Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

My Wife and Times

Daniel Will Harris

The Sandoval Signpost (Web edition) is pleased as punch (diet punch that is) to bring you the humor and insightful human observations of Daniel Will Harris, author of My Wife and Times. —Ed].


Design Rant:
Good design isn't just skin deep

By Daniel Will Harris

Last week, a client asked me to redesign a site I'd designed for him about a year ago. His business had changed direction and his site needed reflect that. I don't believe in redesigning sites just for design's sake, but if you have something different to say, it makes sense.

He started to tell me about sites he liked, and that was fine—it's good to look around and see what appeals to you. But when you do, you have to figure out why they appeal to you, rather than because they "look cool" or you personally like the way they look.

Don't "think different," THINK DEEPER.

Unfortunately, he started to rattle on about things like, "A really first-rate site always has two things in common—the first is a fake 3D effect on the graphics, and the second is pictures of people."

I was stunned. I felt like someone had lit a match to my toes.  The more he blathered on, the more I felt like a tea kettle on high heat. I could feel the flames licking at my bottom and I was starting to boil. I knew it wouldn't be long before my whistle went off at a deafening pitch.

When he started in on, "And they all have those Java headline scroll-y things," I heard myself (in what can only be described as an "out of friendship experience") saying, "Stop!"

"You're confusing cosmetics with concepts. Mistaking cliches for content," I said, at a pitch that could be heard by dogs three counties away.

I couldn't believe that this person, who's usually quite smart about things, could overlook the real point of design—to support the content. "That's just superficial! A laundry list of web cliches never leads to a good site." I heard him clear his throat. I paused. He said, "But everyone else is doing it..." and I heard myself talking like a parent, "If everyone else was jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, would you do that, too? If you do the same thing on your site, you're just a lemming."


"Difference is part of the message—as in "differentiation." You want your site to stand out from the competition, rather than look like the competition. All the sites you showed me look basically the same. I didn't notice their name or logo, I just saw a lot of pictures of people surrounded by faux rounded edges. I couldn't tell them apart, and I couldn't tell what their purpose was."

People pictures are standard in advertising, because supposedly, people love to look at other people. But while people may attract attention, they can also draw your attention away from the point of your message, and then they become distractions, which is what they were on all the sites he showed me.

He'd hit a nerve and I couldn't stop myself, "The most important thing to remember is that good design is NOT skin deep. It starts with you creating a convincing, concise message, and building a visual from that. Otherwise, the site is meaningless."

I shouldn't have blamed him—even professional designers can make the mistake of creating something that looks cool instead of actually saying what needs to be said. He said, "I like blue—and see how many of use them blue? That must mean something..." he sputtered. I cut him off—"it means that they're afraid to do anything original and specific to what their message is."

He was so quiet now I wondered if he was off drowning his sorrow in hot fudge while the phone receiver lay on his desk with my voice talking into thin air. I figured I might as well finish, and hoped that he was listening.

"What you must do is create and condense your message." Be very clear about 1) What's in it for the visitor and 2) Why they should choose you rather than someone with a 3D/people picture site.

I waited for him to talk, or to hear tell-tale sounds of chewing. He replied, "I can do that." I said, "I know you can." And that was that.

It's not difficult, it just requires that you think below the surface. You can do that. I know you can.


My Wife and Times Cover
If you would like to read more fabulous stories, you need Daniel Will Harris’s My Wife and Times. The 148 page book contains stories that are conveniently short, perfect for bedtime reading, or between airport friskings. Price: $15 postpaid and is available for purchase online at or on





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