Graphic design began, in the old times, as a job for skilled artists, people who knew how to use the pencil and great illustrators with a fabulous imagination.
Then it went digital, and creativity became infinitely more important than actual drawing skills. Today, the bulk of the work carried out by designers has the web as its outlet.
Magazing printing and newspapers, for example, still exist, in fact, some still thrive, because of the success of their online portals, but designers have had to adapt to the new environment.
Today's graphic designer has to have enough vision to create layouts and campaigns that will work as well on a print magazine, on a giant board or on a tiny cell phone screen. The modern designer has to be versatile above all things, to adapt to constantly changing work environments, software and platforms.
PRINT VS. WEB
Today, web design has more influence on print design more than the other way around. In fact, since the introduction of interactivity, even designs created for print are expected to project a sense of motion and emulate the possibility of an interaction with the viewer/user.
Terminology and content
Designers who were trained in the old era have also had to adapt to the new terminology, as terms used in web design such as line-height and letter-spacing are beginning to be found in the arena of graphic design as well.
Whatever the terminology they may be using to describe their work, one of the keys for designers' success today is to focus less on the concept of layout and the structure of their designs per se and more on the structuring of content and the hierarchy of the information presented.
Resolution and size
Another interesting innovation has been the concern for screen resolution. With print design, you know exactly how things are going to look, but with web design, you have to be prepared to have your work seen on different-size screens. There are concerns of readability, but also others about how effective the design is at different sizes or whether it will look pixelated on very large screens.
Moreover, file sizes don't only affect how good an image is going to look resolution-wise, but also loading times. Graphic designers had only to worry about how good their print designs were going to look, but modern web designers need to know about size-optimization, so that they can make a website look great and load fast, catering to a variety of Internet connection speeds.
Designers' changing roles
Naturally, the functionality of web design is not complete without the right coding. This is one of the key differences between the graphic designer and the web designer, a web designer is a half-artist/half-programmer, who has to have a great knowledge of both art and composition and the most popular design software and platforms.
In the past, designers were in control. They controlled the message and the way it would be portrayed via a certain medium. The web design revolution has changed that profoundly. Now users can change the size of fonts, get different views of the layout and even choose screen colors themselves.
Adapting to this new user-controlled environments continues to be one of the biggest challenges for designers today.
Printing the Web
Web designers often forget that much of what they are putting up online may ultimately end up on a piece of paper. Many websites have a “print version” button, that makes the transition much smoother. Basically, what the print version should do is remove any links and navigation data that will not be useful when the webpage is printed. The print version should also include resizing or an adjustment of layout, taking into account the items that have been removed.
Research has shown that people like to print out especially long passages of text to read away from the computer. This means that designers need to consider print media stylesheets much more seriously than they currently do.
Even some mainly online magazines and news sites offer the possibility of downloading printable versions, and the websites that are embracing this trend in their designs are certainly going to stay ahead, not only by offering users what they require, but also, by extending their reach to the screen-frees areas of users' daily lives.
One of the keys of designers' work today is communicating messages effectively and consistently across different platforms.
Browsing the web on a cell while watching a TV series, checking out the stock market's trends on an iPad, filling out a registration form on a cell with a touch screen, these are all common everyday user experiences that your website design has to cater to: your designs need to be portable at heart, ensuring legibility and delivering a powerful message.
Designs that are ready for variable aspect ratios, small displays and slow connections will make the experience comfortable for the user, while the opposite will deter them from using a particular site again while on certain devices. For example, all your mobile versions must take the issue of touch screens into account: if navigation becomes difficult due to size considerations, then the website is not portable enough.
Portability is not only about design and content, it is also about integration. The goal is to provide a similar experience throughout different platforms, with similar functionalities and a recognizable theme, to boost brand awareness.
Whatever you're designing, you need to know how different users are going to see it and experience it.
There are many services and emulators which allow you to test your web designs in different virtual browsers. For example, DeviceAnywhere offers a service that tests websites across 2,000 browsing devices.
Is web design the death of artistic design?
Successful design has to do with presenting information in a compelling manner, based on hierarchy considerations, trying to be innovative and using consistent fonts, color schemes and layouts that befit the message you are trying to deliver, while, in the case of web design, making navigation easy and comfortable across multiple platforms and devices.
Design is always integrated with a purpose, it is never a free creation of the artistic mind, for its own pleasure or to satisfy its own artistic goals. The web design revolution has created a challenging environment for designers everywhere, and only those who strike the perfect balance between art and technique, between creativity and functionality, between tradition and the ability to adapt to these rapidly changing environment will not only survive, but also truly thrive, creating new trends and pushing these already flexible boundaries even further.