2008 May

Why I Love Interactive Designers

No offense to my print designer friends (and really, some of my best
friends are print designers, I swear!), I’ve lately been thinking about
how much I love Interactive designers. And production folks. And
developers. Maybe it’s because many people seem to think that a
designer is a designer is a designer and the result of this way of
thinking is working with clients who, for whatever reason, want the
person who designs their offline materials to also create their web
site. “You guys can work with so-and-so, right? He’ll do the design and
you guys can produce it.”

Sure. Sure, we can. But, the thing is, the web is a unique medium.
Compared to print, we have far less control over things like fonts, or
colors, or even alignment. I can’t tell you how many times in the past
couple of years (or even months) I’ve had to explain to a print
designer that the pretty, perfectly-sized boxes they laid out are going
to get jacked all to hell as soon as the client starts putting content
of different lengths in each one. Or how many times I’ve gotten a web
site design where everything is Flash and/or images because the
designer wants to make sure that they control every aspect of the

The reason why Interactive people are MY people, why I love them
with a burning passion matched only by my love of IKEA meatballs and Gossip Girl,
is that they are supremely flexible. They understand that what they
lovingly create in Photoshop will vary slightly when it’s produced, and
when it’s viewed by me on my Mac or their mom on a PC. They create
designs that can handle those variations. They are accustomed to
constantly reviewing and revisiting their design in production and
tweaking it to optimize both the display, and the end user experience.

Print designers*, on the other hand, tense up at the thought that
the headlines and body copy can’t all be [insert obscure font name
here], or that my Grandma
could increase the size of the body copy WITHOUT THEIR PERMISSION. So,
when they are directing the creation of a web site, tension is created
between the well-controlled viewpoint of a print designer (who is used
to having the ability to tightly control font, layout, color and
overall presentation) and the chaos-theory viewpoint of a web
production team, who knows that they must plan for a variety of viewing
situations that range from cinema screens to Blackberries, PCs to Macs,
and browsers, browsers, everywhere!

But while it may make a print designer feel good to control the user
experience, and while that may be a perfectly reasonable way to think
about a print (or even television) experience — that level of
attempted control makes for a very poor user experience online. It can
make the site harder to find on search engines. It makes it impossible
for someone to resize the font for readability. It can make access by
disabled users difficult or impossible. In short, it can succeed at
looking good and fail at being usable. A controlled experience is great
in print, but it doesn’t translate well to the online world.

As I said, no disrespect to my print designer friends. But please, let my people go.

*I’m generalizing here, and I know it. I know there are a few
designers out there savvy enough to design well for both print and
online media. But, they are few and far between. So for the same reason
you wouldn’t ask your kickass web designer to create a billboard for
you, stop asking your kickass print designer to create your web site. A
good print designer and a good web designer can — and should — work
together under an overall creative direction and produce the best
representation of that creative direction in their respective medium.

[cross-posted on the MIMA blog