Why I Love Interactive Designers

posted on 5/5/08 by Meghan Wilker

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 experience.

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

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