Web design isn’t dead.

April 8th, 2012

Are do-it-yourself web solutions ruining web design? Do tools like WordPress, Tumblr, Squarespace, and Weebly make it too simple for consumers to create lifeless cookie-cutter websites? Do frameworks like Boilerplate, the 960-grid system, and pre-made content management systems like WordPress and Joomla dilute and homogenize interactive design? Are professionally-made websites losing their value because of the free and low-cost options made available to the general consumer?

I’ll get straight to the point. I view the current template trends as opportunities to better my own approach to design, usability, and development. The real questions should be:

  • How can I improve the experience?
  • How can I convince a client that a professionally designed and well thought-out website will do more for his or her brand than an out-of-the-box template?
  • How can I create a website to be more than just a website, but to act as a sales representative, a recruiter, a customer service representative, or an emotional connection for the user?
  • How can my role as the designer evolve from making things prettier to making things easier, or improving functionality, or engaging the user, or adding purpose and direction?

These are challenges we need to present to ourselves daily, no matter what kind of competition arises. The fact that these template sites are around gives us the chance to analyze our own approach to design and user experience, and set ourselves apart from the ever-growing pack.

Yes, DIY web services make things easy for consumers to create an out-of-the-box website. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Low-budget consumers have the unprecedented opportunity now to create a website when just years ago, they would have been cripplingly limited by both knowledge and budget. Implementing a template website will certainly create a sense that their site was not as well thought-out as a website put together by a professional, but it still gives their brand the chance to exist online. Eventually, they may realize that their website isn’t producing the conversion rates that they would like it to, and will then turn to a professional for advice on how to enhance it. We all get approached by clients who realize the need for a redesign, not knowing what necessarily they want, but knowing that they need more than what their website is already providing them. This is where true web design comes into play, and where our experience with usability, functionality, and purpose can shine.

I’ve been approached by a handful of clients who initially were interested in having updates to functionality and design of their existing templates and, either after the preliminary quote or after several hours of billed development time, wound up opting for a redesign from the ground up because they knew that their existing site simply wasn’t good enough. As web designers, our experience, knowledge, and approach is our value. We are as much consultants as we are creatives. Design isn’t just about changing colors and logos, nor is it even about making a website simply look good. It’s about individualizing it, determining what it needs to fit within the client’s business model (or what have you), and making it work.

Yes, some tried-and-true user experience elements like logo placement, navigation functionality, and page structure can feel a bit repetitive, but this is yet another opportunity for us to push our own creative abilities and take existing trends into the next level. Why not take a risk and see how it pans out during product testing? You could innovate the next web trend.

With innovations that come with new technologies like CSS3 and HTML5, we have more of an opportunity now than ever to push the boundaries of what has become “accepted” in the world of web design, and explore the arena of visual presentation and user experience in great depth. Web professionals who make it a point to stay aware of innovations and trends are in the unique position to take that knowledge to push further and create new trends, new ideas, and new designs that take web in a direction that it’s never been. We are the ones who hold the future of the web in our hands. Not the templates.

Yes, web design is changing (so is film, video, photography, and every other media industry). Web design is an industry that literally didn’t exist twenty years ago; it has never stopped changing, and will not in the near future. If we remain flexible and forward-thinking, web designers will always have a place and a purpose. We just need to make it for ourselves.


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