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Art Directing the Web

As I mentioned last week, I’ve written a new talk to help me cope with my obsession with making layouts that are different from what we mostly see on the web these days. It’s called ‘Art Directing the Web’ because in the talk I make the point that we should make different layouts not just for difference sake, but to better communicate the meaning of our content and to tell better stories.

In the talk I say:

“What you think of when you hear the term ‘art direction?’ Do you think about responsive images, presenting alternative crops, sizes or orientations to several screen sizes using the element or ‘sizes’ in HTML? They’ve become useful responsive design and art direction tools, but there’s more to web design than tools.

Do you think of those designers like Jason Santa Maria and Trent Walton who art direct their writing by giving an entry its own, distinctive image, layout and typography. This gets us closer to understanding art direction, but images, layout and typography are only the result of art direction, not the meaning of it.

So if art direction isn’t exactly those things, what exactly is it? In a sentence, it’s the art of distilling an essential, precise meaning or purpose from a piece of content—be that magazine article or a list of reasons why to use the coolest app from the hottest start-up—and conveying that meaning or purpose better by using design.”

Which one of the two possible websites are you currently designing?

We don’t hear much about art direction on the web, but I get the feeling that might be about to change. Not just because a bunch of design nerds are talking about it in relation to the web, but because clients are starting to be dissatisfied with the “which one of the two possible websites are you currently designing?” state of design. They want their companies or products or stories presented in ways that reinforce the reasons why they do what they do and they’re beginning to realise that the “ pour your content into a framework template” school of web design is’t good enough.

There’s video of ‘Art Directing the Web on Vimeo’ and the slides are on SpeakerDeck too.

Real Art Direction on the Web

Jen Simmons and I have had lots of conversations about this over the years and she’s been writing and presenting some wonderful talks about art direction. I watched her latest talk, ‘Revolutionize Your Page: Real Art Direction on the Web’ this morning and it’s the perfect accompaniment to my new talk. There are some obvious crossovers, but they work incredibly well together.

I’m going to be speaking and writing a lot more about art direction from now on—hell, I’m going to be writing a lot more full stop—because I think that it’s important to talk as much about it and visual design in general as much as we seem to about performance or responsiveness or UX.


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