Cooking a Website

I’m not really an expert at cooking but I do love to watch professionals cook. I mean Michelin star level professionals. What these guys produce is really amazing and its also interesting to see just how much work some of these dishes involve and how many unique techniques are used. It’s not just food really, it’s art. Some art is there to be seen: paintings, some art is to be listened to: music, and some art is to be tasted. Anyhow… what does all this have to do with websites?

Well, what I do find interesting is that I’m seeing several parallels between cooking and designing interfaces and websites. Let’s see…

1. You need to pick complementary flavors

Creating a Michelin star winning dish requires a naturally good palate. You need to know how flavors come together in order to create a fusion that works. Choose the wrong ingredient and you could ruin the whole dish.

In web design you need to be able to create a design that works as a whole; when all the elements are sliced and coded it must come together as a coherent page, with each element reinforcing the other. Keeping a consistent theme is crucial, as is picking a color palette that works.

2. It's all about the flavor of the main ingredients

Each dish has a star ingredient, be it the delicate scallop, or the hearty fillet of beef; everything else on the plate works to bring out its flavor. All the other elements should support that main ingredient and work to bring out its flavor. If there are too many other things on the plate, or the other flavors are overpowering, the main ingredient becomes in danger of getting lost.

Your web design is a user interface, and as such it’s an interface to something. That something is of course the site’s content. The content should always be the star, not the design (unless it’s a portfolio site where the site itself is often part of the content). A good interface works to bring out the content, make sense of it, and ultimately fade away.

3. Taste and presentation both matter

If you go to a restaurant, you expect your food to look good as well as taste good. These elements are part of delivering an experience. If the food tastes fantastic but looks like dog’s dinner then the experience is ruined.

Similarly, if the content on a website is great, but the interface is ugly, then you may still use the site but the user experience won’t be at a level that it could be. On the other side, fantastic design coupled with bad content just isn’t going to deliver. However, when you achieve a fusion of great design and great content you deliver a user experience that your visitors will enjoy and remember, which is sure to bring them back again and again.

4. Too many things on the plate confuse the palate

A good dish has a theme – a selection of flavors combined together with a direction and intent; a fusion that delivers a unique experience. Ingredients must be chosen well so that they go complement and reinforce each other. If you put too many ingredients on the plate then you risk confusing the palate as the dish becomes a cacophony of tastes.

The same is true in design. Too many fonts destroy the typographical theme of the page. Too many colors dilute the brand. Too much content makes the page difficult to digest. Don’t rush into styling everything or adding everything you can think of. Approach your web design with a strategic stance. What’s your branding – what color should dominate? What is the main font that you’re going to use and why? What should the reader get from this page? What don’t they want?

5. It takes restraint and confidence to achieve simplicity

A dish that looks simple doesn’t mean it will taste simple or deliver little. Simplicity has an elegance of its own.

Designing simple websites and interfaces is all about restraint. Yes, you can utilize the latest trends and Photoshop skills, you can add gradients, wet floors and highlights – but does the design really need it? What value do these things add, if any? Reducing a design to its most basic components and arranging them in a simple and elegant fashion isn’t easy – it’s very hard. Minimalism is beautiful because everything on the page is there for a reason, nothing is superfluous, and when form is so tightly wrapped around function the results are beautiful.