What is design?
We all perceive design differently. For some, it might be lots of whitespace and less content, while others like bright colours. When you play webmaster, you have to make sure that your forum has the best possible design possible, because it is the first impression your user has of the forum. Sure, activity is important too, but the first thing the user notices is how does the forum, or in fact, any website looks? Is it too bright? Is the colour scheme conflicting, or do all the colours ‘go’ with each other? How easy it is, to use the forum?
Notice that I highlighted the last question – How easy it is, to use the forum? But we’ll get back to that in a minute, first let us define design. It can be agreed upon that the real definition of design is ambiguous, with many conflicting definitions. Let us attempt to lay down our own definition of design, one that we can use for the remainder of the article with no ambiguity. We know that if something is well designed, then it is called beautiful, or pretty, or aesthetically pleasing or any of the synonyms of the words. This is perhaps one aspect of design that is universally agreed upon, but there is another aspect of design that is rarely touched upon. One that you won’t find in any run of the mill book or blog, but is discussed on only the best. If you ever got serious about design, you probably know it – this aspect in general terms is called solving problems.
Shocked? You better be. Design is not just about making your website aesthetically pleasing. It is about solving problems. Where should the username box go? What should be the size of the header? How many posts must I display before implementing pagination? Taking all of these into account, we can perhaps term design as beautiful solutions.
Most of these solutions, most of the questions have already been answered by the developer of your forum. But usability and good design is not on their priority list. They are under a lot of pressure to ship the best possible product in the least possible time and this pressure often means that good design is sacrificed. You might have an aesthetically pleasing forum, but that does not mean that it is good design, because it might only be barely usable. This is where you, the committed and determined web master come into the picture.
While the developers of your forum are under the pressure of the community to continuously keep fixing bugs and rolling out new and new features all while handling support requests etc. you are under no such pressure. The only pressure you have is to keep the forum active and this is good – because that pressure encourages you to do the best you can do to improve your forum, and one of the best things you can do to your forum is learn how to design. No, you don’t have to be able to make awesome themes like the ones popular designers like envira or Audentio make. No. But you certainly must develop that eye for good design, which will take you a long way, especially when you are choosing a theme for your forum. But more than that, you want to be able to customize the forum to the best of your ability – perhaps you would like to remove the captcha, which annoys many people, and implement better anti-spam measures such as a simple addition or a simple question which does not require a lot of thinking (I am strictly against having the user count the number of letters in a word also, because it is too time consuming and there’s always the possibility of an error). You might want to implement features such as a popup login and register box, and you will be able to do it yourself, like how YOU imagined it, without having to rely on an external designer whom you’ll most likely have to pay.
And that is not all! Design exists all around you – it exists in nature and in all the buildings that surround you. Learning design allows you to perceive all of this in a different and more beautiful way. Believe me, just do it. Take the jump. You will not regret it.