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 templates
Most 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 mature
What 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 job
There’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 analyzes 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 homepage
In 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.
Symptom 5: Mobile is killing the web
How often do you visit a web site from your mobile device by directly typing the address? Only when you don’t have the app, right? People don’t seem to think much in terms of web pages these days: they think of digital brands, which mostly translate to apps or subscriptions (likes, follows, etc). That’s why most big websites, blogs, and portals are pushing their mobile apps to you — out of home screen, out of mind.
Mobile web has always been slow and cumbersome.
Mobile web has always been slow and cumbersome. Typing addresses is weird. Navigating between tabs is weird. Our underpowered mobile devices and saturated data networks don’t help create a smooth web experience like the one we have in our desktop machines.
As vital as responsive web design is (not adopting it is commiting digital suicide), it only guarantees that your user can view your page in a mobile device, if she ever finds it in first place. And the limited space in her mind is already mostly occupied by apps.
The rise of web services and the content that finds you
The truth is, we need fewer web pages, not more of them. There are already too many competing for our attention and assuming selfishly that we have all the time in the world to close pop-up ads, explore navigational hierarchies, and be dazzled by transitions, intros, and effects.
But what really matters is not how you arrange things on a page: it’s the content, in terms of a specific user need. That’s why Google is starting to display actual content in some search results, without you having to visit another page. Just an example: if you Google a nearby restaurant from your mobile device, the search results include a button to directly call the place. You don’t even need to visit the page. The page designer’s ego and the visits-counter may suffer a bit, but ultimately the user experience is improved.
Things are moving in the direction of digital assistants like Siri, and especially Google Now with the new changes announced for Android M: they aim to provide you the exact bit of information you need, when you need it. This implies a shift from web pages to web services: self-sufficient bits of information that can be combined to other services to deliver value. So if you are looking for a restaurant, you get the reviews from Foursquare or Yelp, the directions from Google Maps and the traffic conditions from Waze.
we are transitioning to a push-based model of content consumption
we are transitioning to a push-based model of content consumption, where the right information arrives without you even requesting it. Google Now, for instance, warns you of how early you should depart in order to arrive on time to your meeting. All of this is already happening thanks to APIs — interfaces that let other services interact with your data. In this world, web pages are not required at all.
This is not to say that web pages will die — they will be around for a long time, because they are — and will continue to be — useful for certain purposes. But there’s nothing interesting there for designers anymore. They are a commodity and a medium, no longer the default state for digital products and businesses.
Web pages are static content that need to be found and visited (pull-based). But in the emerging push-based paradigm, the content finds you. Through data obtained from your context, your activity, and even your biometrics, content and tools will smartly present themselves to you when you are most likely to need them.
That’s the big thing about the new breed of smartwatches: they obtain data from your body and show you proactively tiny bits of information for your brain to chew on. Computer technology is already making big steps in order to dissapear from your sight.
Where does this leave us?
Web design is dead, long live UX design
Here’s the good news: designers are really far from being obsolete. Quite to the contrary, you can see that the demand for UX designers is still on the rise, and everyone seems to be redesigning their digital products these days.
This switch from web design to experience design is directly caused by the shift from web pages to digital products, tools, and ecosystems.
This switch from web design to experience design is directly caused by the shift from web pages to digital products, tools, and ecosystems. Web pages are just part of something much bigger: mobile apps, API’s, social media presence, search engine optimization, customer service channels, and physical locations all inform the experience a user has with a brand, product, or service. Pretending that you can run a business or deliver value just by taking care of the web channel is naïve at best and harmful at worst.
And all these touch points need to be designed, planned, and managed. This is a job that will continue to exist, regardless of the channel. We will still need cohesive experiences and valuable content across smart climatizers, virtual reality devices, electronic contact lenses, and whatever we invent in the decades to come.
In fact, as technology fades into the background, all we can see is the value transmitted by it. The designers who want to stay in business need to be experts in managing content and value across channels.
It’s time for us to grow up, because we have been part of the problem: We have helped to give birth to self-righteous web pages that assume they deserve to be watched and awarded just for the time we invested in crafting them. Now more than ever, in a world flooded with cognitive noise, the world needs simple, intelligent, integrated ecosystems of information. The sooner designers embrace this need, the better prepared we’ll be for the future.
Are you a web programmer? These free ebooks could give you a lot of useful information on your trade. Learning the tricks of the trade and reading about innovative ideas makes you a better web programmer. So, read on..
1. Heroku: Up and Running: Build, deploy, and manage applications in the cloud with Heroku, one of the first PaaS platforms to offer sophisticated hosting and development services. With this book, you’ll learn how to use Heroku’s Cedar runtime stack, a polyglot platform with native support for several languages and frameworks, including Ruby, Python, Node.js, Java, and more.
2. Single Page Apps In Depth: This free book is the book I would have wanted when I started working with single page apps. It’s not an API reference on a particular framework, rather, the focus is on discussing patterns, implementation choices and decent practices.
3. Developing Web Applications with Haskell and Yesod: This fast-moving guide introduces web application development with Haskell and Yesod, a potent language/framework combination that supports high-performing applications that are modular, type-safe, and concise. You’ll work with several samples to explore the way Yesod handles widgets, forms, persistence, and RESTful content. You also get an introduction to various Haskell tools to supplement your basic knowledge of the language.
4. Java Web Programming with Eclipse: The purpose of the book is to introduce students to web application development in Java with the use of Eclipse. It provides instructions on how to construct solutions to various problems. The book assumes a familiarity with HTML and the Java programming language.
5. Exploring Lift: This book will educate you about Lift, a great framework for building compelling web applications. Lift is designed to make powerful techniques easily accessible, while keeping the overall framework simple and flexible. Lift makes it fun to develop because it lets you focus on the interesting parts of coding. By the end of this book, you’ll be able to create and extend any web application you can think of.
6. The Woork Handbook: The Woork Handbook is a free eBook about CSS, HTML, Ajax, web programming, Mootools, Scriptaculous and other topics about web design. The book contains articles with code sections, images, illustrations and links to original contents.
7. HTTP Programming Recipes for Java Bots: The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) allows information to be exchanged between a web server and a web browser. Java allows you to program HTTP directly. HTTP programming allows you to create programs that access the web much like a human user would. These programs, which are called bots, can collect information or automate common web programming tasks. This book presents a collection of very reusable recipes for Java bot programming.
8. Super Awesome Advanced CakePHP Tips: Super Awesome Advanced CakePHP Tips is free e-book about the CakePHP Framework. It covers topics that are generally missed in the beginner books that are on the market. This book isn’t meant for people wanting to learn CakePHP, use it if you want to improve your CakePHP skills.
9. Getting Real: The Smarter, Faster, Easier Way to Build a Successful Web Application: Getting Real details the business, design, programming, and marketing principles of 37signals. The book is packed with keep-it-simple insights, contrarian points of view, and unconventional approaches to software design. This is not a technical book or a design tutorial, it’s a book of ideas. Anyone working on a web app — including entrepreneurs, designers, programmers, executives, or marketers — will find value and inspiration in this book. 37signals used the Getting Real process to launch five successful web-based applications (Basecamp, Campfire, Backpack, Writeboard, Ta-da List), and Ruby on Rails, an open-source web application framework, in just two years with no outside funding, no debt, and only 7 people (distributed across 7 time zones). Over 500,000 people around the world use these applications to get things done. Now you can find out how they did it and how you can do it too. It’s not as hard as you think if you Get Real.
10. Web Client Programming with Perl: Web Client Programming with Perl shows you how to extend scripting skills to the Web. This book teaches you the basics of how browsers communicate with servers and how to write your own customized Web clients to automate common tasks. It is intended for those who are motivated to develop software that offers a more flexible and dynamic response than a standard Web browser.
11. Sun Certified Web Component Developer (SCWCD) Study Guide: The following document was put together as a guide to study for the Sun Certified Web Component Developer Exam. It is intended to filter the important (potentially tested) parts from the Jsp and Servlet specification and not as an all-encompassing guide on how to pass every possible question on the exam.