Page Perception

The web has evolved. What began in 1989 as a means to share information automatically between scientists in universities and institutes around the world has transformed into a vast digital ecosystem rich in interactivity and immersive experience. The web has reshaped the way we communicate, work, innovate and live, and in the process grown more and more complex. With this complexity has come the need for designers to evolve their processes and tools beyond that fit for the printed page, and while doing so shift our perception of a web consisting of ‘pages’ to one comprised of components.

There was a time when designing web ‘pages’ made sense: not only were the capabilities of websites limited, but so too were the devices which could connect to the them (consisting primary of those with large screens). In other words, The Mobile Web was non-existent and therefore designing more ‘adaptable’ websites was not a necessity. Graphic designers were able to apply their knowledge to this relatively new medium by approaching it similarly to one they would already be familiar with: the page. Along with this process came identical review methods: printed pages which would be analyzed in all of their static glory, one by one.

Now that the web has evolved and the capabilities of web sites has grown by leaps and bounds, the construct of the ‘page’ no longer applies. Web sites that take advantage of modern browser technology have nothing in common with the printed page: they are dynamic, fluid and most importantly, they are highly interactive. In other words, modern web sites are everything a print ad or magazine spread cannot be and therefore applying the construct of the ‘page’ to web design is fundamentally flawed.

Here is a few reasons why:

It Limits Thinking

By thinking of web sites in terms of pages, a designer is limiting the capabilities of what the web site can do. Web sites which take advantage of dynamic content loading and rich interactivity will always feel more fluid and natural to the user. Interactions which are not thought out and made integral to both the planning and design process will always feel like an afterthought.

Web ‘Pages’ Do Not Reflect the Nature of the Web

We must shift our perception of web sites consisting of a collection of pages to that of a collection of modules. As Stephen Hay said, “We’re not designing pages, we’re designing systems of components”. By doing so, we as designers can adapt to the changing device landscape by adjusting our workflow and embracing the fluid nature of the web.

It is simply naive to expect a web site to always resemble what a Photoshop document will create.

The ‘Ideal’ State is Non-Existent

When we design web ‘pages’, we are designing for an idealized state which simply will never exist. The web is full of unknowns: user’s bandwidth, device capability, device screen size, content, resolution — the list goes on. It is simply naive to expect a web site to always resemble what a Photoshop document will create. What makes more sense to to design a flexible system that can adapt to any variety of conditions and amount of content.

Web Sites Are Never Experienced As A Whole

As designers, we have a tendency to want to analyze our work as a whole. We will print it out and pour over details, but we often forget that web sites are never experienced in this manner. Web sites are experienced via ‘views’ which change as you interact and explore, not as top to bottom pages which are visible as a whole. It simply doesn’t make sense to review your web work in same way you would a print piece.

Finding an alternative workflow that is suitable to both your needs the needs of clients is quite the challenge: design teams have built processes around this perception, and clients have come to expect ‘pages’ when signing off on a web site design. Ultimately, breaking free of ‘page’ perception in the design process will allow for us to create better web sites that are more at home on the modern web. Therefore, I think its worth it to explore alternative workflows, and one day your clients will thank you for it.