35 Designers x 5 Questions


35 designers. 5 questions. 5 precise answers. Result: 175 professional suggestions, tips and ideas from some of the best web-developers all around the world. In March we’ve selected over 35 prominent designers and design companies, contacted them and asked to answer five design-related questions, sharing their knowledge and experience with fellows developers. Here on Smashing Magazine.

35 Designers: how did we find them?

How do you find the best designers worldwide? OK, a legitimate question. The fact is that we’ve tried so select the best ones, but we definitely have missed many creative, talented artists with solid portfolios, who are rather unknown in the community.

We didn’t choose by our intuition, we weren’t looking for any suggestions. Instead, we’ve spent few days analyzing Technorati rankings, Alexa rankings, link popularity, 9Rules directory1, Design-Feed contributors2 and few more design-related web-sites. Besides, we’ve taken a close look at the professional experience of designers, their reputation in the design-community and the popularity of articles they’ve written in their weblogs.

We’ve browsed through numerous articles and hundreds of portfolios and in the end we’ve managed to select over 45 out of them. We’d like to thank all designers for participation and also thank to designers who had informed us in time whether they will be able to participate or not.

Five Questions

We’ve asked five questions. One single text line would have sufficed.

  • 1 aspect of design you give the highest priority to.
  • 1 most useful CSS-technique you use very often.
  • 1 font you use in your projects very often.
  • 1 design-related book you highly recommend to read.
  • 1 design magazine you read on a daily/weekly basis (online or offline).

In the end we’ve received more answers than we expected. The results – over 80 CSS-based tips, design ideas, suggestions, fonts, design-related books and online-magazines – are listed below. It’s interesting to know, how designers work their magic. It’s interesting to know what you can actually learn from them.


1 aspect of design you give the highest priority to.

The initial part of the design process is probably the most creative and sophisticated part of web-development. First sketches, first layouts, first typography and color decisions – sometimes it appears that there are simply too many things to keep in mind – but also too many things left out by mistake in the final design. Yet there have to be the most important ones. Design aspects you, being a professional web-developer, give – or should give – the highest priority to; the ones that make or break a web-site.

You don’t learn them – you explore and grasp them. Depending on your personal style and your personal workflow, you determine the things you consider to be the most important in your designs – according to your professional experience, demanding clients, users’ behavior and constructive feedback. Communication is the key, but to find the right key is the task web-developers have to accomplish. In fact, every developer makes his/her own decision, setting the priorities of the things to be considered during the whole design process.

Yet it’s interesting to know, which aspects of design are given the highest priority by experienced and competent web-developers.

1.1 Communication

  • Clear communication. [Cameron Adams24016613482363, Australia]
  • The ability for it to communicate. This is also what I admire the most in design. [Filipe Varela24417014288664, Portugal]
  • Design is all about finding the right solution to a particular problem (usually a communication problem when dealing with sites). That’s why I feel that the most important aspect would be understanding the user and centering everything around him/her. [Lucian Slatineanu23816412684415, US/Romania]
  • The initial stages of design: meeting the client to establish key audiences and aims; designing overall site labelling and architecture that meets the aims of these audiences; testing initial layouts to determine if they are successfully achieving the key aims. If these aspects have not been thought through carefully and tested then the overall site could fail – regardless of how elegant or engaging the design.
    [Russ Weakley274200122118506, Australia]

1.2. Usability

  • I think design usability has to be right up there. I like to think about how people will navigate the site even before starting any other design elements. By getting the navigation clear in my mind, the design begins to fall into place around it. [Andy Peatling246172120103597, Canada]
  • Usability. There’s a lot of room for creativity, but I want my web sites to be functional first and foremost. I’ll compromise graphic design for usability, but try not to compromise usability for graphic design. [Patrick Griffiths26919512597758, UK]
  • Usability, always! Everything we design should be easy to use. [Paul Boag254180135110479, UK]
  • I think that I apply the most emphasis on usability in my designs. As well as being aesthetically pleasing, a design should be a joy to use. It’s no good having the sexiest user interface in existence, if the user can’t figure out how to use it. It’s practically worthless. The true challenge of design, I feel, is making something look visually beautiful – but combining this with a lot of usability. Nobody says that something which is accessible can’t be aesthetically pleasing – in my mind, there are different levels of beauty, and to make a design work, utility has to be a major one of them. [Oliver Beattie23616215093817810, UK]
  • Usability and functionality is always the first priority, but past that there are no boundaries. Thanks to css and javascript, you can make most anything happen on the web now. [Nick Francis23416012786533011, US]
  • Usefulness. [Mike Davidson2331591471054612, USA]

1.3. Typography

1.4. Navigation

  • Readability and clear indication of what is navigation and what is content. There is nothing worse than a really pretty page that leaves me thinking where I am and what I can do. [Christian Heilmann2521781241137318, UK]
  • Navigation. Doesn’t matter how the site looks, or what Javascript trickery you tack on, if the navigation doesn’t make sense the site simply isn’t user-friendly. [Ryan Masuga225152140915219, US]
  • I think that the navigation of any website is the most important element. I try to make sure that the site content is organised into logical sections and that the navigation then reflects this. [Dan Lindop263189128965120, UK]

1.5. Details

  • Details. Little things like spacing and buttons have a huge impact on the overall design. [R. Marie Cox248174123987121, US]
  • I try to give highest priority to the small details. You know, the stuff that most people overlook. That means noticing the extra 1px of padding, the color of that gradient, or the size of that text. [Keegan Jones260186144906322, US]
  • Attention to detail. [Wolfgang Bartelme2501761461045423, Austria]
  • Never underestimate the power of a detailed wire-frame. Take the time at the beginning to plan, it will pay off immensely during design/development. [Matt Downey2651911411126724, US]
  • I try to take a balanced outlook on the importance of individual design elements. However, one area I often catch myself obsessing over is color selection. [Rob Goodlatte268194138925625, US]

1.6. Standards, Accessibility

  • Standards and accessibility. It is the main consideration I have with anything that I build or design, sometimes to the detriment of the design itself. Accessible and standards-based designs do not automatically mean they will be ugly, but I know I’m a stronger coder than I am a designer, so I tend to find that if I focus on that aspect, the design suffers from ‘neglect’ if that makes sense. [Ian Lloyd2351611211006926, UK]
  • Accessibility. [Roger Johansson271197137875727, Sweden]

1.7. Content

1.8. Approach

  • I’d say it’s impossible to nail it down to one thing, but if I have to, the simple answer is purpose. It’s easy to create something that appears to be visually sophisticated, but it rarely serves a purpose.For me, design is about the underlying purpose and what you want to communicate. Design as decoration, or design without purpose, often hurts more than it helps. However, I’ve found that if the goal and the underlying content is valuable, the rest of the design will generally take care of itself. [Garrett Dimon2701961451087729, US]
  • We consciously don’t consider code at all during the design process. Our designer still does a lot of print work, and what’s great about print is that there are no constraints. Print design has no boundaries with texture, typography or the smallest of details. As long as it fits on the page, it works! So in many ways, we try to bring the layering and the detail of print design to the web. It takes twice as long to code it, but who cares, we are in this for great design. [Nick Francis23416012786533011, US]
  • I always try to give priority to a solution for the problem at hand, even if it means doing something less aesthetically pleasing or having to ignore a coding standard. [James Mathias247173136944431, US]
  • Rest – the most important (and least utilized) tool in design is to make time AWAY from design in order to strengthen the time you do spend designing. [Natalie Jost256182148857632]
  • I usually spend the most amount of time focused on solving my clients #1 objective (or solving the largest problem). Aesthetically speaking, I tend to get caught up in the subtle details of design, trying to make sure everything is *just right*. [Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain2271541191076133, Canada]

1 most useful CSS-technique you use very often.

As we’ve found out earlier, there are at least dozens of CSS-based techniques34 a web-developer should always keep ready to hand. However, some techniques are being used more often than the other ones. Learning through each and every designed web-site, developers follow their personal development schemes, using the same tricks all the time, using the same approach consequently during the design process.

A look behind the scenes reveals: professionals permanently use CSS Global Reset, numerous browser bugs workarounds, CSS Image Replacement as well as some further techniques. They all are listed below.

2.1. Global Reset

2.2. Browser Bugs Workarounds

  • I like using #whatever { height: 1%; } in a msie_patch.css file (linked with conditional comments) as it fixes a great deal of problems with that browser. [James Mathias247173136944431, US]
  • The underscore hack45. [Mike Davidson2331591471054612, USA]
  • An understanding of what the HasLayout bug is and how to work around it. [Paul Boag254180135110479, UK]
  • One particularly useful tool are conditional comments, allowing me to serve up fixes for the broken rendering in Internet Explorer 6 and 7. Even though IE7 is newer, it is still far from being a good product. I am thankful that Microsoft at least provided us with a work-around solution for their shoddy browsers. [Nathan Smith2311581311014813, US]
  • I would love to say something like “testing systematically across as many browsers and platforms as possible during the markup/css phase”. Although this is very important, the most useful technique for me is the use of conditional comments49 to deal with older versions of Internet Explorer. This technique allows you to isolate these browsers odd behaviours and deal with them in a single file – away from your other css rules, without any hacks. It is a module and clean way of working. [Russ Weakley274200122118506, Australia]
  • If you’re having problems getting a layout to work correctly across different browsers, apply different background colours to the elements you’re struggling with. This is particularly useful for sorting out issues with floated elements and margins as you can normally see exactly where the problem is. [Dan Lindop263189128965120, UK]

2.3. CSS Image Replacement

Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. Vitaly is writer, speaker, author and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine. He runs responsive Web design workshops, online workshops and loves solving complex performance problems in large companies. Get in touch.

  1. 1

    your article is very nice,that help me out in my projects :)

  2. 102

    Nice article.It is help full to designer not for his judgment.Web designing is a creativity.You have not mention ,how to check his creativity.

  3. 203

    Thanks for this fantastic article.There is a lot of knowledge for designer.Good preparation for interview.

  4. 304

    Hey guyz be urself ,,,, Make ur own techniques & tricks……U wil b rockin one day!!!!!!!!!!

  5. 405

    Another great article! Its really nice to know what some of the best in the industry think about web design and where they look for inspiration / ideas / info. Thank you Smashing Magazine!

  6. 506

    Nice to know that some basic things are so important.

  7. 607

    I just sat down and read this article for three hours, Googling on most
    of the answers. Great Article.

  8. 708

    Prixel Techlabs

    May 4, 2009 2:23 am

    Thank you for sharing this

  9. 809

    browsers and hearty reset stew
    This article shines! The use what you need opening reset wins my heart over. Myself, i have built a sophisticated machine-software reset that is excellent for scrubbing down mainly text archives for optimal accessibility, But here’s my current fav blending in some Russ Weakly, Eric Meyers and McGill University.

    html body{border:0;margin:0;padding:0;}

    body, blockquote, cite, div, dl, dt, dd, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, img, ul, ol, li, p, pre, th, td, tr{border-collapse:collapse;border-spacing:0;font-size:100%;font-style:normal;font-weight:normal;list-style:none;text-align:left;}

    I found including table and content:*. * somehow generates browser residue that somehow upsets the cascade references, where an img will suddenly not display etc when the layout progresses from basic to complex. Reset is an all or nothing affair. Residue exhibits as developing a style assembly unwanted style components are allowed [hacked], but suddenly crash. In a total reset, residue is not an issue. Rebuilding the display framework for style is arduous. Simple resets ventured in this article are much easier to work with … but must be applied with sensitivity to very subtle variations in the accessibility to standards.

    Do you think all this reset talk will encourage the browser manufacturers to provide us all a friendlier, more creative and productive future?

  10. 910

    Thanks for the article.very useful for web designer.

  11. 1011

    There seems to be a layout error in this article because everything from fonts to design magazines flows into the paragraph “2.3. CSS Image Replacement”, although all of these chapters are treated separately later in the article. Just search for “Helvetica” and its first appearance on this page and you know what I mean.

  12. 1112

    A great article for designers. There is a lot of knowledge for designer. It will help me out in my projects. I look forward to see more useful articles like this one :). I just bookmarked this page.

    website design sunshine coast

  13. 1213
  14. 1314

    Definately a good roundup, I hope you don’t mind I quoted some of this page on my page, with a link @ website design

  15. 1415

    elaine richardson

    February 11, 2011 3:31 am

    have you seen how your website renders in IE6? it’s not impressive.

  16. 1516

    his article because everything from fonts to design magazines flows into the paragraph

  17. 1617

    flows into the paragraph “2.3. CSS Image Replacement”, although all of these chapters are treated separately later in the article. Just search for yohimbine hcl

  18. 1718

    marketing brighton, mi

    July 15, 2011 10:51 am

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  19. 1819

    It’s really very informatics article, Great!!!

  20. 1920

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    you have here on this post. I’ll be returning to your blog for more soon.

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