Architecture vs. Web Design

As designers, it’s common to wonder what the differences are between our chosen discipline and others.

After all, there are a lot of similar rules and guidelines that permeate design, no matter what the field. And sometimes that leaves us wondering how difficult it would be to switch between design disciplines.

In this post, we’ve compared architecture and web design. While there are a lot of similarities, there are also tons of differences between these two areas of design.

Most of these are directly related to the fact that web design deals primarily with virtual space, where architecture deals mostly with the real, physical world. If you’d like to share additional similarities and differences, please do so in the comments…

 

Similarities

Architecture and website design share a lot more similarities than many people think. But after all, they’re both design disciplines, and the principles of good design are pretty universal. Read on for more than half a dozen ways in which architecture and web design are a lot alike.

Good Design Should Tie Together Past, Present, and Future
The best designs are timeless. They incorporate elements that evoke the past and give homage to the present. They also look toward the future, meaning they won’t look dated anytime soon. In architecture this is particularly important, as most buildings will be around for at least a hundred years, and often much longer than that.

But it’s also important in web design. The last thing you want is for your design to look dated in six months because you followed the current trend to the letter when the site was designed. And considering how long some web design projects take, if you start designing in one style, that style might look dated by the time the site actually goes live. It’s better to incorporate current elements alongside those that have already proven to be more timeless, as well as up-and-coming trends that haven’t really made their mark yet.


What is Left Out of a Design is Just as Important as What’s Left In
Minimalism has been around in architecture since before the Internet even started. The idea that a carefully edited design will be more aesthetically pleasing is equally applicable to both architecture and web design. Sometimes what is left over when something else is eliminated is more visually striking than the original detail would have been.

In website design, you can think of this as the white space or negative space between the elements on your site. Negative space acts as a visual buffer that lets the visitor’s eye naturally move between content areas on a site.


Pre-construction Planning is Vital
Before construction is ever started on a building, a ton of planning is done. There are concept sketches, blueprints, engineering schematics, and plenty of other pre-construction documents.

The same thing is true for most websites. Concept sketches are used just like in architectural design. But instead of blueprints, web designers use wireframes and instead of engineering schematics, they use site specification documents. These are all vital to making sure the final website does what it’s supposed to and has all the necessary parts.


Client-Designer Communication is Key
It’s vital that an architect and his or her clients keep in contact throughout the design and building process. The same is true for website designers. A well-informed client will be happier and easier to deal with than one that’s kept in the dark.


Bold Color Makes Things More Interesting
Accent colors can be used equally well in both architecture and website design. Architects may incorporate bright colors in the trim of a room or building, or on an accent wall. Web designers might mix them into the borders, typography, or navigation of a website, or into the background of the page.

Details are What Make a Design Great

The details that set apart great buildings are equally important in great website designs. Just remember that too many details in a building can be overwhelming, just as too many details in a website can result in a cluttered and fussy look.

Design Should Always Be Built Around Content

A building should always be designed around the kind of activities that will take place within it. After all, it’s kind of hard to set up a manufacturing plant in a mobile home, and a high-rise office building probably won’t make a very cozy family home.

When designing a website, you have to plan the design around the content. That means looking at what kinds of content the site will have (photo galleries? e-commerce functions? a forum?) as well as how much content the site will have, and then adjusting the design accordingly.

 

Differences

While there are many similarities between architecture and web design, there are also some very substantial differences. Most of these have to do with the differences between designing in the physical world and a virtual one.

Architecture is Much More Permanent
As a general rule, when an architect designs a building, they’re probably expecting that building will be around for a hundred years or more.. Because of the resources that go into a building, it needs to be designed to last for decades or even generations.

Websites don’t have the same longevity requirements. A designer can build a site knowing it will probably be revamped or completely redesigned every couple of years.

Architecture is Usually More Expensive and More Time-Consuming

Hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars go into the design and construction of most buildings. And most buildings take months if not years to build. Websites, on the other hand, rarely cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while some sites take months to build, others may only take days or weeks.


Architecture is More Dependent on Engineering and Physics
When designing a website, there are very few laws of physics and nature you need to pay attention to. You can try new things and even if they don’t work out, there’s usually no harm done.

With architecture, on the other hand, there are certain rules of nature and physics that are vital to the success (and stability) of a building. If you try to ignore those rules and laws, the consequences can be disastrous. Engineering principles and knowledge are much more important in the world of architecture than they are in the world of web design.


A Variety of Space and Experience is Easier to Achieve in Architecture
Because of the nature of a building, you can easily incorporate different spaces with different looks and styles. You can incorporate differences between the front of a house and the back, and within the interior spaces and no one will likely complain if it’s done well.

A website, on the other hand, usually needs to have a much more consistent look and feel throughout. Even in cases where consistency doesn’t have to be strictly adhered to, it’s usually much more effective to at least keep the same style throughout.


Architecture Can Have More Effective Transitional Spaces
There are few, if any, transitional spaces on most websites. With the exception of landing pages, navigation usually leads directly from one page to another.

In a building, by contrast, there are often transitional spaces between rooms that help ease inhabitants from one space to another. On the exterior of a home, these might include terraces, gardens, or porches. On the interior they include foyers and hallways. These spaces are vital to separating interior spaces from one another, and from the outside, both physically and mentally.


Architecture Needs to Take Surroundings Into Account
A website doesn’t need to consider the websites that surround it when being designed. A designer can design a site however they want, without regard to other sites on the same server or in the same search results (at least in terms of design).

A building, however, needs to harmonize not only with its natural surroundings, but also with nearby buildings. Otherwise, the building will stick out like a sore thumb and detract from the surrounding landscape.


It’s Harder to Fix Mistakes in Architecture
If a mistake is made in the development of a website, it’s generally easy enough to fix. Sure, it might set you back a day or two, but even in the worst case scenario, it’s usually not that big of a deal even if you have to start over.

In architecture, fixing mistakes can be costly and time-consuming. Most mistakes take time to undo, often stalling a project for weeks or months.

And if the client changes their mind about something major halfway through construction, fixing things isn’t as simple as deleting some files. Demolition can be almost as expensive as construction, and may set projects back by months or years.



Written exclusively for WDD by
Cameron Chapman

What other similarities and differences do you see between architecture and web design? Please share below…

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  • http://www.lukasfolio.com Lukas

    I have been studying architecture myself. Chosen design – faster results :) Studying definitely helps you to understand rules, see things different way than other people look at them. Technicality of the subject gets in common with technicality of programming, so being engineer is helpful. I think studying anything related to some form of design is helpful in our proffesion.

  • http://www.fotoLibra.com Gwyn Headley

    An interesting and unusual comparison.
    It may be more relevant to compare web design with garden design. In both cases the initial design is drawn up for the client’s approval, then the site is prepared and created. And unless there is constant gardening, maintenance and updating, the site will quickly become tangled and overgrown, and visitors will lose interest drop away.
    I’m sorry not to see picture captions or credits in the excellent photographs illustrating your post.

  • http://www.colorexpertsbd.com/ Clipping Path

    Nice job! thanks for sharing…I always love to read your blog post!

  • http://www.exionyte.com exionyte

    There are far more constraints in Architecture than in web design. The only constraint in web design I can think of is web browsers.

    Architecture has a lot of factors to take into consideration as mostly mentioned in the article such as physics, weather, surroundings & environment etc this will result in limiting the creativity.

    In web design one can be more creative and come up with more weird stuff.

    • http://www.limorhader.com/ Limi

      Unless you’re Philippe Starck or Frank Gehry ;-)

  • http://www.creativeindividual.co.uk Laura

    Wow, Cameron, what a great article!

    You’re right, I do often wonder how easy it would be to transfer from one design discipline to another. And this was a great way to explain the differences web design has with just one of the many other design disciplines there are out there.

    One thing that came to mind when reading, was that perhaps the most obvious, and biggest difference to overcome is the technical aspects, rather than the design skills per se – as you pointed out with “The Laws of Physics” and architecture.

    And this would be true in other areas, such as Fashion Design. Knowing about different materials, and their properties. How to cut and stitch. How to dye. And I’m sure a whole lot more that I don’t know about.

    And even graphic design, the background were quite a few web designers have come from. There are technical details about ink, paper (or other materials), cutting, embossing, UV vanishing, finishes, different printing press types, etc. that must be taken into consideration when laying out a design for print.

    Great read for my Friday afternoon. You really got me thinking.

  • http://www.jordanwalker.net Jordan Walker

    Great article exposing the differences between web design and architecture.

  • http://www.bertrandlirette.com Bertrand

    This analogy is especially good to explain the web to clients : as an example, some clients want to add a whole section to the website at the end of the project. I then tell them if they would ask an architect to add a whole floor in the middle of his building at the end of the construction… Yeah, it’s “possible” but, you know, you could have thought about that before… and it’s gonna cost a whole lot more now!

    Preach to your clients, for the sake of us all!

    Also, I’d like to add a point : one thing that differentiate architecture to the web is they have an order. They are regulated by strict laws and they are watched when they build something. The simple reason is that if a building collapse, people will die. If a webpage is really bad, people won’t die (well, generally…). This means that anyone can make websites and it gives a bad image to the whole industry. Lots of people improvise themselves experts in this domain. I think it would be a good idea to have some kind of “order” to regulate who can make websites and all. I guess you’ve gotten my point by now…

    Kudos for the article!

  • http://www.gabrielefusi.com gabriele

    Great post!!!

  • http://www.limorhader.com/ Limi

    Having personal experience in both branches of design I find this comparison interesting. I think that a cool next step would be to compare actual websites to actual architectural works. For instance, a Gaudi structure could be compared to a really busy site with many pixel-heavy graphic elements but arranged on the page in good taste; or A site that features lots of Flash animations and constant movement could be a building in Times Square, where on the other hand, a super-static site without even a drop-down menu could be just a grey building in a quiet town.
    Another thought I had: there sites that are flexible enough to be viewed on different devices (computer, mobile, etc.), I wonder what type of building that would represent.
    This is even more fun than finding animals that look like people :)

  • http://www.pfly.com Erick

    Good articile, but I think you are missing the biggest similarity. The process. Clients come to each of us with a budget and idea of what they want, but it’s our jobs to mold that idea into something tangible at a budget friendly price. Architects choose materials while web designers might choose certain web modules or coding languages which could take more or less time/budget.

  • http://SARAH.HELPTOSERVE.INFO Sarah William

    Thanks for the great write-up..It’s really interesting..

  • http://wpblast.com wpBlast

    Neat comparison – a very interesting take on two subjects I never would have associated together.

  • Shelley

    Interestingly enough, my first career was in architecture, my second in web design/development. I found this article particularly interesting, with some very valid points. Good stuff!

  • http://www.PjDesignsAndConcepts.com Cheap Web Designs

    I really do think architecture is very important when trying to construct a website. Pre planning is everything, without the foundation you have nothing. You gave some great examples in this article and a person can visually see what you are trying to say.

    Thanks for the tips
    PJ

  • http://www.redstage.com/magento Magento Development

    Reading this article brings up many interesting points. I do agree that there are similar rules and guidelines when it comes to design overall. Personally never have I ever heard the two discussed (architecture & web design) compared in any way. This entry has definitely opened my eyes beyond my graphic design standpoint. Thanks you for this article.

  • Chiong

    Excellent article,

    It’s amazing the similarities that are in both fields, like architect, I read a lot articles in this website for freelance designers and is increible similarities between them. I think it would be cool a little more articles on this topic especially in the aspects of presenting architectural projects o designs in a creative way. I find it interesting.

    Thanks for the article.

  • http://zdesignstudios.com JP

    Interesting take.

  • http://www.dynamicwp.net/ Eko Setiawan – camp26

    Very interesting article…
    Adding my knowledge of design, thanks..

  • http://www.harishchouhan.com Freelance Web Designer

    Hello,
    Wow, this is so true. And its also a reason for my switch. Am a Architecture dropout. Left college after 5th semester to start my own design firm.

  • http://www.technetto.com Technetto

    A Great Comparison!!

    A most important similarity that i can see it that Both are Artists…

    Cheers Guys!!

  • http://www.webdesignnet.co.uk Helmuts

    Nice article. thanx.. :) made me to smile at some places

    My favorite part is: Good Design Should Tie Together Past, Present, and Future (+1)

    Though I have studied arts for 7 years – i had neved heard that :) 100% true!

    only the last sentenceis kinda sad… about dropout thing..

    anyway – all the best to you,
    Helmuts from Maidstone, UK

  • http://flavors.me/mrrej89 Kim Rejström

    Very interesting read. An unusual comparison but a really good one nonetheless. As others already said, a spin-off on the very subject, going in to hands-on comparisons on actual buildings and websites would be very interesting.

  • http://www.artesdigitalespanama.com Moi

    Nice Article,
    I can relate, since my first career was in Architecture. Switching to Web Design was hard but I could do it because of the Design Background.
    Congrats.

  • http://www.colorexpertsbd.com/services/photoshop-image-masking-service.html Image Masking

    what a nice post!
    thanks a lot for sharing..

  • http://www.atilladenis.com Atilla Denis

    Being an Interior Architect graduate myself I can relate to this post having made my living the last year as a freelance web designer. I think the only reason why there is not more cross over between design disciplines is this view that you can not adapt to different sectors. Personally I think this is a natural thing and if looked closely happens across the design industry. Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid are two examples of designers that have moved from building design to furniture design and other such disciplines. As long as you know the rules to an industry anything is possible.

    I think working in the interior architecture sector a lot of my skills have crossed over to the web platform from Spacial awareness to User interactivity and Journey.

    Actually it reminds me of a book i read a while back about Richard Branson and the Virgin brand. How he was expected to fail when he diversified his company in to different sectors which was not the done thing in the business world where each company stuck to their specific industries. Yet with a bit of business knowledge and the willingness to adapt and learn look at what the company has grown in to from a Student magazine to a World wide major brand..

  • http://www.twitter.com/felipegenuinoo @FelipeGenuinoo

    Excelente artigo.
    Parabéns

  • Zee

    As an architecture student myself, I thought you have made an interesting comparison.

    Before I started studying architecture, I knew I always wanted to be a designer of some sort. I liked the idea of being a web/graphic designer, but I was also interested in architecture. But what made my decision was when I read a quote in an autobiography of Daniel Libeskind, an architect. In a similar dilemma, his mother provides him with these wise words:

    “You can always do art in architecture, but you can’t do architecture in art”

    As an architect, I guess I will always have the discipline and order to create a website, a graphic, or anything of that sort and diversify into any design field albeit with some self teaching of all the technical stuff..

  • Ant Gray

    And there are more professionals in architecture, because creating web site is much easier (even if it design fails, it has less dramatic consequences, than in architecture)

  • http://www.photoshopclippingpath.us Photoshop Clipping Path

    gr8 job That bit was pretty impressive, thanks for posting.