Ten Myths That Hold Web Designers Back

We've spent our waking hours, and then some, for the past few years helping designers build great sites. Along the way, we've learned a lot from everyone we've worked with.

We recently published our free eBook, 5 Tips for Better Sites, so we could explain in some depth the top things designers might want to focus on to improve their results.

We also find, as you might imagine, a wide range of beliefs and practices that don't serve either the designers or their customers, but linger because we're all living in such a complex, fast-changing world.

Here's our take on the top ten myths that hold designers back in building great websites.

Myth 1:
To be an effective designer, you must learn to program

Creating a great site requires many skills: interaction design, visual design, content strategy, HTML markup, CSS styling, JavaScript programming, back-end programming, and server administration. If you try to do it all, you're almost sure to fall short in some areas. Focus on what you do best, and find partners to handle the other tasks.

To be an effective web designer, you do need to know the basics of HTML and CSS, but that is not programming — it is markup and styling. It isn't trivial, but it isn't as complex as programming. You need to know what JavaScript can do for you, but not necessarily how to do it.

Learn more: Choosing Where to Draw the Line

Myth 2:
Design for "one web"

The number of devices people use to access the web, and their range of screen sizes and input capabilities, is continuing to broaden. In an ideal world, you could use fluid design techniques to build one site that would work well on most devices.

In the real world, however, this rarely works well. Smartphones are a huge audience now, and they deserve dedicated design attention. To create a great mobile experience, you need to design it separately from the desktop experience. You can build one page that serves all devices, but you're liked to deliver a better solution if you have a separate site for mobile devices — driven from the same content database.

Learn more: How Wide Should Your Design Be?

Myth 3:
A CMS is too expensive for simple sites

Except for the very simplest sites, there's no reason today to build static sites. Almost every site should use a CMS. It makes it easier to add content and keep it updated, and it makes it possible to separate site construction from content creation.

You can avoid all the complexity of managing the CMS software and servers by using a hosted CMS, such as Webvanta. If your needs are simple, there's an assortment of free services to choose from, such as Wix, Weebly, Yola, and Google Sites. And then there's, SquareSpace, Light CMS, and Verb CMS. So the question really is not whether you should use a CMS, but which you should choose.

Learn more: Should You Use a Hosted CMS?

Myth 4:
Open-source software is usually the best solution

Open-source software is at the heart of the revolution that is the web. As technologists, we depend on a wide range of open-source components, including Ruby on Rails, Linux, and jQuery.

But when it comes to applications and services, we usually have a better experience when a commercial organization assembles all this open-source technology with their own layer on top, providing a polished, integrated, and fully supported solution. That's what most web-based services are today.

If you're a technologist, then participating in the open-source communities and using open-source content management systems can be a great solution. But if you're a designer who wants to deliver web sites with a minimum of technology hassle, you should use a hosted CMS, such as Webvanta, Light CMS, or SquareSpace.

Learn more: Our Technology Stack

Myth 5:
There's only a handful of fonts you should use

Not long ago, it was true that there were only a dozen or so fonts that you could depend on being present on nearly all Macs and PCs. Web designers stuck to Verdana and Georgia and a few others and used graphics for headlines.

These restrictions are now gone, with some complications. You can easily purchase fonts from half a dozen web font service bureaus, which will provide you with a code snippet to add to your site. You have the font you want, in real text that works for search engines and humans alike.

Learn more: Web Font Resources

Myth 6:
Database-driven content hurts SEO

In the early days of database-driven sites, there were lots of sites with URLs like;=678. There's no semantic content in these URLs, and search engines were justifiably suspicious of them.

In a modern content management system, the URLs include keywords that provide information about the content. There's no reason why database-driven content requires bad URLs; it's just that many early systems had that characteristic.

Be wary of older systems, and check for options to control the URL structure and content. When handled well, database-driven content is much better for SEO than static content, because you can have more of it and it is updated more frequently.

Learn more: SEO: The Low-Hanging Fruit

Myth 7:
Use web-safe colors to ensure color fidelity

In the early years of the web, many people were browsing the web using computer displays that only showed 256 colors. This led to the "web-safe" color palette, which worked on these displays but was crippling in terms of color subtlety.

For years now, however, the vast majority of browsers have been capable of viewing a much larger color palette, yet the "web safe" legacy lingers. Forget web-safe colors; they're no longer relevant.

Learn more: The Color Set That No Longer Matters

Myth 8:
A good design looks identical in all browsers

Browsers are both the enabler and the bane of the web designer's existence. Because HTML and CSS provide abstract definitions that leave a lot to the browser's imagination. And there's all the modern features that some browsers support and some do not.

Designers once spent a lot of time getting web pages to look identical in all major browsers. This is no longer a necessary, or reasonable, goal. The goal is to have the site look good and work well, not to be identical everywhere. For example, we use CSS3 rounded corners in our designs, because it's an easy way to get a pleasing effect — for all the browsers except IE. We assume IE users are used to square corners, and that it's not worth the trouble to make them up out of graphics for this one browser.

Learn more: Understanding Progressive Enhancement

Myth 9:
All important content must be "above the fold"

A web page is nearly infinite in size, since the browser provides scrolling as needed. It is what the visitor sees first, of course, that gets the most attention. It's natural to put as much important content as possible "above the fold", but there are issues.

Just where is this fold? It depends on the screen, of course, as well as on the window size and the browser toolbars. There's a wide variation. Do you want to optimize your design for the folks with the smallest screens?

Even though you want to put as much as you can above this mythical fold, wherever it is, you're wasting a big part of the web's potential if you don't make use of the height that's available to you. Sites with a fixed page height should never be used unless they contain a tiny amount of content. People have evolved, and vertical scrolling comes naturally to most people if they want more of your content.

Learn more: Blasting the Myth of the Fold

Myth 10:
I was just getting HTML4, now I have to learn HTML5!?

The web is a peculiar mix of fast change and glacial evolution. When we survey designers about the topics in which they are interested, HTML5 comes out at the top of the list. HTML5 seminars sell out quickly, and books are coming out monthly. We don't disagree that it's a fascinating topic and important for the future of the web.

In terms of practical value for the sites you're going to build in the next year or two, however, the only pressing need for most designers to deal with HTML5 is to deliver video that will play on iPhones and iPads. There are a few more features you can begin using now, but they don't make a big difference.

Learn more: HTML5 Resources

Add Your Comments

(not published)