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Robin Williams Talking About Web Design

Fred: Robin, it's wonderful to have some time to chat about web design, it's been two years since we last visited -- thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule for our readers.

Robin: Has it been that long? Time is so abstract to me--deadlines and Christmas are about the only things I can keep track of.

Fred: Robin, I know your book is a huge success, so I'm not going to evangelize the book right now if that's okay with you. What I'd like to do is share some of your insights with our readers about "pre-design" issues facing today's designers.

Robin: Sounds great. I'm not good at evangelizing my own books anyway, so lead on---- ;)

Fred: We get lots of letters and requests to review sites -- and invariably a new designer will 'miss the mark' because they didn't get the design direction into the right genre.  They'll usually comment: "I didn't know where to start."   If they missed, how would you get them back on track?

Robin: This question directly addresses a chapter I wanted to put in the web design book but ran out of time -- a chapter that specifically pointed out exactly what makes a site look the way it does -- "trendy," "corporate," "new age," "informal yet professional," "humorous," "homemade family site," etc.

I wanted to display a number of sites in each category and call out specific features that contribute to the impression. Once you gather a number of, say, corporate sites together, you find similar features that create that "look." Once you pinpoint (put into words) these similar features, you are closer to being able to recreate that sort of look in a new site.

At the onset of a project, designers should print up the first pages of several sites that exemplify the category for which they are designing. Then they should begin asking questions about the category or genre of sites:

What are the distinctive features that create the style?

For instance, what kind of typefaces do they use in body copy, what size of type, what are the line lengths for body copy, what is the ratio of image to text, what kinds of typefaces are used in headlines or graphic text, what kinds of images are used (people photos, abstract images, collages, upscale illustrations, etc), how are the images used (text wraps around images, backgrounds, tilted, overlapped, etc.), how much white space is left, what kind of backgrounds are used, how much Flash is used, how prevalent are DHTML menus, what sort of navigation do they use, and on and on.

Make a list of features that seem to be consistent between these sites, and then make a list of how each individual site has created an individual look within those common parameters.

Fred: So from there they can springboard into the design with some degree of confidence they're on the right track, right?


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