Web design may seem like a simple thing to tackle, especially for an experienced print designer who's accustomed to designing collateral for magazines or mailings. However, aside from trying to achieve an aesthetically pleasing layout, designing for the web and designing for print actually have very little in common.
While both of these skillsets require an eye for aesthetics, that's really where the similarities end. At the most basic level, images for print should never be less than 300 DPI (dots per inch). For a website, images should be optimized to 72 DPI so that they can be downloaded as quickly as possible. 72 DPI is all that's required for maximum resolution on your device at 100%. Anything above that resolution creates a larger file size with no appreciable visual gain. For professional printing, 72 DPI will probably not produce the best results.
When you delve deeper into the differences, you'll find that with print collateral you design your piece, kern your type, balance your elements, ensure the quality of your print-ready files and you know almost exactly what the final piece will look like. Barring personal taste, everyone who views your printed pieces will see the same layout.
Web design is so much more than just creating an aesthetically pleasing design. A web designer is not only ensuring something pleasant to the eye, but they have to balance that aspect while also considering technical specifications and user experience, for example. For the web designer, content is not fixed and will dynamically adapt to each device based on the size of the screen, the browser type, and the browser window dimensions of each individual visitor. This makes it nearly impossible to account for all possible scenarios.
Good web design needs to take into account the vast array of desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices with which a user may be viewing your content. Obviously this is a big aspect of web design and something that isn't at all a part of print collateral design.
This adaptable aspect of web design is known as responsive design. For example, a responsive website will change when a user views it on a laptop versus viewing it on a much smaller mobile phone. The content will re-wrap and images will appear smaller to customize a better user experience for that device.
A web designer can also choose to hide certain modules that may not function well on mobile devices. This creates an entirely different experience for those users.
In the past, separate sites were developed for desktops and mobile devices. This required more manpower, more maintenance, and more money. These days though, it's much more cost effective to develop and mange a single site using advanced templates which respond to the device based on the web designer's settings. When designing a website this way, web designers need to strike a balance that works best in all of these different situations.
All of that said, it may seem like I'm singing the praises of web designers over print designers, but that's not the case. You should never under estimate the value of a really good print designer when you're developing print collateral.
While web design is definitely complex in its own right, a good web designer may actually not be able to tackle a print collateral piece nearly as well as an experienced print designer. The skillsets for each are very different. An experienced print designer brings a lot to the table. Remember, you only get one-shot at that $8K print run – print it with an error and your stuck with it.
So before you start your next project ask yourself, are you designing for the web or for print? Make sure you have the right designer for your project and the results will be much better.