Old school print designers make the worst clients for web projects.

I hate to say it but they do. To be fair, it’s not their fault, it’s just that the standards of traditional print design do not always carry over to the web. It’s your job as the web designer to explain this newer medium to them and prevent them from overbearing the project. There are several key differences between web and print in terms of layout, precision and typography.

The primary difference between print layouts and web layouts is the space you are allotted. Print designers are often limited to fit their designs in a set number of pages. If the client wants a 10 page book or a Tabloid sized poster, that’s all you have to work with. Hours upon hours are spent finding the most efficient way to utilize this space (without making your original design look like crap).

Life Below 600px is a provactive article about designing below the fold.

Life Below 600px is a provactive article about designing below the fold. Make sure to click on the link below and read all about it.

While web designers are also constrained by the resolution of their target devices, they don’t need to worry about wasting paper. Adding more content can either be accomplished by including more pages or extending downward. Paddy Donnelly wrote an excellent article titled, Life Below 600px, in which he discusses designing “below the fold”. He argues that you don’t need to squeeze your website into the top 600px (initially viewable area on most monitors). In fact, that just leads to cookie cutter websites and mediocre layouts. Let your client know they can open up their designs and take advantage of this unlimited space.

They also need to know that sometimes precision needs to be sacrificed for flexibility. Print designers obsess over precision, and you would too if you only had one shot to print. Everything needs to aligned to the grid, quotes should hang, ragged lines balanced and orphans removed. While I don’t encourage sloppy design, achieving this level of precision in the web is nearly impossible.

The web is a different beast than print when it comes to precision. While print designers deal with one printer and can have absolute control of the outcome, web designers’ work displays different depending on what browser, monitor, computer or mobile device they are using. So, while it is possible to align your website to a grid, as A List Apart demonstrates, it would be foolish to expect it to render that way on every desktop and device. Let that print designer client know that sometimes precision must give way to graceful degradation.

Even a web "safe" font like Helvetica is not immune to different browser renderings (Firefox OSX vs. Firefox Windows XP courtesy of Adobe Browser Labs).

Even a web "safe" font like Helvetica is not immune to different browser renderings (Firefox OSX vs. Firefox Windows XP courtesy of Adobe Browser Labs).

Another factor beyond our control is typography. For the same reasons that pages display differently, fonts will vary from computer to device. Even web “safe” fonts are not immune to slight variations in tracking, kerning and leading. Web designers don’t have the benefit of consistency when it comes to type. There is a point where old school print designer will just have to let go and except that their will be subtle differences. They will also need to understand what fonts can be used in a web project.

As discussed in my article Font Freedom, your choices are limited when it comes to type. There are image replacement and font embedding workarounds, but they require time to accomplish. They are also not without cross browser vulnerability. Let you client know what is possible and how this will increase the time and estimate for the project.  This way there are no surprises when they ask for a whole site that absolutely must be designed with Papyrus.

Print designers are entering an unfamiliar realm in which their rules and guideline may no longer apply. They may have a keen eye for design, but as your client, it is your responsibility to keep them informed about what is and what isn’t possible. The more you know about their profession the easier it will be to form a constructive relationship.