Web design as we know it is coming to an end, thanks to high-quality templates, established design patterns, automation, artificial intelligence, and mobile technologies.
Web design is (finally!) becoming obsolete. Because web pages are no longer at the heart of the Internet experience, designers must move on to the next challenges—products and ecosystems—to remain relevant.
It’s a bold statement to say that web design has no future. I know, but this essay shows why it has no end and what we can do about it as designers. Web design as a discipline has already reached its limits; nonetheless, a new convergence of technological and cultural trends highlights the need for a more comprehensive approach.
Let’s start with the warning signs of impending death.
Symptom 1: Template-based commoditization
The majority of the information you see on the Internet today is powered by a framework or service—WordPress, Blogger, Drupal, and so on. Frameworks give you a basis and shortcuts to focus on developing content rather than struggling with the building of a website.
As a result of these frameworks’ widespread use, many free and commercial templates are available to help you get started with a professional-looking design in minutes. Why pay a web designer when you can get a decent plan for a fraction of the price by using a template? Many web designers (especially those on the cheaper end of the spectrum) select a pre-made template and make small branding changes.
If your web page is a typical, informational one, there’s almost certainly a template out there that can help you.
Symptom 2: Mature Web Design Patterns
Which of the following is the most current web design breakthrough you can think of? What is responsive design? That’s from the digital era. Parallax? It’s a waste of time to look at it. For a long time, the web has had all the user interface components and patterns you could need (and no, parallax is not something we ever required). As a result, there hasn’t been much innovation in web patterns recently.
Users will benefit from this maturity since they will discover constancy in their everyday web usage. The behavior of checkout forms, shopping carts, and login pages should all be consistent. Trying to be creative at this point is fruitless, if not downright dangerous.
Symptom 3: Artificial Intelligence and Automation are Already Doing the Job
The Grid, arguably, began a new trend of automated site design services. It’s a service for creating simple websites that use artificial intelligence to make design decisions. It examines your material to choose the most appropriate layouts, colors, fonts, and additional artwork for your website. It’s difficult to go wrong with smartly picked design basics (created by people) as the foundation. The result will almost certainly be better than what an average web designer can achieve.
When anything can be automated successfully, its processes and standards are well-established enough that little human input is required. And this is, without a doubt, the start. There will be an amazing race to see who can produce better designs faster and with less human participation.
Symptom 4: The New Small-Business Homepage is Facebook Pages
In the late 1990s, forward-thinking companies would purchase.com domain names, pay for pricey hosting plans, and employ a “webmaster” to create The Web Page, which would make them accessible to the rest of the Internet. By 2005, your new wedding photography business could get by with just a Blogger or WordPress.com site (it was also quick and free).
Facebook pages have entirely taken over this function today. They’re free, built to go viral right out of the box, come with sophisticated tools that were previously only available to huge corporations (such subscriptions for updates or media posting), and are as simple to set up as your profile page. They are so effective at promoting a business that they render basic web pages obsolete.
Symptom 5: The Web is Dying Because of Mobile
How often do you access a website by typing the address into your mobile device? Isn’t it only when you don’t have the app? People nowadays don’t appear to think of websites as much as digital brands, which are largely apps or subscriptions (likes, follows, etc.). That’s why most major websites, blogs, and portals are urging you to download their mobile apps—out of sight, out of mind.
The mobile web has always been sluggish and inconvenient. It’s strange to type addresses. It’s odd to switch between tabs. Our weak mobile devices and overburdened data networks make it difficult to provide a smooth web experience comparable to our desktop computers.
As important as responsive web design is (not using it is digital suicide), it only ensures that your user will be able to read your page on a mobile device if she ever finds it. And her mind’s limited capacity is already mostly taken up by apps.
Web Services’ Ascension and the Content That Finds You
The truth is that we need fewer, not more, web pages. There are already too many people vying for our attention, and expecting we have unlimited time to close pop-up ads, navigate navigational hierarchies, and be wowed by transitions, intros, and effects.
But it’s the content, in terms of a specific user need, that matters most, not how you arrange items on a website. As a result, Google has begun to display actual content in some search results without requiring you to navigate to another website. For instance, if you Google a nearby restaurant on your mobile device, the search results contain a button that allows you to phone the establishment immediately. You are not required to go to the page. The ego of the website designer and the visits counter may take a hit, but the user experience is improved in the end.
Web design as a discipline has already reached its limits.
With the latest modifications revealed for Android M, things are moving in the direction of digital assistants like Siri and notably Google Now: they want to present you with the exact piece of information you need when you need it. This necessitates moving from web pages to web services, which are self-contained chunks of data that can be integrated with other services to provide value. So, if you’re looking for a restaurant, you can use Foursquare or Yelp to obtain reviews, Google Maps to get directions, and Waze to get traffic information.
Even better, we’re moving to a push-based content consumption approach, where the relevant information comes to you without your having to request it specifically. For example, Google Now can tell you how early you should leave to make it to your meeting on time. APIs—interfaces that allow other services to interact with your data—let all of this happen already. Web pages are no longer required on our planet.
This isn’t to imply that web pages will vanish; they will exist for a long time since they are —and will continue to be — helpful for specific reasons. Designers, on the other hand, will find nothing fascinating there any longer. They are no longer the default state for digital products and businesses; they are commodities and mediums.
Web pages are static pieces of information that must be found and visited (pull-based). However, in the new push-based paradigm, material finds you. Content and tools will intelligently present themselves to you when you are most likely to need them, based on data gathered from your context, activity, and even biometrics.
That’s a big deal about the latest generation of smartwatches: they collect data from your body and present you with little morsels of information to chew on. Computer technology is already making significant strides toward oblivion.
So, where do we go from here?
Web design is no longer relevant; UX design is.
The good news is that designers are far from being obsolete. On the contrary, demand for UX designers continues to grow, and everyone appears to be reinventing their digital goods these days.
The shift from online pages to digital products, tools, and ecosystems is directly responsible for this change from web design to experience design. Mobile apps, APIs, social media presence, search engine optimization, customer service channels, and physical locations are all variables that determine how a user interacts with a brand, product, or service. Pretending to operate a business or provide value solely by managing your web channel is naive at best and dangerous at worst.
All of these touchpoints must be planned, designed, and managed. Regardless of the channel, this is a job that will continue to exist. Across smart climatized, virtual reality devices, electronic contact lenses, and whatever else we invent in the decades ahead, we’ll need consistent experiences and valuable information.
Indeed, as technology fades into the background, all that remains is the value it conveys. Designers who want to continue in business must be able to manage content and weight across several media.
It’s past time for us to mature because we’ve contributed to the problem by helping to create self-righteous web pages that believe they deserve to be seen and rewarded simply for the time we spent making them. In a world overloaded with cognitive noise, the world needs simple, intelligent, integrated information ecosystems now more than ever. We’ll be better equipped for the future if designers accept this necessity sooner rather than later.