Are you a five dimensional designer?

First published on March 5, 2012 by Gilbert West. Context is important.

Web Design

Web design can be a complex business that requires a team of skilled designers, engineers and content creators at the helm if it’s going to be done well. You need to assemble at team that can cover what I call the five dimensions. Budgets don’t always allow for that, so if you have to cut corners, at least make sure your thinking like a five dimensional designer.

So what are the five dimensions?

#1 & #2

The first two dimensions come straight from the flat earth world of print. How high is it, how wide is it?

In the early days of the web in the 1990s print designers weren’t bothered too much by their employers to design for the web. Creating a company website was seen as a “computer guy” thing. And that suited the print designers just fine. They didn’t like it when layouts were flexible, colours rendered differently on different monitors and clients wanted to change the copy after the site had been launched!So a new breed of designer emerged. The web designer. Back then though, most of them didn’t really have graphic design skills. Web page makers would be a more diplomatic term.


The 3rd dimension is place. In the world of the book or brochure, there is a defined start and end point. An expected order in which you will read the information. On the web? Forget it. People search for what they want and arrive at different points on your web site depending on the task they want to achieve. That said there are still some web site owners out there that think their readers arrive on the home page and then proceed in an orderly fashion from section to section.

Home page, product page, basket, cha-ching. In reality, this dream scenario often doesn’t even happen during the same visit.

Which brings me to the 4th dimension…


The 4th dimension as all good sci-fi fans can tell you is time. How will your site look in 3 months, 1 year or even 3 years? Will the evergreen content still make sense? Did you use temporal references in the copy like “last month” with no indication on the page of when the article was written? Do you talk about staff members that have been with you for 2 years rather than since 2010 or people that have 7 years experience rather than specifying when they qualified so that you don’t have to continually review static content.

Yup, it’s not just about making the web site look pretty and lining stuff up. All those pesky words that the client wants to put on the web site after you get design sign off just ruin things don’t they. Sure your designs look great in the meetings, but will they stand the test of the 4th dimension. Web site owners just have a nasty habit of adding content to their web site over the course of time.

Those that have mastered the 4th dimension know to allow room for growth and have the power to see into the future.


The 5th and most recently discovered dimension is the parallel universe. Many designers think they know what the content of the web site is going to look like when it is published. But as the number of options for reading content on the web has grown this simply isn’t the case anymore.

Your content will be spread across full screen browsers on a 30″ monitor, squeezed into a hand sized smartphone, stripped of your carefully considered styling and aggregated into readers such as Flipboard, Zite, Pulse or any of the plethora of emerging ways to consume content.

So if you find a designer, creator or team that can think in five dimensions, cherish them. There aren’t many designers that can. Yet.