work. Most design companies that can afford it have a designer, a front end developer and a backend developer, houses with larger income may even have people in between these 3 basic people, production artist, etc.

    Mubs point is that while all designers for the web should understand and know about how a website is built, they dont need or should not need to get bogged down in the details of what they are creating in photoshop/indesign ect., I aggree with Neil and Rob. any front end developer worth their salt can take pretty much anything a designer gives them and turn it into proper html and if they have trouble with something then as any team based environment, you go talk to that person and ask/explain your position on why something might not work as intended or how something needs to change to work in the page.

    I myself have long complained that being self employed and having to graphically design, code/build frontend and code/build backend has greatly hammpered my visual design because i am stuck in a rut of ‘ok i have to design what i know will work easily cause i have to code this’ which on its face might seem lazy or uninspired, but after having to do this on a few hundred projects it wears you down.

    Its my belief that in this haste for any and everyone to be designers or dare i even say developers shafting designers and saying i can design this and develop this i dont need a designer, has forced more design oreinted people to have to learn how to develop more than they really should be responsible for in a project and thus the design suffers in most cases.

    I long for the day that we get back to our roles and relationships and i can say by having worked with Mubs that I have never designed something and turned it over to him that he could not create a well coded SEO sensitive user friendly working document. If you are working in an environment were the html coders are having fits with the designers work, then no disrespect but you need to hire a new developer. Either the communication skills to go back to the designer and work with them are not there or the skill to pull off any design is not, not to say designer can do absolutely anything or no wrong, but more often than not its not the designers flawed design that is the issue.

    designers need to design, developers need to develop, understanding your role and what that encompasses with make any situation work, not understanding that and wanting someone else to make your life easier simply because you don’t want to do extra work is fail and thats what im hearing from most of your arguments against what Mubs is saying here.

  20. John Schires says:

    I think the problem is how you are defining “web designer”.

    Graphic Designer: one who creates graphic elements used in the construction of a site.

    Web designer: one who creates graphic elements used in the construction AND codes the html/css (look & feel) of a site.

    Web Developer: codes the backend of the site, may also code the look/feel.

    I would expect a graphic designer to not know or ignore how a site would be built, but not a web designer.

  21. @john: I never used the term “web designer” or “graphic designer”, so I’m not sure how I’m defining either one.

    Regardless of that, as I’ve stated above, even if the “web designer” knows HTML/CSS they should try and forget what they know, when they are in the design phase. The design phase should concentrate on what is best for the design, not how it should be built.

    Also, I think you’ll find that in many companies the split between designer/developer has had another person added to the mix. A front-end developer is responsible for coding in HTML/CSS and Javascript, removing the responsibility from the designer.

    It’s also no surprise to see the rise of the PSD to HTML services. Most designers (web or otherwise) want to design, not get bogged down in coding.

  22. Evan Byrne says:

    Could you do me a favor and not tell people to ignore bandwidth when designing something?

    It is flawed thinking to say that everyone is using cable these days, most of the rural USA is still running on dial-up. Including me of coarse.

    A designer should at the very least keep it in mind before they create a huge 2000×4000 HD background image…

    All in all I see what you are trying to say in the article and it’s unfortunate that some people have interpreted it in the wrong way.

  23. Stone Deft says:

    @ Mubashar Iqbal design and SEO comes together as you need to consider parts of the design where seo keywords and contents should be integrated like h1 tags etc. You don’t just do fancy stuff leaving out important goals of the website right?

    Also a lot of designers have a particular framework in mind when they are designing like wordpress or joomla. They already know in advance w/c modules to design and the possible location for these modules in their design.

    I think you still need to know html and css or your developer will return your work saying that the deseign is impossible making you look incompetent for the job

  24. Kim H says:

    I’m not gonna lie – sometimes I ignore cross browser compatibility. It just takes up way too much time, and it gimps so many designs to sit there and think about. But I do agree with pushing things to the limit; there’s always some way to implement every part of a design, or at least that’s my thought, even if it means hacking a little bit. Because in all honesty, I really don’t find “hacking” a bad thing.

  25. Cedric Dugas says:

    I agree that designer should not consider there knowledge of HTML, because mostly they are not good at it,

    A front-end developer will create the template you asked and come to you if there is any problem with your design, and you can look for solutions together from there, there is a lot of solutions to a lot of problems, and limiting yourself to what you know may make a website really blend.

    Design and SEO are not coming together, however there is a limit to this, a good graphic designer will not create a good web design because he do not think web content wise. Any designer thinking web content wise and usability, should produce a design that will be easy to work with seo.

    Trends is not an issue, unless your client want something trendy on a site that will not stay online for long, a good example is a sweepstakes site.

    As for bandwith, well it really depend om what you are doing, there is some interesting study that shown that 1 seconds delay in loading time = loosing some users

    ps: why people are so harsh?

  26. @stone deft: So while you’re sitting there with photoshop or illustrator or whatever open, you should be thinking about that HTML tags wrap around your content? I don’t think so.

    The capabilities of the CMS you’re using are very important and something the designer should be aware off, that’s why it’s not included in my list of things to ignore.

  27. @Kim: That’s my point I guess, if you have to hack something to get it work, that’s something you should worry about later. When you’re designing worry about what’s best for the design.

    You can always make revisions to your design, I’ve never seen a design finished in one sitting anyway.

  28. @cedric: Thanks for the great comment, and I don’t know why people are so harsh!

    With regards to the bandwidth item, you are correct there are other factors during the process that will drive what you should do with bandwidth.

    Often the graphics used in the design will be the last factor that determines how fast a website loads.

    The speed of the server, the connectivity at the server location, the load level on the server will all have a larger impact on how fast the website loads. All important items to consider, but probably not while you’re designing.

  29. @evan: Yes the bandwidth issue is a tricky one, sorry you’re still stuck on dial up. I wish things where different, and everyone had a high speed connection.

    However, if the design calls for a 2000×4000 HD background (and I can’t think of too many instances that it would), then the designer should use it, sorry if that affects your experience 🙂

    If something like that really is necessary there are other techniques for improving the performance, or making the experience better for users on lower bandwidth.

  30. Stone Deft says:

    @muashar well ok I’ll have to agree with you, I think most of the people who don’t agree with this article are people who do both the front end and backend aspects of a web project, meaning the ones who also do the coding for their designs.

    If designers were to take your advice, then work will be a lot easier, faster and well focused on the task itself.

    Let the developer worry about htm/css and other stuff, it’s out of your league.

  31. @stone deft: I’m not quite sure you’re being serious in agreeing with me 🙂

    Remember I’ve never said a designer shouldn’t know HTML/CSS, just that they shouldn’t let that knowledge affect the designs they create.

  32. Stone Deft says:

    @ Mubashar really hahaha lol, oh well I’m out of here, let me just browse through your latest site inspirations and… uhmmm come to think of it, your site features a lot of latest and hottest trends and it’s very ironic this article is posted here advising the reader to ignore trends.

    Now I’m not saying I don’t agree with it, it’s just ironic it’s been posted here.

    Keep the inspirations coming and you look great ! I mean it !

  33. How can you ignore a trend if you don’t know what it is 😉

  34. James Lin says:

    Everyone, we have to define the roles of web designer and web developer. I think most of the people complaining here is because they think web designer is doing everything – from wireframes, to photoshop designs, to coding… but in this article it’s just referring to the person making Photoshop designs… in which case I agree and that they shouldn’t worry too much about what’s possible to do… or at least what they think is possible to do (assuming their skills in html/css isn’t as good as the front end developers).

    The article is correct in that they should worry about having a great design… and let the front end developer worry about implementing it. Now if you consider a web designer someone who does everything (photoshop mockups, coding, etc) then that person should worry about many of things mentioned in the article like site loading speeds, SEO, etc.

  35. @james: Thanks for the comment.

    Yes the assumption is that web designers should code their own designs, which I’m not even sure I agree with, but it is the reality we are in at the moment. One day perhaps people will be able to focus on their strengths instead of having to do it all.

  36. JROCHON says:

    Mubashar, thank you for this article. I am part of a team of designers that are responsible for both design and HTML/CSS. We have a very developer-centric environment I do feel that our designs often are diluted because of this type of thinking. The fact that you are getting such a backlash only proves how much this message needs to heard.

  37. An interesting read but from one point of view I feel this could of been retitled as ‘5 Ways to Keep designers happy and Developers unhappy’, don’t get me wrong as a developer I like challenges of getting designs into working sites but sometimes it would make life easier if there was a small consideration for some of these 5 elements.

  38. al says:

    I was outraged first but I think you’re right.

    As a designer who develops her own pages a while back I found myself designing everything while constantly worrying on how I was gonna code it. I would take out ideas that I liked and thought creative cause I thought it might be too difficult to implement. As a result all my designs were pretty “squared” and similar to each other.

    Then, I read an article on the design process of a website (I think it was Carsonified) were they said they designed the early mockups as (paraphrasing) “designing a poster”. It was like a light bulb went up in my head. I still think about the coding aspect because I work by myself but I definitely think its a good idea to work freely and think big during the early design process and edit yourself later.

    BTW, kudos on expressing your opinion knowing it was gonna enraged a big group of the designing community, heh.

  39. First, kudos @Mubashar for taking the time to listen to your readers and respond.

    I’d like to add that I think your points are valid, but the extent to which you ignore certain things when designing depends on the project and your client.

    I’m working on a client whom I’ve given a low project fee for a simple site. However, if I designed just to design and ignored the HTML/CSS capabilities of implementing it, then I would waste my time twice – the initial development of a design not suitable for implementation and again when I have to go back to fix it.

    Overall, it is good for us designers to stay focused on our main “job”, but being cognizant of how our work enables others to do their jobs is part of what separates a good designer from a great one.

  40. @JROCHON: Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m sure that in most cases people are not doing it intentionally even, but it seeps into the work, just trying to break the chains!

    @Gareth: You are right, **BUT** as a developer you shouldn’t just be handed a design and be expected to build it. There should be a feedback process where you can give feedback and have the designer make adjustments if necessary. My point here is that that the designer should reply on the other team members (aka you as the developer) to help decide what is best, instead of doing it themselves.

    @Heather: I agree with the time issue about going back and having to redo things, but the question then comes back to how do you know what is possible or not. You can self edit your designs based on what you think is possible, or you can talk to the developer if you think you’re doing something out in left field.

  41. Juan Manuel says:

    Well I honestly LOVED this post. Lots of times I have this discussion with some of my friends. Sometimes it just looks like people isn’t really “designing” anymore (being creative, no matter the restrictions).

  42. @al and @jaun: Thanks for the comments.

    I’m not surprised by the reaction to the post, designers knowledge/being able to code in HTML/CSS has been something of a holy war topic in the world of Web Design.

    In the past I probably would have come down on the other side of things, but the improvements in HTML, CSS and Javascript over the past few years make so that just about any design can be coded. This makes is less important to FULLY understand what is technically possible.

    This should free the designer to do what is best for the user and client needs, but often they are still shackled by their technical knowledge.

  43. I agree with your point ” dont design for search engine but design for people”.

  44. Hi Mubashar-

    I get your point about not designing for html/css isn’t really a designers problem, but in order to create an effective overall outcome a good designer should be aware of what the limitations are for the css and html as planning ahead for what the site “can” look like after it is coded should have an impact…just my two cents! 🙂

  45. @WordPress Designer: Designer can’t stay abreast of all the new techniques to build websites (since the are designers not developers!) so them limiting what they design because of what they think can and can’t be done, artificially limits them in what they design.

    As I’ve said before, I think designers and developers should work together to produce the best website, a designer simply handing over a finished design to the developer is the wrong way to do things.