How your website looks is really important. But not in the way you think.

In the mid-90’s, when the web was still relatively new, I gave a talk at a gathering of fellow designers. Like everyone who has discovered something new, I looked forward to showing it to everybody, and hoped they would all be as excited as I was about the new medium and all it had to offer. I was headed for disappointment. Halfway through, when I was explaining about some of the technical details, somebody asked: “Does this mean that we can’t use any font we want?” When I confirmed this, an incredulous hush fell across the room. I think a lot of my fellow designers wrote off the web as a field for their skills right there and then.

Of course, it couldn’t last. Many clients wanted websites, and they needed someone to design them. And the designers designed, albeit somewhat reluctantly. The limitations were many and irksome, and things somehow never looked quite good enough. And this craving for good-looking websites has beset businesses for years. Because of it, many businesses have been stuck with websites that have provided limited value. Because of it, the public have been tearing their hair over unusable banking services, unnavigable government sites, and impenetrable information sites. The crowning glory came earlier this year, when the Flash-based Black Metal jeans(!) shopping site Anti-Sweden was awarded Best Website of the Year at the Gulltaggen awards.

We need to pull ourselves together. We designers must now take on board that design is supposed to serve the content, and not the other way around. We must stop allowing ourselves to be ruled by aestethics alone, and try to put both the users’ and our clients’ needs first. But this requires both another approach and a different vision. Designers need to get their hands dirty again.

Why and how? That’s going to be the subject of this blog. To paraphrase Woody Allen: “Is design dirty? Only if you do it right”.

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