11 Inspiring Lessons from Web Design Experts

Web Design Confession Booth (vii) - Photo kindly provided by allaboutgeorge of flickr

A large part of being a capable web designer/developer is learning from people who’ve been acknowledged for their expertise and authority.

Finding and reading information about effective web design is part of being a web professional.

With this in mind, here’s just a few compellingly-sound advice and viewpoints from recognized personalities in the field of creating kick-ass websites.

1. Design with the users in mind

"Although there are lots of elements to consider when designing compelling Web experiences (writing style, look and feel, information organization -to name just a few), there is one "knowable" element that can be used to appraise the rest: audience. A detailed understanding of your target audience provides you with an effective metric by which to evaluate all your design decisions: structure (content and organization), visual presentation (personality and tone), and interaction (functionality and behavior). From cultural dimensions to computer expertise, the more you know about your audience the easier it becomes to design for (and communicate to) them."

Luke Wroblewski, Interface Designer, from LukeW: "Understanding Your Web Audience"

2. Apply the right technology at the right time

"Sometimes people hit an idea right on the nose. My wife brought home this comic strip and it’s so pertinent to what we do.

Sister – ‘Mom says you’re designing a web page for school.’

Little brother – ‘Yup.’

‘And not just any web page, but the ultimate web page.’

‘I’m using every tool in the box. HTML… XHTML… CSS… XML… SOAP… AJAX… Flash… Perl… JavaScript… you name it.’

Sister – ‘What’s the page going to look like?’

Little brother – ‘I’ll figure that out when I’m done.’

Fox Trot

It’s funny because it’s true. We often put the technology horse in front of the cart. It’s not about building the solution before there’s a problem. It’s about having a problem and using the right technology to solve that problem."

Jonathan Snook, Web Developer/Designer and Author, from"The Ultimate Web Page"

3. Why web usability is important

"On the Web, usability is a necessary condition for survival. If a website is difficult to use, people leave. If the homepage fails to clearly state what a company offers and what users can do on the site, people leave. If users get lost on a website, they leave. If a website’s information is hard to read or doesn’t answer users’ key questions, they leave. Note a pattern here? There’s no such thing as a user reading a website manual or otherwise spending much time trying to figure out an interface. There are plenty of other websites available; leaving is the first line of defense when users encounter a difficulty."

Jakob Nielsen, Usability Expert and Author, from Alertbox: "Usability 101: Introduction to Usability"

4. Why web designers should write

"It’s time we designers stop thinking of ourselves as merely pixel people, and start thinking of ourselves as the creators of experiences. And when it comes to experience on the web, there’s no better way to create it than to write, and write well."

Derek Powazek, award-winning Web Designer, from A List Apart: "Calling All Designers: Learn to Write!"

5. Accessibility is oftentimes in simplicity

I’m going to start my technical advice with something that seems to have been buried in the teachings of accessibility—simplicity. If you want to reach the greatest number of users possible, it’s best to write clearly and simply and design your interfaces to be consistent from page to page. For some people, simple usability advice like this is an absolute accessibility need. Many people with cognitive disabilities can fail a task simply because it hasn’t been laid out well enough for them. And anyway, people of all abilities fail tasks that are confusing. Why should we all suffer an interface that proves itself to be unusable?

Matt May, Web Accessibility Specialist, from Digital Web Magazine: "Accessibility From The Ground Up"

6. Consider how people look for information

"Observe how your users approach information, consider what it means, and design to allow them to achieve what they need."

Donna Maurer, Information Architect/Interaction Designer, from Boxes and Arrows: "Four Modes of Seeking Information and How to Design for Them"

7. Educate clients/employers about good web design

"Some who don’t understand web design nevertheless have the job of creating websites or supervising web designers and developers. Others who don’t understand web design are nevertheless professionally charged with evaluating it on behalf of the rest of us. Those who understand the least make the most noise. They are the ones leading charges, slamming doors, and throwing money—at all the wrong people and things.

If we want better sites, better work, and better-informed clients, the need to educate begins with us."

Jeffrey Zeldman, Editor in Chief of A List Apart, Author, and Web Designer. from A List Apart: "Understanding Web Design"

8. Find inspiration from places beyond the web

"It’s always helpful to look outside of the web for your inspiration, to places where you might not at first expect to find a solution. The world is a collage of inspiration, from newspapers, magazine publishing, and advertising to product design, architecture and the fine arts."

Andy Clarke, Web Designer and Author, from Peachpit: "Creating Inspired Design Part 1: I Am The Walrus"

9. Design for an international audience

"Despite the fact that the Web has been international in scope from its inception, the predominant mass of Web sites are written in English or another left-to-right language. Sites are typically designed visually for Western culture, and rely on an enormous body of practices for usability, information architecture and interaction design that are by and large centric to the Western world.

There are certainly many reasons this is true, but as more and more Web sites realize the benefits of bringing their products and services to diverse, global markets, the more demand there will be on Web designers and developers to understand how to put the World into World Wide Web."

Molly E. Holzschlag, Web Designer and Author, from 24 Ways: "Putting the World into ‘World Wide Web’"

10. Focus your client’s feedback

"A clients natural inclination will be to give you his personal opinion on the design. This is reinforced because you ask them what they think of the design. Instead ask them what their users will think of the design. Encourage them to think from the users perspective."

Paul Boag, User Experience Consultant, from 24 Ways: "10 Ways To Get Design Approval"

11. On the topic of the "designer" vs. "developer" label

"On the about page of this site I used to call myself a "developer/designer/occasional writer". It’s a bit confusing, and I still find it hard to know what to answer when someone asks me what I do for a living. Am I a Web designer? A Web developer? A Web programmer? All of them? Neither? It really is a difficult question to give a simple answer to.

My answer depends on who is asking, when, why, and under what circumstances. Sometimes I’ll say that "I work with the Web" or "I build websites", both of which are true but don’t really say what I do. It would be easier to be able to give a short, simple, reasonably precise answer.


As an alternative, I’ve been using "Web developer" for some time. The problem with that is that many people assume that a Web developer does mostly back-end programming, which I don’t do a whole lot of. It does sound more professional than Web designer though."

Roger Johansson, Web Professional, from 456 Berea Street: "Are we designers or developers?"

Have you got any inspiring, helpful, or otherwise interesting advice on the topic of web design/development?

I really want to know what you think about the whole "am I a web designer, web developer, web programmer, web builder, web [fill in the blank here]?" label. Feel free to leave a comment below.

This was published on Apr 13, 2008


Great article, as always.

Simplicity is surely what i try to achieve on all sites i develop, i believe it’s the key for a site to actually “work”.

Adelino Andrade Apr 13 2008

Great article, and a very good blog to. I hope to learn a lot here. It goes right now to my favorites.


You missed one….
“Your site could be your first impression on your customers. Can you really risk that to some geek who doesn’t know real business? Make sure your first impression is the best it can be. Check out my history and this site, and see what can be done for you. ”

Sarah Apr 14 2008

I must say this is a great article

Cindy Sue Causey Apr 14 2008

Thanks for the mention of “cognitive disabilities”.. There are multiple, multiple websites I’ve approached quietly behind the scenes over the years regarding their inaccessible design as read by my Mind.. And that’s not just limited to high profile national sites, am speaking of local, say, banking or telephone ones, as well.. Am sitting back these days watching those same sites lose increasingly high traffic numbers as other sites begin to “get it” and genuinely design for *ALL*.. :)

Cyber hugs..

Oh, PS.. I usually go by “webmistress”, just because it’s there.. ;)

Jacob Gube Apr 14 2008

Thank you all for your comments and I’m glad you found this article useful.

@Skit: Simplicity is definitely key to an effectively-designed interface. It does have the additional benefit of potentially making your site more accessible and easy to navigate via assistive technologies and non-traditional browsers.

@Cindy Sue Causey: I agree that part of a good design is that they have to be accessible and there are a ton of simple, quick, but effective ways you can improve a site’s accessibility. Using meaningful title attributes for your links is a good start (don’t mind the links on my sidebar though, I’m still working on my new WP theme :) ) — just don’t use repeating prefixes in your title attributes like “links to home page” and “links to about page” or “links to” because many people who use screen readers like to search title tags alphabetically to navigate.

– Jacob

Jason Shipley Apr 16 2008

A List Apart did a survey last year 33,000 web professionals and has a lot of good information.

On page 27 of the pdf it shows the percentage of what web professionals call themselves. #1 is Developer, #2 Web Designer, #3 is Other and last is Accessibility Expert/Consultant/Lead.

On page 32 it shows the percentage of web professionals that make over 100k a year and what they call themselves, #1 Information Architect, #2 Creative/Art Director and last is Web Designer.

To answer your question, I call myself a Creative Director but in order to clarify in some cases I would say Web Director.

Jason Shipley Apr 16 2008

istioselida May 12 2008

very interesting! i think the best design is the one that can make a simple and nice website keeping in mind the accessibility standards.

Miss Blossom Dec 09 2008

These are great points especially about getting client approval…always an interesting stage, as they do always want to put their stamp on it, but quite opten it will ruin the design. It’s hard to fight for the design without being a primadonna.

Yanzen May 08 2009

Well, all people like to share, but in other world i find more people dont like speak.. so can we share and still spoke one to other via blog or coffe break.. Good Stuf here.. From BSD City

Melek Jun 04 2009

love all the various quotes and thoughts on the web in your post.

to answer your question, when people ask, i tell them i’m a web designer, even tho i also code sites, but not heavy back end stuff.

Francessco Dec 19 2009

Thanks for the article: It’s very useful.
I’ll try to work with these ideas.

jashim uddin May 03 2010

Realy very interesting! i think the best design is the one that can make a simple and nice website keeping in mind the accessibility standards.

So many thanx

great design, helped me a lot of understanding a design.

Thanks a million man. :)

Ashlesha May 11 2010

Thanks for the article…..
Its very interesting and helpful too…..

I really appreciate the author for highlighting some very important points and I believe if we workout well on these we can definitely compete and deliver more than what the designers normally do.

Yanzen Jul 27 2010

Love this blog ^_^. Inspire me to do more and more ….

i’m so sorry but my antivirus has been detect a trojan horse from the link of the advertisement above this article. When i clicked it, my computer canceled the connection..

Mukund Jha Apr 05 2011

Great Article. Its awesome as usual.
its really boost my web development,
Thanks for such article.

Taylor Apr 08 2011

One of the most important lessons in this article is to educate clients about web design and get them to focus on how their website users will view the design! It’s easy to forget these two things when you’re trying to get through a project and make your client happy. But the ultimate goal is to create a really useful site for their customers. That’s what will make your client the happiest in the long run.

Thanks for reminding me!

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