Style vs Design

So what’s the difference between design and style?

I’ve had to explain that to quite a few clients that think all they need is a good looking website and they will make millions. It has to work and the design has to (subconsciously) show users how it works and it’s a perk if it looks good (style).

I’ve been thinking about this a lot and about what a web designer should focus on. Is it all about functionality of a site and making everything “work” or is it all about making it look “pretty” and fresh. Facetious I know, obviously it sits happily in between the two somewhere. But where is the question. I love reading articles and stumbled on this (apparently 2005) gem for the first time recently: Jeffrey Zeldman’s Style vs Design. Don’t ask me how I haven’t come across it before, but it’s awesome and it hit the nail on the head for me so I thought I’d share.

dilbert usability comic

Web designers need to not only make a site work, but make it appealing to the intended audience. What looks good on a website for one audience won’t necessarily apply to another.

The web used to look like a phone book. Now much of it looks like a design portfolio. In fact, it looks like the design portfolio of 20 well-known designers, whose style gets copied again and again by young designers who consider themselves disciples.

I worry because young designers who confuse style with design are learning to copy their heroes’ technical tricks and stylistic flourishes, but not necessarily learning to communicate in this medium.

It is cool to make a new effects and transitions with css3 and the like, but let’s not add these styles to a design that doesn’t call for them. We should ask each client/project what their needs and audience is and work on solving that problem aesthetically for that situation.

More to read: