The term Web design encompasses a variety of tasks involved in producing a website. In fact, it’s an umbrella term whose specific elements are often divided among various specialists. For example, the graphic designer may not be the same person who inputs code or optimizes the content for search engines.
In practice, the term Web design is often used in reference to the front-end, user-facing portion of the website, and specifically to its look. Even with this narrower definition, though, there are two distinct design tasks to consider: graphic design, which is often what people think of when they hear Web design, and user interface (UI) design, which is less commonly thought of but (arguably) more important.
Web design, when taken to mean graphic design, as the term is most commonly used, is the process of determining how a site should look for appeal (what looks best).
User interface (UI) design, on the other hand, is the process of determining how a site should look for usability (what works best).
Both graphic and UI Web design consider colour scheme, content layout, graphics (type, size, number), font, spacing, and other visual elements. However, whereas a Web designer’s goal is to make the site look good, a UI designer’s goal is to make the site work well. And whereas a Web designer might take cues from colour theory, graphic design principles, and personal taste, a UI designer bases his or her decisions on one factor: the user.
The focus in UI design is maximizing the user experience by arranging the content so that users can accomplish their goals quickly and easily. Simplicity and efficiency are the guiding principles. Traditional Web design (that is, graphic design) contributes to UI design—for example, a typeface must be easy to read; graphics should draw users to the appropriate content—but doesn’t replace it. A site that is easy to use almost always looks good, but a site that looks good isn’t always necessarily easy to use.
Unless you’ve already invested in user experience planning or you’re just “renovating” a site for which you’ve already done user testing, you’ll want to invest in user interface design. This more comprehensive approach includes many elements of traditional graphic design but has the added benefit of a user focus, so your site is more likely to be profitable as well as pretty.
If you already have a site that works well for users and just want to “spruce it up” with a new colour scheme or other simple cosmetic changes, traditional Web design is probably all you need.
For a better determination of your site’s specific design needs, talk to the experts at SWS.
Associated tags: Web Design, User Interface, UI