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What do you think of when someone says the word art? Perhaps the painting of the Mona Lisa comes to mind, or maybe names like Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol. While art will eternally be a part of our lives'through painting or photograph'it also exposes us to its different streams, especially with the evolution of technology.

When we look back just 15 years ago, it wasn't often that every household in Canada had a home computer and every person owned a cell phone. Today, those numbers are significantly higher with the addition of new electronic gadgets like the tablet. With that, a part of the art world has branched off along with technology. More jobs are being created in Canada within the creative field in web design and, most recently, in mobile design with the rising popularity of mobile apps. Though web designers don't paint pictures, they create visually appealing designs online and introduce a new form of art through interaction.

Design as an art

Web design and art share a similar trait: both require a significant amount of creativity. However, painting a picture and creating a beautifully designed website also have their differences. I absolutely do believe design is art, and I believe art comes in many forms and is around us everywhere we go, says Simon Jones, Ottawa-based web designer at SDJ Entertainment. I can become inspired for a design while travelling, having a cup of tea, or just walking my dog. For Jones, what sets design apart from art is the usability factor. When creating a site, you need it to be usable, but you also want it to be beautiful. Web design is really about merging the two and making it work well while keeping the customer interested in the site.

According to Michael Smith, CEO of Raster Media, a web and mobile user experience design firm, he believes design and art are far from similar. Design is intended to solve problems, to make our lives easier, to remove friction, he says. Art is interpretive, design is precise. Ultimately, designers create visually appealing and interactive websites for the end users, while art is for the artist.

The process

Web design is much more complex than opening up a new Photoshop document, constructing shapes, and incorporating typography. There's a long process beforehand that requires interaction with clients, planning through wireframes, and lots of iteration. I usually brainstorm and come up with a few different wireframes on a pad of paper, says Jones. Sometimes it takes ten to fifteen sketches before I get a layout I think will work well.

For Smith, he says his process is dependent on what works best for his client and their customers. Our process is highly collaborative and places a high priority on user experience ... To ensure the designs are in line with user expectations we involve actual users along the way to gather feedback and make adjustments.

Design and the designer

As technology continues to evolve and more design trends are introduced, designers are exposed to a plethora of creative capabilities apart from the visual aspect. Movement, spacing, and the overall interaction of a website are crucial components that all designers must develop and perfect throughout their careers. This makes it unique to most other more passive forms of design like photography and artwork, says Smith. There is an added layer to interactive design where a site or mobile app may look visually stunning, but if it's difficult to use then it has failed in its design.

Smith also distinguishes the differences between user interface (UI) design and the user experience (UX) in his article on, UX is not UI. While the UI design ultimately contributes to the UX, both are different disciplines with different specialties, he writes. The biggest difference is UI deals with how the page appears visually, while UX is focused on the feeling the end users get after interacting with the website.

Smith compares the UI and UX of a website to the appearance and functionality of a car. A car, for example, may look sleek and fast, and have a gorgeous paint job, he says, but if that same car is uncomfortable, is sluggish, and breaks down all the time, the user's experience is going to be sad and regretful.

It's one thing to have to change as design evolves, but it's also the willingness and interest to transition into new design trends that makes a good web designer. To be a web designer, you of course need to have a good sense of design and understand design principles while also always being willing to try new ideas and concepts, says Jones. I believe you need to be passionate, creative, and most importantly motivated to continue learning and adapting with the industry, as it is ever-changing. 

Smith adds that attention to detail is the biggest trait designers should have. Great designers have an intense focus on the minute details of their work and in life in general, he says. They see the details most do not.

Looking towards the future, the demand for web designers will only be on the rise, especially with the advances in mobile applications. People have internet at their fingertips all the time; we are checking our phones and tablets while watching TV, on the bus to work, and before going to bed, says Jones. More and more people are wanting set up their own websites, whether it's to share stories with family and friends or start an online business.

Jones says it's important for young designers to know that Photoshop and other creative programs don't create anything. They are just tools to help you get the job done. It's up to the individual to create the design and come up with the look and feel of the site with the clients' requirements in mind. 

Facts and figures

  • The starting salary for a web designer in Canada is $49,980.
  • 94 per cent of website users' first impressions are based on design.
  • Looking at the future of mobile design, 62 per cent of companies with a responsive mobile website saw an increase in sales.

Photo: stdemi/iStock