The graphic designer's guide to interactive design

Print isn’t dead, but it’s no longer an island. With rare exceptions, you can’t just be a print designer anymore – your work is likely to be used across physical products and digital sites (and perhaps apps too). This means being as au fait with CSS as with RIPs, and as aware of swipe gestures as of static page structures.

The good news is that you won’t be starting from scratch. “There are transferable skills, including a sense of layout,” says web and iOS developer Matt Gemmell, based in Edinburgh. “Interactive design isn’t fundamentally different from print [design] – it just involves the extra dimension of time. Navigation and interaction tend to change what the user sees, and you must be conscious of how you make those changes and movements clear.”

Grasp the medium

Whether you wish to design for the web or apps, you will have to understand the medium. Some considerations are technical: RGB, not CMYK; 72dpi for the web, not 300 (132 for the iPad). But you must learn how the medium works.

One sector producing a lot of iPad magazines is fashion, arguably because apps allow more crafted layouts and make fashion photography look better than on the web. These magazine apps have come both from traditional publishers, and online fashion retailers such as ASOS (above) and Net-A-Porter (check out some iPad magazine design tips from Net-A-Porter). ASOS’s iPad app is a monthly mag that combines interactive content with the ability to quickly order the clothes shown. Art editor Simon Helyar says he enjoys working on it: “I can upload pages on the fly and see what they look like on the iPad right away, compared to sending off for printed proofs, which can take a couple of days”

People can flick through magazines as they like, but with websites and apps, the designer makes decisions regarding how people access content. As user experience (UX) designer Aral Balkan says, “Although aesthetics are important when you design interactive artefacts, you’re designing objects that interact with human beings. As such, central to interaction design is the art of understanding people.”

So if you want to get into web or app design, you will need to spend time exploring what’s already out there and considering the quality of the experience they offer. “Is it obvious what elements can be interacted with?” Matt says. “Are you confident about what actions will be taken when you tap or click?”

While embracing the new, ditch old notions of static design and total control. Print is about precision and prediction, but terms you should embrace for interactive design are: ‘responsive’, ‘adaptive’, ‘fluid’ and ‘flexible’, Matt says. Resizing a browser window or tilting a tablet to a different orientation require websites and apps to adjust, for example.

Digital publishing specialist Alistair Dabbs says another area where print designers have trouble is in letting go of the idea of a well-defined page extent. “iPad mags don’t have a page count divisible by four,” he says. “If you’ve more pictures, text and video, add more pages. All you need worry about is the total download size”.

Similarly, avoid thinking about fixed dimensions. Websites and apps needn’t be restricted to a certain space when users can simply scroll to access more content.

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn't affect our editorial independence. Learn more.

Read Next...