Web Design Isn’t Dead

Some worry that web design is of weak health, and some would love to put it down. Web design is mostly accused of being mentally unstable, since volatile trends come and go, like mood shifts in a manic state — for example flash webpages, splashes and modals, carousels, or now parallax. They are desperate attempts at staying relevant that make web design look like a madman.

UXers observe this with compassion and proclaim that web design should get in a ditch and just die already.

Recently, a discussion about how web design is bollocks, and how UX design is the main focus has been a point of interest for the community. Actually, it was a storm on how the web page game is just a framework for the experience of the user, which needs the most attention.

Well, is there really a conflict? Is it justified? It shouldn’t be.

The story of my life

Sometime ago I went for a lunch with my co-worker, Paul. Paul was an intern at the UX department, soaking up all the knowledge like a sponge he was. A good guy, but one could pin an opinion to him and he’d wear it like a “kick me” sign.

We grabbed a burger and started chatting about work-related stuff. He was in corporate love with his supervisor, who proclaimed statements such as “web design is irrelevant now”, and Paul zealously repeated them to death.

One of my colleagues, Anne, joined us in the middle of our conversation in that tone. Paul set sights on her, despite not knowing the girl well. I watched the conversation unfold while nibbling my cheeseburger.

‘What were you guys just talking about?’ Anne asked, intrigued by the discussion we just had. Paul shifted on his seat, straightening his back and pushing his chest forward.

‘We were just talking about web design, you know, boring stuff’ Paul answered suavely, igniting a spark in Anne’s eyes.

‘I know about it a thing or two, but boring? How so?’

‘Well, I was just saying that why anybody would need web design anymore? You can grab a template and do it yourself. Start with WordPress or whatever. It’s like reinventing the wheel, you can’t do much with the web anymore. As a UX guy I think that web designers are useless.

The light in Anne’s eyes went out. The only thing I saw was war. Blood. A team daily meeting. We all sunk into the silence, which Paul yet didn’t understand. I broke it soon with the unavoidable:

‘So, Annie, are you still a web designer for your old company?’ she grinned and confirmed with a hearty laugh, while throwing her hair back and leering at Paul.

‘Yeah, I’m getting paid wads of cash for managing a WordPress template.’

Paul was soldered to his drink for the remainder of the lunch, unable to utter a single word.

Hello design, my old friend

There are people like Paul. I don’t mean in the awkward moment sense, but they think in a similar fashion — why would anybody need web design anymore?

Mashable recently released an article on that issue, which sparked a lot of discussions on the web — the huge shares count indicates the interest it brought.

The article goes through 5 points, which validity is rather arguable.

First of all, the abundance of templates, that one can use at free will without requiring much knowledge. It goes as far as saying that web designers are using them themselves, shortcutting their work.

Secondly, there is not much to do with the web. The principles of responsive design were known for a while until someone put a name on them, and eye-candy like parallax scrolling only detracts from experiencing the content. Nothing new awaits and we already have everything we need.

Moreover, Facebook pages became the new front-pages of new businesses. Of course, why bother with your own site when you can use the power of social media.

And finally, the shift to mobile. Look at the UX designers and how many mockups a day they produce for Android or iOS, glued to their Sketch or whatever. You don’t use websites on mobile, you use apps.

The post itself makes web designers grind their teeth.

But what I really want to tell you is that UX designers should grind their teeth as well.

Web design isn’t dead, it went through a therapy

Web design isn’t dead. The thing with web design is that it went on a therapy. It’s no longer a convoluted mess of issues, having suffered from deep depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar and manic depressive disorders.

It’s getting clean and organized. Whatever it tries to say, it’s well put and efficiently articulated.

And it’s now almost synonymous with UX.

When you use templates, you receive a simple solution that might be enough for a time being. But think as a UX designer — your aim is to adjust the experience on the page according to your brand and your users. Without having total control over the website you will not be able to achieve that. Templates only cover certain needs, but what about others? If something is lacking, will you simply change the template? New holes may appear. The article by Leigh Taylor about how scalable design will kill templates adds more oil to the fire. A real designer has control over his or her framework, and offers unique experiences — templates only kill the uniqueness and control.

Going further, web design is not only visuals — web design offers more than a one-dimensional approach. It focuses, for example, on the brand alignment, content, the navigation structure, or architecture. At our company the tools testing the navigational structure are featured under the UX label. It’s because we believe the issues web design covers are vital for efficient user experience — this is the ultimate goal. UX designer may design visuals and solutions, but so does a web designer.

Another issue that the Mashable article covers is that web design’s innovation is dead. It’s not. On the top of my head: multimedia in HTML5, CSS3, seamless navigation, SVGs, or amazing horizontal experiences. Because of technological changes, the web design must change accordingly. Mobile environment demands changes, and that demand drives innovation.

So, you’re telling me that mobile is killing the web experience? Statistic show that mobile browsing is rising. Although the experience while browsing the web on mobile is lacking, we cannot substitute it with a single app per every website. Web designers’ job is to optimize this experience (and thus research new technologies and methods, as mentioned in the previous paragraph) — in a similar fashion to a UX designer. Responsive design was talked about for a while, sure thing, but it started to be employed widely because of mobile.

The difference lies only in the starting point — the effect is usually the same. Wearing your UX label and waving fingers at web designers, saying “You’re limited to web!” is just unproductive and causes unnecessary unrest in the community. I’m not advocating being a fabled unicorn possessing the capabilities of both areas, but areas of both worlds do overlap. Instead of seeing the differences, see likeness.


Originally published at blog.usabilitytools.com on August 6, 2015.

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