Interview with a Website DesignerOctober 5, 2018
Meet Dan Moriarty, Creative Director at Electric Citizen. Dan is a true designer at heart with genuine passion for his craft, cultivated over many years designing everything from static HTML web pages to complex CMS websites for nonprofits, higher education and government.
At Electric Citizen, Dan leads our design process while overseeing the high standards we've set as an agency. He enjoys working directly with our clients and partners to create both elegant and functional websites that provide a great user experience.
In this interview we peek into the website design process at Electric Citizen.
Q: What skills do you need to be a web designer?
(Dan) It’s a tough one to answer, because I think so many of us came into this field from different backgrounds, and all that experience plays into the job. More importantly, the title “web designer” doesn’t really mean anything specific anymore. The field has become more and more specialized to specific disciplines, such as user-experience (UX), user interface (UI), information architect (IA) and so on.
But let’s assume for this discussion we’re talking about “web designer” as the person who works on a website’s appearance. I think the baseline skills required here include:
- Graphic design – you should have a good understanding of the principles of graphic design. Typography, layout, color. Use of graphic design software.
- Organizational skills – perhaps this just goes hand in hand with graphic design, but I’ve always felt that good designers need the ability to organize. Our job is to organize content on to a page (screen) in the most effective way possible.
- Site building – a good web designer should understand the capabilities of the web, and one of the best ways to learn this is by doing some coding and site building. Build some simple websites, learn what can be done via CSS, and how images are used on a website. Get familiar with how sites are constructed in whatever CMS you’ll be using. You don’t want to design something that’s difficult for others to build and maintain.
- Willingness to learn – a web designer needs to understand new things all the time, it’s constantly changing. Some recent examples include how a design can adapt to mobile devices, how a design needs to meet accessibility standards, and how a design can help or hinder site performance.
- Process – Having a solid creative process is important, knowing how to conceptualize a design, go through different drafts, edit and refine your designs, and presenting present your work.
- People skills – you need to be able to explain your designs to others. Why you chose this font, why this color, why this layout. You have to sell your vision to the client.
Q: Do you have a design philosophy?
(Dan) I strongly believe in design that is best for the purpose of the website. I like to fully understand the content of the site, and who it is for. What are they trying to accomplish? If the purpose is to get people excited about an event, maybe the design is vibrant and fun. If the purpose is to file taxes, the design should be more conservative and clear.
If I had a philosophy, it’s that design should adapt to the needs of the audience. I think sometimes what may be great visually and “on-trend” may not be appropriate for a particular website or audience. It’s easy for a good designer to fill their portfolio full of fantastic looking designs, but harder to create an appropriate and effective look for each client’s needs.
Q: Any websites or books that you recommend for those interested in web design?
(Dan) For inspiration, I’ve always relied on the web gallery at siteinspire.com. The site samples are usually pretty great and up-to-date with the latest trends. They do have a very particular aesthetic, however, so I recommend searching the web elsewhere as well, just to get a different perspective.
In addition to browsing the web, I’m constantly looking for design and layout ideas in other mediums, such as magazine layouts. I love seeing how they handle callouts, and quotes, and lists of content with images. Anywhere that someone is trying to organize content on to a page can relate to web design.
There are many other sources of inspiration–sometimes they just find you. Creative inspiration can be be found in unlikely places--you just have to be open to it.