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Paul Kent, Freelance Web Designer, Brighton, East Sussex.

Affordable web design for ambitious organisations

Paperless web design seems logical but we still print stuff out.

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In the digital world paper is still useful for notes, sketching and contracts that need signing – although I am currently exploring e-signature solutions. But most of our daily business can be achieved digitally, without the need for printouts. I produce all of my own documentation using software which is then invariably sent via email as a PDF. I rarely print stuff out myself and always encourage clients to adopt digital cloud systems such as DropBox or Google Drive.

What strikes me as odd when designing websites is how reliant people still are on seeing a print out of a web page before they can properly judge the designs suitability for the brief. It is counter productive (and environmentally wasteful) because the end user who visits the finished website will judge the website experience through a browser, on a computer screen or smart phone. Logic says that the effectiveness of web page design cannot be judged on paper.

Any digital agency will be judging design primarily online, in the browser. A web interface will be judged on interactive elements, how easy it is for users to find content (with a mouse, finger or screen reader) and whether the brand message is coherent. Paper may be pinned to a wall, perhaps in sketch form, to help get a sense of direction of the project. Clients will be encouraged to participate in the design process too, perhaps through screen based prototypes or click throughs.

Perhaps a printout is useful as a reference point in a meeting – although this can be achieved with a laptop and projector. When presented with a paper mockup people will naturally go off course and focus on colour schemes and aesthetics. A web designer should be steering the client towards an online based approval system, through user testing and detailed analysis of the designs impact on computer screen.

Designing for multiple screen sizes is for another post, but also poses another challenge in how best we can judge web page design that has flexible layout (or responsive design). Certainly, printing out lots of different screenshots of mobile phones, laptops etc is a little puzzling to me!