Few people get into the print design
business without some kind of
professional qualification. Most graphic
designers I know have either been to an
art college or have served an
apprenticeship with a printer or in a
design studio - now there's a quaint old
There's so much to learn about graphic
design, both the theory and the more
practical issues, but there are people
who manage to bypass all this and call
themselves 'Web designers' with varying
degrees of success. If they can pick up
all the aspects of the business whilst
being paid for it, good luck to them, I
never had that luxury.
What I want to discuss this month is how
to make your work 'look' professional.
There are some tell-tale signs that can
give you away immediately. If you know
what they are, and can avoid them, you
are half way there.
The Web is a wealth of information.
Everything you want to know about
everything is only a few clicks away at
Yahoo or AltaVista. Yet, amidst all this,
there are millions of Web pages with
little or nothing to say.
in the realisation that their efforts
are somewhat lacking, they turn to 'decoration'.
They have made their second mistake!
It's funny, just a few years ago, a
company Web page was seen as an
extravagance and had very low priority
or expectations. The situation has gone
completely the other way with millions
being spent on Web-based business and
investors literally throwing money at
anything with dot com at the end of it.
With a few high-profile belly-ups in the
news recently, the bubble looks like it
is beginning to burst. Investment money
is all of a sudden drying up. The ball
on the end of the elastic has reached
its limit, is recoiling and is heading
back the way it came.
The McLuhanesque concept of "The Medium
is the Message" arrived in the '60s - a
time of great social change, exploration,
finding new ways to say things.
Communicators discovered the value of 'shock'
and exploited it to its utmost.
Now it is actually very difficult to
shock anybody. We have all developed 'shock
immunity'. When I recently heard a
long-haired busker in the tube station
singing, "The times they are a changing",
I thought of saying to him, "No, they
have changed - It's just you that hasn't"
If the medium was the message in 1967,
it certainly isn't now - and having a
Web site or a dot com company is just
not enough, it has to actually say
something. Saying nothing to millions of
people is the exactly the same as saying
it to none.
Now, the trouble is, that with all the
enthusiasm and effort of putting up a
Web site, and the 'I-did-it-all-by-myself'
factor, people don't even realise that,
without a message, they are just
piddling in the sea.
The Web has given the opportunity for
people with nothing to say, to shout at
the tops of their voices. Lack of ideas
and imagination doesn't mean that they
are stupid, some are resourceful enough
to borrow or steal ideas from others and
pass them off as their own. All creative
people get inspiration from others, and
always have done, but there are people
who are quite prepared to lift elements
from other sites and their imaginations
are so subdued, they don't even have the
wit to change the filenames.
Then there are people who have lots of
good ideas, but their forté is in some
other field. They might be excellent
writers, musicians or programmers and,
okay, we can't all do everything, but
their Web pages are 'graphically
challenged'. If you are not a trained
graphic designer and you recognise this
as being one of your weaknesses and you
can't afford to hire one don't worry,
there are things you can do - and a
things that you should avoid.
In the first instance, there is nothing
wrong at all with being honest. If
whizzy graphics are not your thing,
don't even bother to try! A plain Web
page with good information is much
better than one that is
all-singing-all-dancing garbage. Many of
my favourite sites and the ones that I
visit most often are nothing special
graphically, they just do the job they
are meant to do without any pretensions.
The fact that they score highly on a
functional level means that they are
better designed than many where the 'style'
gets in the way of the message.
The big mistake is to try to rescue a
dull Web page with clichés and
inappropriate graphics - "Oh, it just
needs a little something to give it a
lift!" That supposed 'style statement'
can so easily become a 'lack-of-style
statement." Instead of improving the
page, it can make it an object of
If you are tone deaf, you don't know
that you are singing out of key!