Is custom design a universal concept?

At what point does a custom design become an issue in the development of a Website or content management system? Are custom designs even an issue in the world of development anymore?

With all the ready-made templates out there, you would think not. Don't fool yourself; there are plenty of issues wrapped around the ideologies of design and the Web. More recently the term "design" has become more fluid across disciplines.

Look at all the areas in which design is specific; for instance, Architectural design (interior, external, and landscape), Industrial design, Print, Typography. These are just a few of the usual suspects I can think of. Lastly, the topic of this post, Web design. Geez, would all of these areas of design have something remotely in common? Maybe in the sense of color theory and the use of line. But, if you can design a house, can you design a Web site?

Most Web aficionados would beg to differ that anyone with "design" experience, be it from a landscape to a runway, could successfully design a Web site. Arguing that Web design is, literally, a complex Web that requires one to have a technical base, a sense of information architecture, as well as the interest to live and breath in both of these worlds (the technical and visual), if a Website is not thought out properly, there could be problems down the road for both the client and the user.

Most individuals who work on the Web know that usability and user interface design are detrimental to the development and success of a Web site. The idea of usability, or user-centered design, focuses on the user and how they navigate through a Web site. So in theory, should we design by experience?

One would think so, but this is often an issue that is overlooked in the brainstorming process, as well as when choosing who is tasked with getting the job done. Perhaps because most often Website projects are driven from within a company and not by the professionals who have the experience and knowledge of working on the Web. Furthermore, the users' experience should have a substantial role in the overall design and layout of the site, considering it is being built for the user.

So, whether it be an internal or external site the order of information is key to how the audience receives and perceives the information presented. And while a custom design may be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, it may not have an intuitive structure to follow. Not to say that the design has to be less appealing, but that one must pay close attention to the intended audience and overall mission of the client.

Reflecting on my own experiences a little, I cannot recall a smooth-sailing Web design project from beginning to end. Some projects have been more organized than others but all have had their hang ups, fazes of trial and error, additions and deletions of ideas, tears of frustration as well as tears of joy and relief. And just when you think all is said and done, we move on to other issues like gathering content.

Resources on Design and Usability:

A List Apart: Design and Usability 

Zen Garden: CSS Road to Enlightenment


-Brett Johnson

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