Is web design dead?

Conny Liegl wonders if, as the web grows up, web designers are becoming obsolete

When I was 25, I did not have my life figured out at all. I was in a state of flux, with a mind that was constantly being filled with new ideas. Now, at 34, I see a lot of my own ‘awkward 20s’ in the development of the world wide web.

Designer roles

Since it started life in 1990, the web has been constantly learning and changing. Thanks to social media, website building services and WYSIWYG editors, the web is becoming less and less dependent on web professionals. We can no longer hold on to the way things used to be when we were ‘web masters’ , exclusively responsible for publishing content.

The need for design innovation has shrunk significantly. Conversion rates and return on investment dictate designs that balance novelty with usability. Standards and frameworks try to bring order to the chaos of the internet, and help users digest content by using familiar structures.

PageCloud, which calls itself ‘The world’s most advanced web editor’ , launched in November. With it, users can basically save a copy of any website, making any element editable. From this, they can build the website of their dreams, based on others’ work.

If this still seems like too much work, why not have a website just build itself? Enter The Grid, which recently launched in beta. For this website builder, designers have manually built a pattern and design library that is used by an AI to create a web page. Users drag and drop content into a minimal UI and set some parameters, and the AI places the elements onto the page, crops the images and creates a colour palette.

There are plenty of other threats to websites, too. Facebook pages are an easy place for small businesses to share updates and offers with their clients. Mobile apps offer a handy, straightforward alternative to websites for users on the go.

Google’s Universal Search also seems to be aiming to make third-party websites obsolete altogether. Typing in ‘Flights SFO NY’ results in an overview table displaying various flight options, along with prices. If you have an upcoming flight Google will even scan your emails and display the itinerary on its search results page.

The web is becoming less and less dependent on web professionals. We can no longer hold on to the way things used to be when we were ‘web masters

What’s left?

The good news is that us web designers are not completely obsolete yet. However, in a potential future scenario AI software may learn autonomously, improve its algorithms, perfect frontend web coding and develop new design principles and pattern libraries across the web, with no human input whatsoever. If web designers want to continue offering value, we must engage in different fields, and grow our skills.

  • Content is king: In a world of self-designing sites, deliberate modular content will continue to be the deciding factor for a successful web presence.
  • UX: Part of an outstanding UX is the holistic integration of UX principles to achieve consistency across platforms.
  • Brand identity: While machines might be able to make design decisions based on patterns and libraries, creating a brand identity will always include humans.
  • Emotional design: An important part of UX and brand identity, emotional design increases customer loyalty.
  • New interaction patterns and devices: New ways of interacting with devices are constantly being created: finger and hand gestures, eye tracking, even mind reading. And our gadgets are getting smaller or even wearable, and starting to blend in with the real world.
  • Web ethics: In the digital world that constantly surrounds us the difference between persuasion and manipulation is subtle, and these boundaries need to be clearly defined.
  • Web copyright: It is still easy to inspect and copy the source code of nearly every website. The area of web copyright is growing in importance as new tools make it easier to reverse engineer or simply copy content.
  • Accessibility: The majority of the web is still not accessible for millions of people with disabilities. It is our social responsibility to improve this situation.

Modern web designers are confronted with the most disruptive technologies yet, that could potentially replace our field. We have to adapt to succeed in this new reality: our 25-year-old is starting to live a more independent life now.

As lead designer at Kennedy Library, Cal Poly State University, Conny builds intuitive interfaces to make people happier

This article originally appeared in issue 276 (February 2016) of net magazine.