Let it go

There’s a difficult truth that many creative people have a hard time accepting about websites and emails: you do not have full control over your designs.

pixel pusher Print designers are trained to kern letters until they are perfectly spaced, and align layouts to within 1/64 of an inch. Images are corrected until they are pixel-perfect. Designers choose colors for the subtle changes they lend to the overall feel of a design. And, they select fonts for the ways the character shapes give a certain voice to the words.

With digital design, much of that is out the window. The appearance of a design on a website or in an email is in large part controlled by the hardware and software used by the viewer, as well as their individual preferences. Monitors display colors differently, machines use different fonts, users widen or narrow their browser windows to any number of sizes, and viewers visit sites and read emails on devices from tiny phones to desktop computers. Images have to be compressed enough so that they don’t bog down your viewers’ device or internet connection. This may mean your photos may not look as sharp or colorful as you’d wish.

In short, website and email design is no place for control freaks.

While it’s still important to make sure that all information is viewable and accessible on any device, the design is pleasing and easy to navigate, and general design rules and best practices are being followed, web browsers and email clients are productivity tools, not design tools. They are engineered to deliver content to the viewer in an efficient manner. For example, just like you wouldn’t use Word to create a beautiful print layout, you shouldn’t rely on Outlook to deliver a pixel-perfect email or Chrome to deliver a website where everything lines up perfectly. Too much is left up to the viewer’s software, settings, and screen size. Web and email designs should further reinforce your brand, not create it.

Digital Design Checklist

You can’t force a design, but you can make choices to influence how it looks. Create a layout that looks good and reinforces your brand on all screen sizes:

  • Specify your preferred fonts, including the perfect web font and then close approximations as alternates for devices that can’t display your font.
  • Select colors you’d like to have, but understand that all devices display the colors differently so you shouldn’t depend on subtle color differences in your design.
  • Create images that are as good as possible within size and bandwidth limitations. Save them in the best format for your particular graphic types, and use an image optimizer to shrink them as small as possible without losing legibility.
  • Use responsive design to adjust the layout of your website and emails depending on screen size, browser, and device.
  • Test your designs and measure performance in as many popular browsers, clients, apps and devices as you can. Adjust your code to ensure they look great in all viewing conditions. At the very least, adjust the width of your browser window to approximate how it will appear on a mobile device.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Losing control of your digital design rarely leads to dire circumstances. If you have done the work in the Digital Design Checklist, the worst that will happen is that certain parts of the design will not look exactly like you saw them on your computer. This is the worst-case scenario:

  • The viewer doesn’t have your preferred font installed and they see a close substitute.
  • Their monitor renders colors a little darker or lighter than you saw on your device.
  • Images aren’t “photo” quality.
  • Spacing isn’t exactly as it was on your screen.

Ask yourself why you need to control a particular design so closely and you may realize you actually don’t. If a viewer can access, navigate, and read all the parts of the website or email on their device, your design is a success.

Instead of worrying about pixel pushing, use your energy to create great content

Focusing on things out of your control take energy away from the most important goal: to create content and deliver it in a way your audience can consume it. We can control the input, but we can only influence the output. If you have completed all the steps in the Digital Design Checklist, focus on creating content that:

  • conveys the most important messages;
  • targets your audience;
  • extends your brand;
  • is search-engine optimized; and
  • is valuable, unique, fresh, and remarkable.

Bottom line:

A good web and email marketing team can make sure your design looks great, you can let go of trying to make digital layouts look perfect, and you can focus on creating the content that will ultimately engage your audience.