You may have seen the growing collection of articles citing the death of web design over the last few years. They typically argue websites all look the same these days or the progress of DIY site builders means business owners don’t need designers anymore.
So apparently these and a number of other factors signal the end of web design; which is pretty bad news if you’ve given it everything to forge yourself a career in the industry. But I’m guessing you don’t believe the hype – and there isn’t much reason to either.
Yet another series of “death” articles
We’ve seen these “death” articles before, of course. Print media, email marketing, SEO and countless other things have suffered death by blog post in recent years. The funny thing is they’re all still going strong and these days we’re talking about merging print and digital, a new age for email marketing, and the changing role of SEO.
The thing about these “death” articles is they’re designed to grab people’s attention – and they work, by using bold headlines to hook you in. Essentially, they’re clickbait and they typically make a disappointing read once you get past the headline.
Arguments for “the death” of web design
One thing we can be sure of is that web design is changing and this seems to scare some people. But change is nothing new with online industries and we all have to move with the times. So let’s take a look at the supposed nails hammered into web design’s coffin:
- Websites all pretty much look the same these days, so who needs a designer?
- Pre-designed CMS platforms and templates deliver websites right out of the box.
- AI design software will replace professional designers.
- Business owners can use Facebook business pages in place of a website.
- Social media and apps like Feedly, Google Now, etc. mean people visit less sites.
- Custom web design isn’t a cost-effective solution anymore.
There’s an element of truth to all of the above and I’m sure there are other arguments being thrown around – but none of them mean the end for web design.
If web design ever dies, it will be after…
Your designs get a hell of a lot better
The funniest thing about all this death talk is it suggests we’ve nailed web design and there’s little more we can do. This is pretty laughable when the vast majority of designs out there are fairly uninspiring and even the best of them have plenty of room to improve.
Web design still has a lot of growing up to do and you only have to look at the state of mobile optimisation to see how far behind we are with the existing devices in people’s lives.
User experiences suck way less
You don’t find many user experiences that work seamlessly between desktop and mobile, let alone the other display and device types available on the current market. As digital marketing matures, the need to merge online and offline marketing has become clear – and this will make consistency all the more important, as people interact with brands in different ways (who said print media was dead?).
Of course, this begs the question, where does web design end and UX design begin – and I think a lot of people feel web design has either become a part of, or been replaced by UI and UX design.
Technology stops evolving
We touched on different device types in the previous section and one thing you can guarantee is new devices will continue to throw fresh challenges at us. They’ll also bring new opportunities though, as they become more powerful and gradually remove the limitations designers and developers live with today.
Take a look at the new iPhone’s 3D Touch capabilities, for example. For now it’s a fairly superficial feature, but it creates a new type of interaction for designers and developers to explore, in the aim of more immersive or intuitive experiences.
Coding will also continue to evolve, become more lightweight and solve problems – all of which makes new things possible for designers.
Brands no longer want to set themselves apart
Web design at its most experimental was a mix of designers flexing their muscles and brands doing everything they could to stand apart from their rivals. The designs that followed were a weird and (not always) wonderful collection of websites that pushed every boundary imaginable.
The rise of UX design, conversion rate optimisation (CRO) and a data-driven web may mean designs are becoming less adventurous, but this doesn’t means brands will give up trying to set themselves apart. As technology continues to evolve, they’ll be looking at how to use it to gain every advantage they can, with designers playing a key role.
What people really mean when they say web design is dead
When I come across one of these articles calling for the head of web design, one of two things quickly becomes obvious: there’s a hidden agenda or they see change as a threat to the existence of web design. The hidden agenda is quite often traffic or promoting a service (eg: agencies that rely on WordPress themes). Sometimes it’s both.
But the idea that web design is in danger, simply because the web is changing, is premature to say the least. What I think people really mean when they say web design is dead, is one of the following:
Please, read this article
Above all, when I see an article talking up the death web design, it just looks like another clickbait headline, begging people to read a typically disappointing piece.
— Georg Obermayr (@georgobermayr) August 5, 2015
I’m not saying all these articles are naff – this effort from Marvin Russell makes some very good points, for example. I just don’t agree that any of them signal the end of web design.
Web design can’t do it alone
As the web matures, we talk about user experience and content (amongst other things) like the priorities they should be. It wasn’t always like this though. Before mobile redefined our concept of user experience and Google waged its war against crappy content, web design pretty much topped the priority list.
Thankfully, this isn’t enough anymore and modern web design only works when it’s in conjunction with other priorities: user experience, code, content, marketing and so much more. I think this why many seem to think web design has been swallowed up by UX design – or replaced by it – when in fact the two are working in unison.
Design and development tools are better than ever
You’ll hear this argument time and again – that web designers have been put out of their job by tools that allow anyone to build a website. We also have frameworks that mean developers can bypass much of the design process and a future of AI web design tools is fast approaching.
So business owners have faster, cheaper options available and things will only continue to get more competitive – not to mention more sophisticated. And that means you need to rethink your career path, right? Well, no.
You can’t rely on a machine to make hardcore brand design choices, research audiences or weigh up the finite differences between almost identical typefaces. There will always be new tools that make the web easier and cheaper for people to buy into, but there will always be businesses willing to pay for the highest standards as well.
UX guidelines have stunted creativity
Another argument against the survival of web design is that sites pretty much all look the same now. There’s a lot of truth to this too, although I’m not sure whether this point tries to imply designers have achieved their mission and hung up their boots or suddenly become lazy and given up.
There are a number of reasons so many sites look the same these days. First of all, because more people are using the tools mentioned above and the options they offer are limited, often quite generic.
Secondly, because user experience (quite rightly) dictates a lot of our design choices. The downside is we haven’t come up with a wealth of solutions to the growing list of UX problems (responsive images, navigation, mobile performance, etc.) so we tend to rely on a small set of solutions for the sake of performance.
This will change, of course – but only after a lot of hard work from designers to come up with new solutions that don’t compromise on performance for the sake of creativity.
Being a web designer is tougher than ever
Sadly, this couldn’t be more true. More specifically, it’s getting harder for designers to find clients willing to pay good money for custom design work, because there are so many cheaper options available.
These clients are still out there though – you just have to go further to find them. Designers need to market themselves harder than ever and explore new ways to bag jobs with respectable fees – maybe specialising in niche industries, for example.
Let’s not pretend web design is the only profession that’s becoming more competitive though. This was always going to happen – like it does in every industry – and it comes down to individual designers to keep ahead and offer prospective clients something valuable.
Web Design Is Changing…But It Will Never Die
So we won’t be waving goodbye to web design any time soon – but we will have to accept it’s only one part of the overall design process a modern brand needs. This could make it more difficult for freelance designers to work independently or focus purely on web design – but you could say the same for anyone working with the web.
We may also see fewer brands choosing to own a website altogether, as social media offers alternatives and Google makes organic traffic increasingly difficult to earn. So we may find the business owners who buy into a website, simply because they assume it’s necessary, slowly disappear. But, let’s face it – these are normally the ones that don’t pay good money for design work and you probably won’t miss them anyway. So let them have their WordPress site or avoid having one altogether.