Good Web design - perhaps paradoxically - is simplicity that leverages the complexity and opportunities that new or emerging front-end techniques afford us. - Daniel Howells, siteInspire
Amazing Web site design is part art, part science – and Daniel Howells has an eye for both. Daniel is a Web designer and developer, founder of London-based Web design and development agency kulör, and the founder and curator of siteInspire, a showcase and CSS gallery featuring the best Web design today. A fountain of great ideas, Tina Roth Eisenberg of Swissmiss calls siteInspire "the best kept secret for people designing websites." Daniel also recently created a new web app called Fiftytwo, a professional network for creative types.
We caught up with Daniel (who's one of the inspired voices in the SAY 100 design channel) to find out what trends he's seeing in Web design today, some of his favorite new designs and where he goes for inspiration.
What is good Web design to you? And how is it changing? I think good Web design - perhaps paradoxically - is simplicity that leverages the complexity and opportunities that new or emerging front-end techniques afford us. Further, good web design should always care for the user.
I often look back at sites I posted on siteInspire over 2 years ago, and many of the more simple sites feel as good today as they did back then, even though as an industry which leapt forward in terms of what is possible. It is testament that simplicity always wins, and a solid grid will always beat a specific, newfangled technique or novel decoration.
Similarly, I'm always impressed by the work by New Zealand agency Sons & Co as well as Area17 and Bureau for Visual Affairs. And also, Code + Theory are my favourite agency for really refined yet architecturally complex editorial Websites.
What are the biggest challenges for Web designers today? The answer to this question will always be the same: keeping up to speed with the pace of change in both front- and back-end technology is very demanding, yet exciting. I think there's an awful lot of pressure on new Web designers to jump into the (very) deep end without learning or experimenting with the basics first. I have seen a lot of very technically adapt executions, which are missing fundamental typography skills or which don't conform to a grid.
Any trends you are seeing in content design? I'm not really a huge fan of trying to predict trends, but because last year felt like a great year for experimentation, I'm excited to see how this translates into interesting content design. Further, there's still a lot to explore with editorial design for the Web, and how editorial translates to mobile/tablets. Apps such as Readability and Instapaper, along other content aggregators like Flipboard have paved the way for interesting opportunities.
Designing digital experiences for iPads and Kindles – any advice for designers who need to build for those formats? One of the most important things to remember about designing for the iPad (particularly) is the context in which it is used. Of course the dimensions and use of touch/gestures are important to consider when designing for the tablet, but the fact that the user is likely to be in "sit back" or passive mode when they use an iPad, in contrast to a "lean forward" or active mode when using a desktop experience. This is why, with very few exceptions, magazine formats have been very poorly realised: they try to engage the user with heavily indulgent interaction design, whereas a carefully produced, "calm" experience is usually preferable for a fairly passive experience.
What are 3 changes could most sites could do today to improve their design? This is a very difficult question since all sites are different with different goals.
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Firstly, simplify! This is "easier" since it's reductive: remove flourishes and decorations that add little to the experience.
Secondly, if the site really does perform badly - or is unclear - on a mobile device, create a mobile version. I personally dislike the vast majority of mobile sites since they take so much functionality away from the "real" site, but done carefully they can be useful.
What other web design or design blogs do you read and what do you like about them? I read very few Web design-related resources since so many just feature poor quality, link-bait material designed to increase page views.
A List Apart always features quality articles that go beyond throw-away design or development tutorials found on other sites. Chris Coyer's CSS Tricks is excellent (it's human, goes deep, and is experimental).
I normally unearth nice sites from links on Twitter and submissions; I try not to look at other Website galleries to avoid reposting the same content, but the best sites do deserve to get as much exposure as they can!
What are you working on right now? And where can we see examples of your work? I recently I launched a new professional network for creatives called Fiftytwo. It helps solve a big problem I have: while I'm connected with a vast number of people across many different networks, I often miss out on what they are up to since hundreds of updates and messages creates a noisy environment.
On Fiftytwo, anyone who works in the creative industries can sign up, and post one piece of content per week across five different categories: new work, work in progress, news and opinions, questions or opportunity. This immediately cuts down on the noise, and allows you to easily see what your connections are up to at a glance.
Apart from that I'm working on a few more client projects, and other self-initiated projects, which can be seen on kulör. A big project this year will be a redesign and re-development of siteInspire which will hopefully go live in a few months' time.
Where do you go for inspiration? Out of the office and away from the computer! It's so easy to get wrapped up reading too many blog posts, so it's usually more helpful to go somewhere else with a (paper) magazine, or go to galleries and museums.