Graphic design is not ruining the web

Despite what you may have read in the Guardian newspaper recently, I can assure you that graphic designers are not ruining the web.

I read an interesting article today over at The Next Web regarding an article in the Guardian by one John Naughton, entitled “Graphic designers are ruining the web”.

Is Graphic Design Ruining The Web?

No. And here are 3 reasons why.

1. Graphic design is not about the web

The Mona LisaWeb design is about taking elements to be presented to a viewer over the web, and arranging them in an aesthetically pleasing way. The elements that may be presented could include text, colours, graphics, videos or anything else that can be transmitted over the web.


To state that graphics are bad would be a huge over-generalization, but this appears to be the crux of Naughton’s argument. Imagine trying to convey in words the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel ceiling. There’s no substitute for an image. A graphic can convey meaning that words cannot.

A graphic designer may create graphics, but it is up to web designers whether to use them, how to use them, and ensuring that they are suitable for transmission in a medium such as the web.

2. The Internet is getting faster

All the time the Internet keeps getting faster and faster.

Just as Moore’s Law states that CPU speeds will double every two years, Nielsen’s Law states that bandwidth available to high-end network users will increase by 50% per year. That gives us a good approximation of the increase in speeds on the Internet year on year.

And just as Moore’s law has The Great Moore’s Law Compensator, “Wirth’s Law” — in which bloat in software increases faster than the improvements in CPU speeds, thus negating the benefits the law should bring — Nielsen’s law too has a similar compensator that doesn’t seem to have been named yet: Websites bloat at the same rate, if not faster, than Nielsen’s Law. Why? Because as the Internet gets faster and faster it becomes less of an issue to make a page that loads quickly, so websites take on more bloat.

A slight aside…

Back in the 90s we were told that a page had to load in under 20 seconds. Any longer than that and the user would give up and go elsewhere. 20 seconds. At the time it seemed like a challenge to manage that, but now you’d laugh in the face of anyone who says their page takes no more than 20 seconds to load. For years and years the figure came down: 20 seconds, 15, 10 until eventually it was down to 2. These days we generally aim to have the content on the screen in under a second, even if some stuff continues to load in the background.

But consider what is happening in the background nowadays: CSS files, JavaScript files, fonts, images, flash animations, videos, … getting all of that in under a few seconds is impressive. But everyone’s happy with the 2 second rule, so few people bother to try to make their pages load any faster than that. Consequently images are getting bigger, CSS files aren’t getting combined, JavaScripts aren’t combined, images aren’t built into CSS sprites, …

So back to the original question: Are graphic designers at fault here? No. These are the faults of the web developer, not the graphic designer.

3. Content is king

Back in the 90s there seemed to be a strange idea that a website was there to look pretty and to, well… that was about it. It seemed to be about having flashy things, scrolly things, swishy whooshy things, annoying animations and stupid graphics that chased your mouse pointer around the screen in a dizzying spiral of distraction from the fact that there wasn’t any real content to read. I’m generalizing, but it’s a valid point.

Enter the 2000s and suddenly “blog” is the buzz-word. People in their 60s to whom the Internet was a strange and mysterious land frequented by the teenagers were suddenly of the opinion they should have a blog, because someone on TV said you need one for your business, and even a novice can make good money working from home by writing a blog.

And what did that mean? Content. Content, content, CONTENT!

The Internet is a very content-driven system nowadays, more so than it ever has been, and with that comes more data. Gone are the days where a website had one page that had a bit about the company, one page that had a bit about the staff, and another page with contact details. Now everyone’s out there writing and publishing, it’s an exciting time for anyone with an interest in writing because everyone’s doing it now. Some do it better than others, but everyone’s out there pushing out original content and sharing the content they’ve found.

But more content means bigger pages. And that is the “fault” (it’s not really a fault) of the authors. Not graphic designers.

Executive summary

  1. Web designers are responsible for what goes onto a website, not graphic designers.
  2. Web developers are responsible for optimizing websites, not graphic designers.
  3. More content means more data, which has nothing to do with graphic designers.

I hope that was concise enough for John Naughton’s tastes.

About Matt Lowe

Matt Lowe is a WordPress web designer / developer based in Newbury, Berkshire. After 8 years of doing the nine-to-five for other companies and watching them make the same mistakes over and over he set out in business on his own, forming Squelch Design to help businesses get online and make money.

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