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Design Awareness

By Mark Seymour

The basic principle of graphic design has been the same since Gutenberg first created moveable type: provide information in a form that best communicates it to the viewer. It's what distinguishes graphic design from pure art, and good design from pure crap. It is also a principle largely ignored by people who create for both print and the web.

Note that I distinguish between 'people who create' and 'designers'. In the last twenty years, technology has made it relatively easy to create text and images, whether printed on paper or displayed on screen, and there are many people who do so, both amateur and professional. As a benchmark, the current Google page count is over four billion and going up every day, yet how many of them communicate well? Design, good design, is what separates pounds of content, acres of pretty images, or megabytes of snappy web animation from the effective presentation of information.

In future columns I will provide design concepts that will help you decide how well your own design work communicates with the viewer, and also point you to some on-line resources for further study. These will include grid, hierarchy, font usage, nesting and linking, color ways, sensory overload, and image paradigms.

What I will not cover will be the latest tool or CSS trick; there are a lot of books, articles, and sites out there for both. I will also not discuss the right plug-in to use with a particular piece of software. There are too many combinations of hardware, software, and user skill for me to provide useful and unbiased advice about any one of them. This column will cover graphic design, pure and simple.

Nothing I tell you will make you a good designer. There are certain talents that are innate; I can neither play the piano nor pole vault. Just like the piano and the pole vault, however, you become better at this craft by practice, and I may be able to make you a better designer by changing how you look at what you do.

Places to look for what graphic design is, and what it isn't:

Interactivity is what sets this medium apart from a book or magazine, so I look forward to your comments and suggestions; between us we can provide useful tools for improving the presentation of information.



I started doing graphic design in junior high school, when it was still the Dark Ages of technology. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both eleven years old, and the state of the art was typing copy on Gestetner masters. I've worked on every new technology since, but I still own an X-acto knife and know how to use it.

I've been a freelancer, and worked in advertising agencies, printing companies, publishing houses, and marketing organizations in major corporations. I also did a dozen years [1985-1997] at Apple Computer; my first Macintosh was a Lisa with an astounding 1MB of memory, and my current one is a Cube with a flat screen.

I've had a website up since 1997, and created my latest one in 2004. I'm still, painfully, learning how web design is different from, but not necessarily better than, print.

Copyright © 2004, Mark Seymour. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 103 of Linux Gazette, June 2004

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