Illustration of WALL-E hanging from a wall

Six months ago Emma Coats – then a Pixar Story Artist, now an independent filmmaker – tweeted a series of thoughts that became known as “Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling”. The codified rules were hugely popular, reproduced endlessly, and – as I realized today, after a slight change of perspective – perfectly applicable to web development. So, with a little editing, here is my adaption of Ms. Coats 22 Rules for web designers:

  1. Keep in mind what’s interesting for the audience, not what’s fun for you as a designer. The two are often very different.
  2. Trying to build a site theme is important, but you won’t know what it is until you have content. Create, edit and organize the content first, and let that provide the theme.
  3. Simplify. Focus. Combine and eliminate design elements. It may feel like you’re losing valuable stuff, but it sets you free.
  4. What is your UI good at, comfortable with? Throw the opposite at it. Challenge your site: try using it without a mouse. Try it on a device. Try using it blindfolded, with text-to-speech on. How does the site hold up?
  5. After content comes design. Design is hard, execution easy. Get at least a rough design done first, before creating in the browser: , fonts, design elements. Making up things as you go along is a recipe for inconsistency and backtracking.
  6. Finish the site and push it to production, even if it’s not perfect. A released site is 1000% better than one stuck in development.
  7. Pull apart the sites you like. What you like in them is a part of you: you’ve got to recognize what that is and put words to it before you can use it.
  8. Putting code on Github or designs on Dribbble lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head as a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  9. Discount the first design that comes to mind – and the second, third, fourth and fifth. Get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

And five more:

  1. Why must this website be made? What is its purpose? Distill that down to twelve words or less. Print it out and pin it everywhere. Every design decision, every addition, has to be justified by those 12 words.
  2. No effort is ever wasted. If it’s not working, make it a gist and move on. It’ll come back around to be useful later.
  3. Exercise: take the building blocks of a site you dislike. How do you rearrange them into something you DO like?
  4. You’ve got to be able to communicate your work: you can’t just write ‘cool’. This is doubly true for clients.
  5. What is the essence of the site? The simplest way to communicate its message? If you know that, you can build out from there.

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