September 15th, 2017
Unpopular Opinion: Your Print Design Skills Do Not Transfer to Web

Not all experience is equal.  Web design is not “graphic design”, it is a vastly separate discipline.  The skills do not directly transfer.  It’s important that this be understood.

Print design can be just as complicated as design for the web…

…and honestly it’s just as mercurial in terms of reactions to your work.  Oh you looked at the brochure I designed under an incandescent light and it looked terrible?  Fantastic.  It’s so similar to how web design is affected by monitor size, color profile, resolution and window size that it’s easy to forget that the correlation does not equivocate the two.

Graphic design is its own special blend of insanity

…those glorious paragons that live in the details, crafting complex and vivid imagery, infographics, and advertisements, the creativity and ingenuity is insane and something I have so much respect for.  But thats a 3″ view, and the web lives at more like a 3000 foot view, it requires some bigger picture thinking, and less creative use the of the assets at hand.

This isn’t about elevating one above the other, just making the separation clear and respected.

Design disciplines are separate but equal— VERY separate. I mean have you seen a web designer make business cards?  Let me tell you, in 2008 web designers’ business cards looked as shiny and ridiculous as the buttons we were so fond of.  Because in print, you don’t need to design in the “shiny”- that’s called light. In the real world we have all kinds of it and don’t need to simulate it.  And those gradient laden business cards looked RIDICULOUS beyond belief to any print designer worth their salt.  See you create those effects in your paper choice, not in Photoshop.

And print designers exploring the web world commit just as many hilariously misinformed mistakes, because we think making something good is the same in any medium.


Look out for these common mistakes:

Just as the web designers forget the existence of actual light, print designers forget many aspects of the web as a medium, so here are some classic blunders to watch out for:

  • Designs with a static width/height
    Web pages are not a piece of paper with hard boundaries, they change and morph based on how the user is seeing them on one of a million possible variations of screen and software configurations.  This “static thinking” is the root of all of the struggles of a print designer in a web world.
  • Excessive curves/angles
    Another hallmark of a print designer trying to make sense of the web is a use of curves and angles that at first seem “creative” but when it comes time to do we implement this proportionally in a way that scales with the user’s screen and doesn’t cut off parts of the page awkwardly?  It’s that “static” thinking all over again.
  • Typography, all of the typography
    Creative typography can be insanely difficult to implement to the point that I would say it is under-represented more often than not in web design (to its detriment).  For a print or graphic designer typography is LIFE, so unrealistically small fonts and text arrangements can pop up that are difficult if not impossible to implement in a scalable manner.
  • So much random ornamentation
    The visual hierarchy of a brochure, catalog, poster, business card, etc is very different from a website, and thus the ways in which we distribute visually complex elements is different.  Or at least it should be.
  • Unconventional navigation
    So much pain.  The pain of designing something the same way every time sometimes results in drastic changes to navigation structure…BECAUSE.  Because it has to be different than before.  How will users know how to use this unique and creative implementation of the site menu?  They won’t.

Can you master all of the disciplines? Sure, but it takes time and study into the nooks and crannies of each one to understand how they are similar, and how they are irreconcilably different.