Decoration - the Enemy of Good Web Design

When you ask some web “designers” why they added a certain element to their site they’ll answer “because it looks good”. These people are of course artists, not designers.

You should never add something just because it looks good - aesthetics are never the end goal but rather a tool web designers may use to achieve a specific goal (and only when it actually helps them achieve that goal).

Real web designers will never:

  • Treat text as a graphic element that have to fit into their layout. The site’s design should be tailored to the site’s content, not the other way around. If you see “Lorem ipsum” you know you’re dealing with an artist, not a designer.
  • Add an image to their design if it doesn’t serve a very well thought out purpose, such as an irrelevant stock phots with the sole purpose of “living up the design”.
  • Use a graphical element that doesn’t add meaning to its surroundings. Borders, backgrounds, dividers and white-space that doesn’t provide new meaning or clarify relationships are the trademark of misguided designers.

Finally, and most importantly: real web designers will never decorate.

You see, decoration is something you add to make an object prettier. You’re adding beauty but not meaning. This is fundamentally flawed as you introduce new things in your product without adding any meaning - you’re actually diluting the meaning of your work.

Graphic elements which are only there for the sake of the graphic element itself - decoration - will only achieve one thing: distract your customers from your business goals. This is why a good designer will never decorate. Making something “pretty” is not a reason in and by itself. This kind of meaningless beauty will only serve as a distraction to your customers.

Now, a good designer can certainly make something more aesthetically pleasing if it causes the product to sell better (this isn’t always the case though), and the important thing to notice is that while the good designer may use aesthetics as a tool to achieve an end goal, like selling more, beauty was never (and should never) be the end goal itself.

Do you agree? Discuss the purpose of web design with us and our readers by posting a comment.

Note: I’m not having a go at people who create beautiful web designs. However, we should call things what they are, so call the guy who create beautiful web designs with aesthetics in the front seat an artist, and call the gal who create effective web designs with performance in the front seat a web designer.

Authored by Jamie Holst on December 3, 2009

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