No, web design is not dead
Have you ever had someone tell you that your career choice is “obsolete”? That it’s “in the past”? I can imagine what it felt like for carriage craftsmen when they saw automobiles fill the road, or how telegraph operators felt when telephones made their way into everyone’s home.
For the past five to ten years, I’ve heard many an “expert” claim how my line of work, web design, is a dying occupation. Most recently an article by Sergio Nouvel stirred up much controversy on the internet when he told why he thinks web design is dead. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this though. While many will disagree, there is a consensus among some that third-party CMS, ready-made templates, and even now SAAS web design systems have made the notion of paying someone to design a website a useless venture.
I’ll admit with these new convenience innovations it’s made my line of work actually easier, as I’ll point many a cash-strapped client to DIY solutions such as Squarespace or The Grid, or even do a quick Wordpress install with a ready-made theme that makes a website quickly at low cost.
However, to merely think the world wide web can survive solely on pre-packaged ready-made systems and templates is a bit short-sighted. Would you equate a fine dinner cooked by a talented chef as the same as a frozen microwave dinner? Granted both fulfill the need for sustenance, but yet many choose the chef over the frozen food section. Thus I’m inclined to believe there is value in the custom-built meal as much as I show value in a custom-designed website.
You can’t escape branding
So you might be wondering why would anyone hire someone like me when they could inexpensively use a ready-made template. Here’s an image that might illustrate why “ready-made” isn’t always the best idea:
This was an image posted on Twitter by designer Tim Caynes back in January. A similar sentiment was shared by designer Josh Miller on two different occasions before that. Caynes’ image is of a variety of agency websites, all seemingly taking the same formulaic look of a large photo with some big white text. They’re not horrible designs, but I would beg to ask how do these agencies brand and differentiate themselves to the common person? How would a potential client choose an agency if they all look, act, and speak the same messages?
Branding is a key reason why a business should consider a custom-designed website over a ready-made setup. It’s not just about slapping a logo on a layout and perhaps changing some colors to match. I take branding very seriously in how I approach a client’s website. Revolt Amplification is a prime example. You might look and think it’s just a simple responsive website, but everything from the color choices, to the subtle background texture, font choices, even the way the buttons were designed...all was an attempt to create a balance between what I saw as good UI with the dark culture of heavy metal rock music.
I’ve seen many websites designed with no branding strategy, and it’s amazing how many of those companies I’ve made into clients who sought more than just a website. Branding is the image and message of your business. It’s the means you have to differentiate yourself from your competition, and thus give your pitch as to why a customer should pick you over the rest. This is why major companies would not settle for ready-made templates, and why a serious business should think beyond “instant” when they grow into their own.
Versatility is important
Beyond branding, another big issue I’ve had in this notion of “ready made” template thinking is in how many ways one traps themselves when it’s time to do something said template wasn’t meant to do. I’ve had occasions when I’ve dealt with clients who had outside designers or developers working on their web properties. The strategy has been set to add a new feature or function to said web properties, but the outside designers/developers claim “we can’t alter the template”.
Now I could understand resistance to some degree. Maybe the request is out of scope or the back end is too complex to toss in small changes. In many cases though it’s more pure laziness. Template thinking is Web 2.0, and we are way out of that realm now. If a website isn’t versatile and open to customization and change, then it won’t work out very long for a business. This is part of why clients hire me to build them a custom designed website.
You could even think about this when it comes to the back-end. Granted there are many plugins for whatever system you’re using that could fulfill most needs, but more often than not a custom solution is brought in because a messy patchwork of plugins isn’t the right answer when UX is vital.
Web design isn’t dead, but evolved
So I’ve shown you a few big reasons why one would need a custom web design over a ready-made solution, but there’s a part of the argument where the naysayers are correct. Web design alone as a career is dead, meaning if you only want to design layouts and nothing more, then you won’t go very far in this career field.
Today’s modern web designer can no longer just live in a realm of Photoshop or Sketch, leaving all the other work to colleagues. He or she needs to know something about marketing and branding, as well as UI/UX, or even development. I’ve heard the “experts” claim how they don’t want or like the “jack of all trades”, but it is amazing how those who go further in this field can and do wear many hats. I know I’ve seen many “just designers” lose their jobs in bad times while those versatile employees keep their spots.
You can give this work any new “title” you wish, but there will always be a need for those who can go beyond the typical. Those who can build a customized solution that fits a business’ brand and needs. This is the job, and why it won’t die, because I’ve yet to see it lose life. It just keeps on evolving...and it’s exciting.
Besides, if web design as a career was dead, then who would make all those ready-made templates?