Digital Web Magazine

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The Elements of Design : Comments

By Joshua David McClurg-Genevese

August 15, 2005


Naina Redhu

August 16, 2005 3:27 AM

This is my website: aside
I am not sure whether it uses any design priciples consciously – but if you don’t get too many submissions for the website for the next article in the series, maybe you could dissect my website!

Thank you for great stuff on design. I had saved the last article and am saving this one to create a short mini-series available to me as reference whenever I want to refresh my “design” sense.



August 16, 2005 5:27 AM

No offense Joshua, but how are you bringing anything new to this topic? You seem to be regurgitating the same basic information and principals found in any design textbook. For what purpose? To have it on a web page?

Patricia Montero

August 16, 2005 6:09 AM

Well, I think that is not a bad idea to get all this information together on line. On the contrary, I think that any designer should be quite humble to re-discover the desing’s principles once in a while. .. and even better, there are lost of amateurs around that maybe DO need to read this because they don’t have the chance of getting a good book that brings them that kind of information.
So, I appreciate ur effort Joshua, for me it is so good that I’m planning to recomment ur column to my students and co-workers :)

Nick Finck

August 16, 2005 7:20 AM

baseline: We commisioned Joshua to write about the basic principals of design in this column because we feel both new and experienced designer could learn a thing or two from traditional design. There are far too many designers out there who do not understand the basic principals of design and should. We refer to this over arching concept as ‘back to the basics’ and we are doing the same not only for design but also for programming, markup, content, and more.


August 16, 2005 7:34 AM

You are missing my point Josh. I agree with you as more people need to learn about design, but don’t you see that this exact information and presentation is readily available already in books and online? What I am saying is, try something different than shelling out the same information again. Do something creative with it. Present it in a different way. Do something that shows us you not only understand and can apply the information, but also have a voice that stands out from the pack.

Look at 2 seconds of Google work:


August 16, 2005 7:34 AM

Sorry, I meant Nick, not Joshua.

Nick Finck

August 16, 2005 8:44 AM

baseline: I have been a big fan of Andrew Mundi’s tutorial for a long time. We did ping him and asked him if he wanted to write a more in-depth article or series of articles for us, but he never responded to our emails so we moved on. I think you must understand that web designers don’t go to google searching for the principals of design if they don’t know what they are or haven’t been exposed to them because they don’t know what to look for.

The point of bringing this to Digital Web Magazine is to expose this information to those people who otherwise would have never heard about the principals of design.

This is not a problem that design has alone, it’s a general problem with all kinds of information. How do you make something findable to those who don’t know what it is they are looking for but need that information? Thats an information architecture challenge that we face every day.


August 16, 2005 10:53 AM

Nick, I agree with you. Articles as these are good (introductions?) for people who are not too familiar with the basics of design. For those ‘experienced’ designers, it might be a nice summery or reminder. The same value can be given to an article about – for example – the way floats work in CSS. Might have been written before, but still has a great value for someone not familiar with the subject.
Also, it’s not only about the fact that it’s allready written somewhere, it’s also HOW it’s written. Many or most articles on this site are nicely written and well designed, which makes them a pleasure to read.
Looking forward to the next in the series.

michael mckee

August 16, 2005 11:03 AM

I appreciate this article. It is well written and organized and a good reminder of some basics that I learned long ago but sometimes don’t think about. If the series continues and shows examples, both of well and poorly executed designs, then it will truly helpful. I’m looking forward to seeing some specific examples of websites, with detailed analysis of what works or doesn’t work and why.

I see baseline’s point that there is nothing new here. Nick’s rejoinder is valid, too; it is useful to expose “designers” to some basic design theory. Those who are interested might be inspired to seek further knowledge. Unfortunately, simply knowing a few basic concepts won’t do much for design. Google “art guilds”, “artist guilds” or “art associations” if you want to see some of the ugliest web sites around.

Without further exposition, simple definitions don’t do more than add to our vocabulary. Saying this is a line, this is a point, this is an analogous or triadic color scheme is kind of like saying, this is a hammer or this is a saw. It is useful to define terminology. And, it doesn’t really tell us how to use the tools. I believe that some good examples, lots of good and annotated examples, will be very helpful. Keep up the good work.


August 16, 2005 1:22 PM

Matthijs: “experienced designers” who don’t know anything about design aren’t really designers. They are people going through the motions. This is not to say everything they produce is bad, not at all, it is just to say that a designer is a trained professional. Otherwise, I may as well walk into a hospital and declare myself a doctor, because they get paid better.


August 16, 2005 1:25 PM

I have to agree with Baseline on this one. Perhaps if the author had taken his time to relate Art 101 as to how it applies to digital, or online, design it might be worth while, but this information has been rehashed so many times.

If a designer isn’t following these basics already I doubt pasting them here is going to do much in the way of changing bad design behavior.

Nick Finck

August 16, 2005 1:50 PM

Jason, I mean Baseline: I think what the issue is today is that a lot of people call themselfs designers who don’t actually do or know design. I have seen people who do what I call Information Architecture call themselfs designers. I have even seen people who just know how to write CSS and XHTML call themselfs designers. And ya, those things may be design in some form or another. But what I call a designer is basically a visual designer.. a graphic designer.. someone who knows the things outlined in this article. I think my point here is that we are trying to communicate to those who read this site (most of which are not designers) and tell them about the core principals of design. It sounds like you are a designer judging by the comments you are making. Which is cool, but I think what is defacto for your is not defacto for a good portion of this site’s readership.


August 16, 2005 2:11 PM

Wait, Jason who? I understand what you are saying Nick. I guess I was just looking for more from articles like this, something new or a less tread path.

Joshua David McClurg-Genevese

August 18, 2005 12:56 PM

Thanks for all of the great comments. I appreciate everyone taking the time to look the article over and see what they think. I thought I might take a minute to put in my thoughts on the discussion between Nick and baseline.

First off, I can understand both sides. I agree with baseline in that the underlying concepts in the article are in no way new. Both the principles (covered last article) and the elements of design are fundamental ideas that have been around for a very long time. They are at the core of any art or design education, and I do not believe that it is necessary to present them in a different light.

I do believe that they become more relevant with context, as michael pointed out. I chose to start the first couple of articles a little out of context because I think the tenets as discussed do have some objective merit. Context will be provided as we move forward. The next article will deal with constraints in designing for Web, and the fourth article will look at how everything is put together (hopefully using real examples).

Any field of study is a rather complicated thing to communicate well. I find that a successful method to accomplish this is by breaking down the information into layers of content. My intent was to provide a series of articles that individually would layer well together to provide both education and context.

I realize that, for established designers who are already intimately familiar with the tenets of their field, the first few articles may seem a bit redundant. But I felt it important to start at the beginning, to create a basic (objective) framework on which I could base everything else.

Again, thanks for all of the feedback.

Douglas Clifton

August 19, 2005 12:23 PM

The words audience, or readership, imply plurality. Or am I somehow mistaken? There are all sorts of folks with all sorts of backgrounds who enjoy the articles on this Web site.

I am a firm believer that Web developers are doing themselves a huge disfavor by pigeonholing their role in this industry.

Am I a designer? No, but I have some design skills, and I’m always willing to learn or refresh my understanding of this aspect of the media we call the Web. Am I a programmer? Possibly, I certainly have this skill, but I don’t eat, drink and sleep with it. Am I a database architect? Well, no, but I can design a schema and administer a moderate sized database. Am I an expert on user interfaces? Well, no, but I understand what works and what doesn’t because I am also a user myself.

And so on.

The point of all of this rambling is Web development is a complicated business. My suggestion is to put an end to thinking you need to be an expert at only one particular skill, and try looking at the bigger picture.

That’s what Digital Web is about. It’s about broadening your horizons, getting a glimpse at something perhaps you haven’t thought of before. It also means some of the articles, many of them in fact, are written with the basics in mind.

This is a community, not a place to come for expert tips on one narrow aspect of your chosen field. We hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoy bringing it to you, and everyone is welcome to contribute.

Robert Rush

September 13, 2005 12:02 PM

This ‘regurgitation’ is a form of reinforcement and for some a new genre in expression of an idea the basics are paramount. Ignorance shines through the jibes and insult directed at the rudimentary. There is a much warranted coverage in the article “The Elements of Design” as web design is a legitimate commercial expression of presentation pure and simple. The accepted precept theory and standard of ‘layout and design’ are such due to the market and extensive research. These same fundamentals are what stop you at the magazine rack at the grocery store. The web is that proverbial magazine rack and therefore the semantics of “The Elements of Design” are indisposable. You can say what you want about the antiquity of a given material but that material is an antique for a reason. It was a refreshing article for myself helping me to brush up on my own theorums and practices. It’s been along time ago that I was in V.C. for commercial design. This article is dead on which is also a nice touch comparitively speaking to alot of the garbled and erroneous junk that I have witnessed on the ‘web.’ My esteem and appreciation are extended in great degree to both; Digital Web Magazine and Joshua David McClurg-Genevese for providing me with a solid as-well-as accurate refresher. Many thanks to the editing staff and colaboritive freelancer volunteers for making this site possible!

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