What the flip is web design?

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October 4, 2023
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8 minutes

What is web design?

The question itself provides a near-obvious answer, web design is… designing things on the web. Pretty simple right?

...but is it? We see the words web design thrown about a lot; everyone who makes websites calls themselves a web designer. But what really is web design? Hopefully we can answer this question in a bit more detail.

We’re going to break down web design into a few simple ideas for you.


Firstly, what is design? Here's my shameless copy pasta from Wikipedia (you probably trust Wikipedia's words more than mine, so we'll roll with them):  

“A design is a concept of either an object, a process, or a system that is specific and, in most cases, detailed. Design refers to something that is or has been intentionally created by a thinking agent, design usually has to satisfy certain goals and constraints it may take into account aesthetic, functional, economic, or socio-political considerations; and is expected to interact with a certain environment.”

What was the purpose of reading that? Well we need to understand what design is first to be able to specifically apply it to the web. Let’s pull the key points from that description.

  • A specific, detailed concept
  • To satisfy certain goals and constraints
  • Considering aesthetics & functionality    

So from those points there we can say design is, in simple terms:

Conceptualising something to meet requirements, that looks good, and works good.

Design + web = web design  

Now, the definition from Wikipedia finishes off with saying “Expected to interact with a certain environment”. That's right, what is our environment in this context? The web, on the internet. We are talking about the design of websites.

So the simple full answer to what is web design?

Web design is: conceptualising a website to meet requirements, that looks good, and works good.

This process starts with important aspects such as:

  • Planning and research  
  • Information architecture (deciding what information is needed and where on the website it goes)
  • Wireframing and prototyping

Are we starting to get the picture here? Design is the planning and piecing together of things before the development starts. What things?

  • Layout and structure 
  • Visual elements (colours, fonts, images)
  • User experience (planning and testing to make sure the website is easy to use)

What is not web design? 

Many people seem to misunderstand what web design is and use it as a blanket term to cover all aspects of creating websites, but in doing that we’re losing the importance of the actual design aspect of web building. It’s the reason we have so many poor websites out there, because there hasn't actually been any real design put into it.

Take for example all those template website builders that are around today. The original template may have been designed, but that's where the design stops. There is:

  •  No specific conceptualising to suit the individual requirements
  •  No formulating specific visual elements and layouts
  •  No prototyping functionality to suit specific flows.

We still have a website - it looks okay and sort of works - but without the thoughtful and customised true design stage it's a mediocre version of what the site could be. 

To illustrate: an artist spends time marking out a light grid on a canvas. They sketch a rough outline of their piece,  and compare a variety of colours against each other to ensure their palette is going to work. They get the foundation looking good, they work on their painting and produce a masterpiece. 

Another person buys a paint-by-numbers, and spends an afternoon colouring it in. 
Are they both artists?
What painting do you want on your wall?

The design aspect of web design is an important initial stage in the website creation process.

Styling templates is not web design.
Styling templates is not web design.


In conclusion: web design isn't just about putting content on the web. It goes way beyond styling templates with colours and fonts.True web design is about thoughtful creation. It's a deliberate process that involves detailed planning and research. This part of the process is where specific goals and requirements are considered and met.

It's the difference between a website that looks good, and one that's flippin' good.


Web design is: Conceptualising a website to meet requirements, that looks good, and works good.
Styling templates is not web design.

In this article:
Design + web = web design
What is not web design?
Like what you read?
If you’re a business or startup that wants to stand out from the competition, then listen up.

Pancake uses the title ‘Web Designers’ because we actually design websites.

When you partner with us, your goals become our mission. We’ll design a website just for you, that effectively communicates your brand and drives business growth.

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