Application Design vs Web Design

Website design and application design share some common principles, but the overall process from beginning to end, and the final product delivered, are very different.

In designing a website, the primary visitors generally consists of potential consumers. Target demographics vary business to business, from the chic 20-something female shopping a new pair of boots to the 40 year old man needing a good pair of work boots. “This site sells boots,” is the message of each, but a design that works for Wolverine would not work as well for brand like Buckle.

It is the primary purpose, above all else, of a web designer is to best tailor a design to reflect a business’s brand and message to its target audience. When designers begin working on a look for the site, the goal is clear – steer the customer to the information they are seeking or drive them to make a purchase. These actions are done with promotional banners, contrasting color sets and fonts, crisp imagery, and obvious word choices.

Designing an application requires different skill-sets and planning, as the objective and the user base are not necessarily consumers. With most Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions, the application is centrally hosted and accessed through a web browser. Designers of these applications have to design around managing a user’s workflow and the process one goes through to perform a variety of tasks – from the logging in, to the action animation when updates are made or items removed, to success notifications.

Within more corporate-style SaaS systems, the worry about target demographics is greatly reduced. It’s known from early in the design phase who will be using the system. From there, it is on the designer to make sure the system is easily accessible and understandable to even the most basic person who may be using the system. With a website, where consumers can navigate at will page to page with little direction, in a SaaS application, driving a user from one action to another to complete tasks a key in the ease of use of the application.

While web design and SaaS design can be very different for a variety of reasons, there are areas of overlap to keep in mind. Consistent look and feel is tantamount to a successful product. Set color schemes and normalized font types and sizes help make both an application and website have a “put together” feel. Designers who mix and match font faces too much across various pages can cause users to feel the site/application is disjointed. Its also key that form fields are consistent, and error/success messages are clear in both SaaS apps and on contact or submission pages of a website.

The biggest lesson for both disciplines, beyond all the technicalities, is again to know their audience and know what the goal is. Without those two keys, nothing a designer builds for has a dedicated purpose. And without a clear purpose, it’s hard to be successful at either.

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