who do you design for?

visitors should always come first, but…

If you, as a professional web designer/coder, want to sell your work, the need to satisfy clients and their ideas will inevitably come first. That's OK, as obviously you have to sell your work to clients in order to design/code for anyone.

Everything you as web designer/coder can possibly do to keep your clients happy and pay the bills you send them, is OK … as long as you make sure no points on a some­what complete checklist for visitor-satis­faction are left out when you design/code.
My questions is: do you have such a visitor-satis­faction checklist? If so, do you apply it?


Most visitors are happy as long as sites let them read, search, order goods and/or whatever they came for, with as few disturbing and delaying factors as possible thrown in their way. Trying to push more on visitors than they actually came for tends to cause irritation more than anything, and apart from visitors turning a blind eye to the “noise” on a site they may also leave sooner than is good for business.

What is perceived as “noise” on web sites varies from person to person, but you will find that there is an overwhelming agreement in the public that just a little too much irrelevant and/or purely design-related visual stuff on a web page makes for a negative experience. Since visitors can only do so much to block out unwanted and disturbing stuff on web pages, the urge to throw the entire site in the bin — leave never to return — will grow on them with every visit to a web site that pushes too much “noise” their way.

The opposite: too little in the way of decorative and/or “lively” visual stuff and busy ads on a web site, hardly ever has a negative effect on serious visitors. Must be a lesson to learn for the serious business and web site owners here…


Regardless of type of site, visitors do interact with it. It may be something as simple as scrolling pages, looking for information and relevant links. Makes sense to make it easy for them to find what they want by making it stand out in ways they are used to, and relax a bit on design-intentions if they get in the way for logical and easy interaction.

Another form of interaction is for visitors to use their browser's capabilities to modify what's on a page. From a simple “zoom pages” operation, to blowing up just the text and/or modifying colors, all to make reading easier. All major and most minor browsers allow their users to modify settings to such effects, and sites/pages that do not handle them well won't impress any of today's visitors.

There are still sites that advice visitors to change to (their) “best browser” and/or (their) “best screen resolution”. Most visitors, with their new lap tops, tablets and cell phones, and equally new software, are not taking such advises seriously. If a web site doesn't work, it simply doesn't work … blame the designers/coders behind it.

Apart from correctly identifying decade-old browsers as obsolete and totally unsuited for web surfing, and advising its users to upgrade, visitors neither need nor want advises on how to optimize their experience on individual web sites. Optimization for an expanding range of software and devices, is the designers/coders behind a site's job.

Some sites still insist that visitors use specific browsers, or else they won't let them enter/use their sites. That is soo last century!
Some visitors may temporarily or site-specific mask their browsers as “something else” just to get past stupid barriers — just for the fun of it if nothing else. The “fun” doesn't last long for any visitors though.

Visitors, and amongst them existing and potential customers, can pick and choose — they do all the time. That is a very powerful form for visitor-interaction.
Quite quickly sites that insist that any changes must be made at the visitors' end in order to “experience” their sites, become the losers to bad design and coding practices and/or business-decisions.

a timely reminder.

Much of the control designers/coders had with how a web page appeared in a browser — any browser — was lost by the turn of the century. That's more than a decade ago(!), and one would expect all designers/coders to know how things work by now and act accordingly.

The fact that so many of today's web sites fail miserably when exposed to even the slightest amount of stress in browsers with settings other than defaults, shows that many designers/coders don't know or don't pay attention to how the web works. That's a pity, especially since flawed design-basics degrade so many high-profile web sites to the point where they become more or less unusable and/or inaccessible for so many who could otherwise make good use of them.

I will remind all designers/coders, and their clients, that it doesn't cost anything extra to make a web site work for all potential visitors, as long as the job is done right from the start by people who know what they're doing. It is “repair-work on failing sites” that will cost extra, not least to “fix“ lost renomee and business.

make the connections…

I am pleased to see that there are quite a few web designers/coders who do their absolute best to sell a decent product every time, so maybe it is about time someone put up and maintained a list containing only the very best and most knowledgeable amongst all web designers and coders. Wishful thinking maybe…

As we are on the World Wide Web it should be pretty obvious that the best designers and coders are spread around (same as the worst I'm afraid), but once a good designer and/or coder is found he/she is only a mouse-click away from a client and a market no matter where all parties are.

disclaimer, sort of…

I don't take new clients for web design work or site repairs these days, but I do back up and support a few who do whenever they need my lines of expertise. Luckily they don't need my help too often, as I like being “semi-retired web carpenter” and “frequent web surfer”.

I wonder why some say I should “not throw stones when I'm in a glass house.” Now, how well that works depends entirely on the quality of “the glass” and “the stone-thrower”, I guess…

sincerely  georg; sign

Weeki Wachee 08.apr.2012

last rev: 09.apr.2012

side notes.

what works.

§ Any design idea that does not demand “pixel perfection” can be made to work, in my opinion.

§ When it comes to styling a page-design to cover the whole range of screens, from the largest wall-to-wall to the smallest smart phones, starting out with a well organized layout and less rigid design, is an advantage.

§ Layouts with “px” or “em” locked width on page and/or elements, can be made to work quite well across various screen and window sizes, as long as layout is styled to stay within available window-width and the design can take the stress of being squeezed.

§ Totally fluid-width layouts should have some form for text‐line length restrictions to ease reading, but otherwise there is no reasons they can not be made to work just fine.

what does not work well.

§ Layouts relying too much on text-sizes, line-heights, word-count and line-breaks, are by definition weak.

§ Layouts with fixed height on elements containing, or overlayed with, text, are by definition weak.

§ Layouts relying on in-page scrollbars to stay “above the fold”, are by definition weak. The range of window-sizes and shapes is too large.

§ Layouts relying too much on absolute or fixed positioning, are by definition weak. Overshooting and/or overlapping elements is a danger on smaller screens.

All the above is of course relative straightforward to fix for higher stress-tolerance, if the design/designer allows.

simplified checklist.

§ You never know what deviations from defaults a visitor applies, only what options are available in various browsers.
✓ Test for all options in all combinations, in all major browsers available on all devices.

§ Text-sizes and font-families can not be relied upon, as visitors can easily alter settings to go with their own preferences.
✓ Test for the more extreme settings in all major browsers available on all devices.

§ Only text and very basic HTML can be 100% relied upon for delivering information and providing navigation.
✓ Test that enough gets through for a visitor to get around and make sense of it all, even if all non-text delivery-forms and -objects get blocked or “lost”.


The good thing is that none of the above, neither in my checklist nor anywhere else, disqualify use of any tools in a somewhat imaginative and knowledgable web designer and coder's toolbox. The fact that not everything will work as intended everywhere just means one must prioritize and provide working alternatives where necessary, from the very start of a project.

A design-team can't wait till the end of the design and coding process “to fix things”, as for all but the simplest designs it is difficult to near impossible to fix things properly without restarting the entire process. Better to apply some quality-control to the process, and get it right the first time.

That graphic designers should know as much as they can about coding and how browsers work on all devices — preferably as much as the best coders, before they're allowed to design anything serious for the web, should be an absolute requirement.

Time and time again we see that graphic designers are not good web designers by default, and there's no way graphic designers can blame good front-end coders for failures caused by the graphic “PhotoShop” designs presented to them.

I know excellent web designers who design almost entirely in HTML and CSS, and they are not behind in scripting either. That's how I work too, but I'm not so much a web designer as an organizer, writer and troubleshooter.

I fail to see why anyone would choose to limit himself to tools and methods tailored for fixed media, when all tools that in the end will be used to design for a pretty fluid and constantly evolving media like the World Wide Web, are available to them.

www.gunlaug.com advice upgrade advice upgrade navigation