Good Design is Everything

The most lasting and impactful digital projects are those that find organizational, aesthetic, and technical harmony.

Some consider a digital project’s user interface and organizational design less important than the design of its underpinning technology, such as a database. However, good digital project managers understand that interface and organizational design are at the heart of a project’s success, as they make the content more accessible, navigable, and comprehensible. 

It doesn’t matter how sophisticated or groundbreaking a project is if the visual and organizational components are not presented clearly and comprehensibly to users. Everything from colors and fonts to headers and button placement matters and affects a person’s ability to use and understand a project’s content. (This is especially true for disabled users.) As someone who builds web apps (I code everything from the database powering the app to the user interface), I meticulously plan and design the app (or site) experience, including how every page will look and feel and how users will navigate the information. I do this before writing a single line of code. Over the years, I have learned these design skills through online resources and by exploring existing projects, which has had the greatest impact on my abilities. Like a musician who must first listen to music before writing a single bar, a web designer should pay attention to other’s design choices. What is the layout design of commercial websites? What about academic ones? How do the fonts differ? What information is highlighted and potentially downplayed? Over time, web designers can develop a “vocabulary” that enables them to build beautiful projects in appearance and function.

If you are creating digital projects or are interested in creating them, I highly encourage you to learn about interface and organizational design. You could start with LinkedIn Learning to which the BC community has free access, or YouTube. Search for tutorials on interface design and information architecture and the related concepts: user experience, usability, and visual design principles. Helpful books include Don’t Make Me Think (Krug, 2014) and The Non-Designer’s Design Book (Williams, 2012). As part of your learning, you should also become familiar with accessibility standards, which must be incorporated into site design. (The W3C site is a good place to start.) Finally, many helpful tools can be used in the designing process, including Paletton for selecting colors, and Figma, my go-to for creating interactive ‘wireframe’ mock-ups of websites, apps, and digital projects generally. While the tool itself is useful, far more important is that it allows you to put design front and center.

The above images look like they come from a working web app. If you had access to them, you could even click the buttons, and different menus and windows pop up. But it isn’t a site. It’s a ‘sketch’ of a future made in Figma. I won’t create the site or backend database until the design elements are planned.

The most important part of a project is determining your central message. Once you have decided on the most important “takeaways” for users, all visual and organizational design choices should serve that goal. No longer torn between deciding which font looks prettier, the designer now considers how the font choice, for example, serves the project’s aims.