Web design is (finally!) dying of irrelevance. Web pages themselves are no longer the center of the Internet experience, which is why designers need to move on to the next challenges—products and ecosystems—if they want to stay relevant.
Web design has no future—a risky statement I know, but this article explains why it has no future and what we, as designers, can do about it. As a discipline, web design has already exhausted its possibilities, an emerging combination of tech and cultural trends highlight the need for a broader approach.
Let’s start with the symptoms of this imminent death.
Symptom 1: Commoditization by TemplatesMost of the content that you see on the web today is run by some framework or service—WordPress, Blogger, Drupal, you name it. Frameworks provide you a foundation and shortcuts so you spend less time struggling with the creation of a web site, and more time creating content. As a consequence of the ubiquity of these frameworks, a whole world of free and paid templates lets you get started with a professional-looking design in minutes. Why hire a web designer if you can achieve a fairly acceptable design for a fraction of the cost using a template? Actually, many web designers (especially the ones on the cheaper side) just pick a pre-made template and make some minor branding customizations. Either way, if your web page is a standard, informational one, there’s probably a template out there that can do the job for you.
Symptom 2: Web Design Patterns are MatureWhat is the latest web design innovation you can point a finger on? Responsive design? That’s digital ages old. Parallax? Useless eye-candy. The web has had all the user interface components and patterns you might need for a while now (and no, parallax is not something we really ever needed). And that’s why you don’t see much innovation in web patterns as of late. This maturity is good for users: they will find consistency in their daily use of the web. Checkout forms, shopping carts, and login pages should all behave in a similar way. Trying to get creative at this point will probably be pointless or even harmful.
Symptom 3: Automation and Artificial Intelligence are Already Doing the JobThere’s a new trend of automated web design services, arguably started by The Grid. It’s a service to build basic websites which makes design decisions—semantic ones—based on artificial intelligence. It analyses your content to detect the best layouts, colors, fonts, and extra imagery for your site. Using cleverly chosen design basics (made by humans) as the foundation, it’s hard to go wrong with it, and the result will probably be better than what an average web designer can do. When something can be successfully automated, it means that its practices and standards are established enough as not to need much human input. And this is obviously the beginning. There will be a fierce competition about which service can deliver better designs, faster, and with less human intervention.
Symptom 4: Facebook Pages as the New Small-Business HomepageIn the late 1990’s, future-minded businesses would buy their .com’s, purchase expensive hosting plans, and hire a “web master” in order to have The Web Page, the one that would make them visible to the rest of the Internet. By 2005, creating a site in Blogger or WordPress.com was more than enough for your new wedding photo business (it was also quick and free). Today, this function has been completely overridden by Facebook pages. They are free, made to be viral out of the box, offer powerful tools only available to big businesses a decade ago (like subscription for updates or media posting), and are as easy to set up as your own profile page. They are so efficient in making a business visible that they are rendering basic web pages useless.