Designing for Print vs. Web

One primary difference between designing a layout for print versus web is the control you have over what it will look like.  When designing for print, you open up the program and manipulate your images, text, and objects by using a mouse or tablet.  You have an abundant amount of control over how things look.  You start with a blank canvas and can move and adjust everything to your heart’s content.  When laying out a website, rather than moving and styling objects automatically with your mouse, you have to systematically and manually write specific phrases and codes to tell the page to do what you want.  It’s like narrating what you’re doing.  You can mostly achieve the same look as designing in a layout program, but it’s a much more technical approach.

The reason for the extra manual work is the platform.  Browsers are interactive and they all have different innate rules and limitations.  You have to create your own style rules so that the website appears how you intend, in spite of varying browser behavior.  The other factor is the size and resolution of the screen.  Screen sizes vary greatly (as small as an iPhone to as large and larger than a 27″ desktop computer), so that adds another challenge to create flexible websites that function in both smaller and larger formats.

The fundamental elements and principles of design for print and web are similar – attention to typography, grid systems, color theory, composition, movement, emphasis, and so on.  However, print design can be in all different formats (brochures, magazines, posters, etc.) of varying sizes, whereas the basic layout for a website is going to be the same and have a relatively fixed area to work within.  Also, websites are interactive and, above all, need to function properly.  Print design is usually intended for visual, non-interactive purposes only.


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