I have nothing against graphic artists and designers. It is what some of my favourite people do for a living, and I’d like to think I appreciate good design. I also tend to lean more heavily toward design in the form/function debate, even though I spend most of my time in the function end of things. Function isn’t just enhanced by design, it sometimes exponentially improves the overall experience so that the experience becomes more important than what is actually being achieved. Like driving to work in a beautiful sports car vs. an ordinary car; same end result, much better experience overall.
BUT…when it comes to web development, too often a site is being planned purely from the design end, and the end result is something pretty that doesn’t do anything. Or does something but not very well. Or perhaps even does something well, but required hours of back-end arc welding just to get it to behave on the front end. Print designers are often asked by a client to also put together a web design to keep their aesthetic consistent on the web, and though the design can look visually appealing on paper, turning that design into a proper web experience can be problematic.
Of course there is that wonderful hybrid called a ‘web designer’, who knows both good design and the code neccesary to make it happen. These people tend to understand more of the overall technology and are certainly capable of planning a decent website. In that case the feasbility of the layout and many other technical matters are less of an issue.
But the first question to a client should always be “what do you hope to achieve with the website?”. The answer to that question determines the kind of site they should be building (and even whether they should be building a site at all), and then how the information should be organized. After that the processes that might be required to handle the information and get the desired output. Finally, the aesthetic of the whole site.
For an end user the web flow goes something like this:
USER -> DESIGN -> PROCESS -> INFORMATION -> OUTCOME
A user interacts with the design, which uses a process to get the information, and gives us the outcome. I realise it isn’t as linear as that, but this serves as a quick model. So working backwards from the desired result, the most important element is first the outcome, then the information and processes needed to get that outcome. On the other end the design must interact with the processes in a way that invites the users input.
Planning the site purely from the user/design end means possibly veering off course before reaching the desired outcome. Keeping the end in mind will help sort out the information architecture that is going to be required in order to achieve that outcome. Once the path to that end result has been sorted out clearly, the work of creating a design that pulls the user into that experience can begin.