Is website design similar to drawing and painting?

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web designer and illustrator in Devon

This year I have used my website more than ever, as since lock-down began people have been connecting with the world online as a way to stay in touch, find out new things, and find different ways to enjoy life.

I absolutely love the way that Steve, my website designer at the Cube Lab in Exeter, Devon, created a website for me that looks how I wanted it to, but works in technical ways that I could never have imagined. It has helped me to showcase my art, my book, and pastel sets to people in the UK but also around the World, and now my online courses can be accessed too. People can ask me questions really easily, and I can answer them straight away, so I feel really connected to my customers.

Steve and I got thinking about whether painting and drawing are very different to more modern design techniques such as web and graphic design. At first I thought; ‘What are you talking about? They are nothing like each other!’, but Steve disagreed, saying; ‘Not really. They both have many similar constraints and methods.’ Let’s see if he’s right…

When designing a website or a printed piece of work such as a leaflet, the layout has to be planned and organised, in the way I would decide on the composition of a painting. I don’t just dive in and apply paint or start drawing, it has to be thought about first. It’s the same with the website. Steve asked lots of questions to find out what I wanted it to ‘feel’ like, and considered how it was going to sit on the page. So far, so similar….

The idea
So we had to start with a basic idea and to sketch it out first. Only then could we begin the actual design of the piece. Colour and mood matter enormously. How it will breathe and how it will eventually be perceived by the viewer. I liked the lightness and freshness of The Cube Lab website, and decided to apply that type of design but combined with my favourite colours. However, unlike a quick sketch, I then found out that website design is multi-layered, and it is like designing a three dimensional box that keeps opening and opening.

Now this bit I find interesting, as for me the tools are a box of pastels and a textured surface to work on, but for Steve as a web designer, the tools he gets in place are quite different.  The basic structure has to be ‘built’ and any extras need to be tested and installed. So he asked lots of questions about what I wanted it to ‘do’ and how I wanted it to function. It had never occurred to me until we started on the project how what we see as viewers on the screen has layers of technology and code behind it to make the magic work (sorry Steve if you don’t agree with the use of that word!). I marvel at the way it looks, but it’s the way it functions that is really clever. Do people need to buy things? Do they need to access videos? How can we keep their information safe? How quickly do the images load up to be seen? What on earth makes all of that happen? I’m starting to think there is a lot more to this than painting a picture….

Target audience
As I am painting my pictures, I often wonder how people will react to them. If I am producing work to sell, I have to be aware of whether other people will like it. It’s great if I love the painting or the drawing, but it’ll stay on my wall or in the studio if it doesn’t connect to my audience. That’s the same with a website design; Steve says, ‘create an amazing and ‘cool’ website with all the ‘bells and whistles’ (I do hate that phrase!) and you might love what you’ve achieved. A horizontally-scrolling web page. Great. But it confused the user. Your favourite colours and that wacky font you love so much. Brilliant. But does the user like those colours and can they actually read the text in that ‘awesome’ font?’. So it seems that in that sense we are fairly similar.

Listening to your Client
The last thing I considered in this comparison, was how much I have to listen to each client when I am producing a commissioned piece. It really has to be what they want, which takes a lot of time and a lot of listening to achieve. And I now have several years of experience of how carefully Steve listens to my ideas and then goes away and creates pages on my website that are just what I wanted, but so much better than I could have dreamed of. So in that sense our working process are very similar. And he really is very clever in the way he makes it happen.

So, those are our views on whether painting and drawing are similar to web and graphic design. I think we concluded that, well, yes mostly, here in Devon anyway!
Photo shows Rebecca surrounded by her pastels, Steve the designer and Riley the receptionist at the Cube Lab.

Cube Lab and Rebecca de Mendonca are both located in Devon, in the south-west of the UK