Web Design as Sculpting

A chisel being used on stone

In my travels as of late trying to get this site tuned to how I want it, I’ve spent a lot of time over at WordPress going through documentation, looking at plugins, etc.  One of the things that I kept noticing was their little slogan/stylish saying in the bottom right corner of the page:

WordPress slogan

This got me thinking about a conversation I had with a friend of mine about the design and construction of a web page.  I was in the middle of a workday, taking a design and converting it to the necessary CSS/XHTML, when it hit me:

Web design is sculpting.

The Sketch

Some sculptors are adept enough to take a block of raw materials and simply create.  Many create sketches beforehand to translate what they have in their minds into a reference for what will be carved and shaped in reality.

Few web design projects begin by simply sitting down and writing code.  It is far, far better to sit down in Photoshop or Illustrator, or to even draw out a design by hand.  Yet, whatever is created in this stage can only serve as an example, a static document that can be used as a guide or template for dealing with the fluidity of the actual goal.

The Plaster

I haven’t had much experience with sculpting.  I’ve done a little of it through some 3D design courses in college, and that was mostly plaster work.  But the principle is there, so please forgive my generalities here (especially for those sculptors out there).

The key starting point of any sculpture is the raw material, and I’m going to use plaster in this analogy.  Code, specifically HTML, is the marble of web design.  It is the raw material that must be mixed together and formed into the overall shape of the page.  And you don’t want to get any on you.

The Hammer and Chisel

Text editors or IDEs are the tools of choice.  These are used to cut away at the code, forming it down into the shape that is needed.  For web design, the shape is two-fold: the visual end rendered by the browser and the underlying code that can be understood more easily by search engines and accessibility tools.  This is trimmed away until only that which is needed is present.  There is a joke that goes:

How do you sculpt an elephant?

Take a big block of marble and chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.

The Details

Once the rough form is present, rasps, smaller chisels, and sandpaper and used to flesh out the actual details of the form.  For a web page, this is largely where CSS comes in.  The overall form that is established by the underlying HTML is given life through the visual additions of CSS.  The crevices, smooth surfaces, textures, and lines of a sculpture become the margins, colors, background images, and borders of a web site.

In the end, most crafting professions are really forms of art.  I find an easy connection with web design and the classic arts because, while art exists as a form of creative expression, a good deal fo technical knowledge is also needed in order for the artist to be as free as possible in the ability to express themselves.  I can’t think of any case where this is more true than within the limitations and capabilities of the web.

Image credit: AMagil

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