Like Jason Gross, I too have often been asked to make things look good or “pretty” because content looks quite mundane all by itself apparently. I’m quite competent in my skill sets that I can comfortably give things like a boring paragraph of text a face lift. In doing so however, I ask myself what the purpose of adding certain design elements is. Is it simply to make bits of content look beautiful or is it the need to emphasize certain parts to make them stand out based on their varying degrees of significance. Maybe paragraphs of text ought to be left alone. As long as text is legible, it serves its purpose. The purpose being of course is for the information to be consumed by the end user quickly and effectively.
It doesn’t stop at paragraphs of text.
It’s easy to slap together some gradient highlights, shadows and transparent objects to make a design that’s eye catching but to present clusters of information in a structured manner that follows some level of consistency is quite another. Put it this way: do you want the user to absorb and take away valuable information from the site that you’ve designed or would you rather that they gawk at it for 2 min and exit without exactly knowing the purpose of it?
From personal experience working in the industry as a Web Designer, I’ve learned to design for the end user and not for the client. If a client or an account manager has feedback regarding my design thinking, I encourage them to engage me in backing up their opinions with rational arguments rather than saying what their personal preference regarding a color choice is for example.
It doesn’t stop at just design either. The web’s landscape is constantly evolving and while the potential of HTML 5 and CSS3 looks promising, as professionals, we shouldn’t be using these techs just for the sake of using them. I’m as much of an advocate for pushing new tech as the next web geek is in order to drive the web forward. Application, context, and a user base is important when considering the use of new technologies. Like design, application/execution through the use of new technologies should be done so with good reasoning as well.
A good designer and front end developer needs crucial understanding of fundamental principles behind their executions. Without these principles, they’re just designing and executing blindly without actually giving their decisions much thought.