I have a lot of friends that are pretty exceptional print designers, some of them are so good it makes me sick to think about it. I started my career thinking I would follow much the same path, but fortunately I was diverted along the way. I always have and always will love great print design. There are days I wish I could go back to the bliss of a very well defined medium.
Often times when it comes to putting together a site it’s these same friends that say something along the lines of “I want to know how to uncover all the things you pick up, maybe I need to learn HTML?” I certainly won’t disparage that goal. Basic markup skills are extremely useful tools that aren’t going anywhere soon and you can master it very quickly. If you’re looking to design in a multi-dimensional fashion, you might be better served concentrating elsewhere.
One of the first things I used to tell students wanting to pursue careers as web designers was to augment their visual thinking. Stop repainting and decorating the house and start rebuilding it. We all have that web site out there we’ve encountered that for one reason or another drove us nuts. Why was that – aside from the fact that it was ugly? If you were tasked with rearranging things how would you do it? Go to that site and make a quick list of everything that’s on it, then start moving things into groups that make sense to you.
It turns out most of it’s common sense – put down the mouse or Wacom tablet and grab a pencil and paper and start pushing things around. If you’ve got an awesome interface idea you’re only halfway there. Take every link, menu, dropdown or whatever else is in the design and force yourself to answer: _where exactly is this going to lead?_
Interviews, user personas and everything else the UX geeks love to talk about will come in later in the process for sure, but when you’re learning the goal is to develop instincts. You have to start somewhere. Once it get’s past the learning stage there will be plenty of time to argue.
I can name more than a few sites with questionable aesthetics that achieve their goals quite well, and just as many great looking sites that achieve none. You have to accomplish both. Visuals are the seduction part, successful interaction is what brings people back.