Letting go of design control

Design, Web

When a designer creates something for print they have ultimate control. They have control over the design elements of the page such as the layout, colours, and sizes but they also have control over the final output such as the paper size, weight and coating.

This isn’t the case on the web.

Websites are built using a set of different technologies which can be thought of as layers sitting on top of each other. First, the HTML layer provides content and semantics, next the CSS layer provides styling and aesthetics and finally the JS layer provides interactivity and enhanced behaviour.

This layering approach is a very important principle in web design (it even has a name – progressive enhancement), because what you have built isn’t always what the user gets.

For some users, problems such as a flaky internet connection, an underpowered mobile phone or even a strict company firewall might mean that they end up with missing content, missing styles or broken interactivity.

But just as important as these issues, is the fact that users do (and should be able to) change how your website looks and functions. People with poor vision might increase the font size or use a high contrast colour scheme; people with dyslexia or autism might change the font family; people with vestibular conditions might disable animation effects and some users might bypass your design entirely by using a reader app such as Instapaper, Pocket or Safari Reader.

Building a design which works across all these scenarios can be difficult. You need to build progressively, plan for the worst and accept that on the web there is no such thing as ultimate control.