The complex art of Web design

Professional products are no substitute for expertise when it comes to Web design, writes Nick Langley

Professional products are no substitute for expertise when it comes to Web design, writes Nick Langley

What is it?
Web design is often treated as a digital version of graphic design, but there is a lot more to it. As well as conforming to corporate standards for publication, the Web site needs links to databases and back-end systems.

A Web design team may encompass a range of roles, from graphic designer to a systems architect. But many firms simply call in pony-tailed creative types who indulge their own creative urges, putting as many fonts, colours and graphics as they can onto each page. Web design products such as Macromedia's Dreamweaver and Adobe Photoshop are professional tools, not a substitute for professional expertise.

Where did it originate?
With HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). HTML, along with its successors DHTML (Dynamic HTML) and XHTML (Extensible HTML), remains an important foundation skill, but there is now an array of tools - some needing to be purchased, others downloadable free of charge - to create richer, more functional pages.

What is it for?
Web sites can be anything from online brochures or company reports to fully interactive sales and ordering front-ends linked to enterprise accounting and logistics systems.

What makes it special?
A well-rounded Web designer has a grasp of design principles, an understanding of the organisation's objectives in setting up the Web site, and an awareness of the requirements and capabilities of the target audience.

How difficult is it?
Using products such as Dreamweaver, it is possible to create complex and functionally rich Web pages without writing a line of code. However, Web designers must take into account differences between browsers - including versions of the same browser - which can profoundly affect how a page is displayed. Further complications come from the different devices visitors may use. Mobile phones and digital TVs have much more limited capabilities than PCs but the user experience needs to be as similar as possible.

Where is it used?
Large organisations may employ their own Web design teams, but most businesses buy in skills as they need them.

Internet consultancies providing Web site design and management as a package were hit hard when the dotcom bubble burst. Much of this work is now carried out by old- style service companies such as EDS and IBM Global Services.

Not to be confused with
Webb's Wonder lettuces, Andrew Lloyd-Webber.

What does it run on?
Windows, Unix and Linux, although mainframes and AS400 mid-range systems can also be Web servers.

Few people know that
Orb Web refers to a genus of garden spider, not an object request broker for the Internet.

What's coming up?
Scalable Vector Graphics, an XML-based graphics format which is being hailed as "the next big thing".

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