I'm gonna let you in on a big secret -- one all the major success stories of the Internet know, and that the majority of people who call themselves "designers" don't want you to know:
Great web design, isn't.
Sounds odd, but that statement works two ways; and it's obvious if you think about it and can put the "ooh shiny" mentality out of your head.
The first way it works is that the vast majority of "designers" actually don't know enough about HTML, CSS or accessibility to be designing but two things... -- their ignorance leads to accessibility failings like the trifecta of /FAIL/ (fixed width, fixed fonts, illegible colours), fat bloated page templates ten to fifty times the size that should be used, and in general their entire approach to creating a site puts the cart before the horse -- worrying about ONE measly screen layout before they even have content or semantic markup of it!
I'm not saying their designs aren't attractive, but if you look at 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999% of the garbage in the scam artist whorehouses lie TemplateMonster or ThemeForest, you'll find non-semantic markup, Presentational use of classes, JS for nothing, and on the whole a complete ignorance of what the Internet is, what it's for, or the technologies it is based upon. That's why I don't advocate using "off the shelf" templates and consider the entire practice to be little more than dime-store hoodoo, five and ten voodoo -- pretty much some of the worst snake oil in the industry.
The same goes for ignorant nonsense like Bootstrap, jQuery, LESS, SASS, OOCSS, YUI, Blueprint, and a host of other "framework" bull that to be frank, is at best crutches for the inept, at worst pissing all over the useability, functionality and speed of the Internet as a whole. Developers are dumber for these things even existing. I award them no points, and my God have mercy on their soul.
The second way that statement works is easy if you look for it; go to the major success stories of the Internet and actually LOOK at the designs of their sites. E-Bay, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, IMDB -- those are some of the top sites on the Internet yet LOOK AT THEIR DESIGNS!!! Not exactly a visual tour-de-force now, are they?
They simply have content of value presented in a clean, simple manner -- if you think ANY of those sites has a "designer" sitting in the back room spanking it on the display in PhotoShop, you'd be deluding yourself.
Simple fact is, and I've said this a lot the past decade: "People don't visit websites for the goofy graphics and bloated animooted scripttardery you slap around the content, they visit FOR the content!" -- a concept that it seems most "designers" and "JS Junkies" seem completely incapable of grasping.
Bottom line in 'design' for the web is simply that content is more important than ANY other factor of building a site; presenting that content in as accessible a manner as possible so the most people can get to it SHOULD be the driving factor of sane and rational development. The problem is that most site OWNERS and even many developers are so easily swayed by flashy visuals, they don't know enough to look for actual substance. They delude themselves into thinking that their one screen appearance is the be-all end-all of site design, ignoring the entire reason HTML even EXISTS -- device neutral delivery of content...
It's why the site development techinique I advocate is "CONTENT FIRST!"
1) Take your content or a reasonable facsimile of future content -- all the stuff you're going to have on the page -- and put it into a logical order in a plain text editor as if HTML didn't even exist.
2) You then go through and add your HTML to mark it up semantically, saying what things ARE, NOT what they are going to look like; which is why at this stage things like DIV and SPAN don't go in the markup as they are 'semantically neutral' and povide no 'meanings'. You should NOT at this point be worrying about what things are going to look like, as that's NOT HTML's job!
3) Create your layoutS (yes, PLURAL) using CSS. The layout should be at bare minimum semi-fluid width design (fluid with a max-width so long lines aren't hard to read), use dynamic (%/em) font sizes, and have multiple responsive targets adding/removing columns and other features as needed to fit the available screen space.
4) Add your colours and backgrounds only once the entire template layout set is complete. This is the point where you MAY consider bringing in the PSD jockey to make the goofy graphics, but with the trend towards flat design and the capabilities of CSS3, it should be done with a eye-dropper not a paint roller.
It's called progressive enhancement, and practiced properly the page is accessible as it 'gracefully degrades' should the fancy bits of technology be irrelevant, unwanted, or just plain unavailable.
Naturally, your PSD jockeys and Scripttards will flood out of the woodwork with their "Wah, wah, isn't so" bull talking about how important the visuals are or how their pointless scripting "enhacnes the user experience"... when really IMHO it's all just more lame excuses.
Good article! I particularly like this part: "People who talk a lot about creating a good user experience are more often than not completely clueless about usability and interaction design. Ironic, isn’t it?" since that describes 99% of what I call "JS for nothing" people are pissing all over the usefulness of websites with.
See how over the past eight years things like Webmail have gone from "About to kill off mail clients" to "sending users running and screaming BACK to mail clients" thanks to all the AJAX based scripttardery making it slower and less useful than it was a decade and a half ago.
In any case, if you are using consistent paddings, semi-fluid elastic responsive design, avoid "JS for nothing", practice size targets like "template cannot exceed 80k in 12 files, page with content shouldn't exceeed 160k in 24 files unless it's a gallery of thumbnails", and build with progressive enhancement, separation of presentation from content, and do NOT waste time with idiotic halfwit bull like "frameworks" -- you're probably golden no matter how 'plain' it might look.
E-Bay, Google, IMDB and Wikipedia are pretty plain looking too. CONTENT, that's what's really important. Delivering that content to as many as possible? Even better. Everything else is just scam artists preying on the ignorance of others.
No matter how many folks dicking around with "layers" in Photoshop or megabytes of scripttardery are now going to pour out of the woodwork to claim otherwise.