The Changing Role of the Web Designer: Moving From Today into the Future
A look at why web designers are still relevant in an time where online website builders and automation are so prevalent.
The internet/web is around 25 years old now, and it is a far cry from what it was when it began back in the early 90s. Every industry undergoes evolution, but none so much as the digital/technology industry. Web designers for one are professionals who cannot afford to remain set in the ways of the past; each year – month even – brings some new development to the scene.
The role of the web designer is still relevant, that’s for sure, but the most successful designers going forward are those who are open, willing and eager to embrace the changing state of technology, changing needs of users and clients, and changing algorithms from search engines. Change is everywhere, and the ones who survive, as Charles Darwin postulated, will neither be the swiftest nor the strongest, but those who are most adaptable to it.
On that note, here is a list of four trends that have gained significant traction in the ending half-year of 2015, and shall continue to advance for the rest of the year.
Shift towards in-house teams
The perception of the web in enterprises is continually changing. From an extra marketing channel, businesses have come to appreciate the web as pivotal to business success. As such, they believe that relying on outsourced services for such a critical operation may not be the best, which is why they are building in-house teams to be in charge. Not only does this provide strategic advantage, it results in significant cost reduction in the long term.
As a result, consulting agencies are in competition for an ever-decreasing number of potential customers. Some agencies have been sold entirely to their biggest clients, effectively becoming internal teams, while others have been forced to downsize their workforces. Also get in touch with a top web design and SEO company to set you up with the best animations that will work for your site.
However, in-house teams will be limited since they won’t have all necessary skills for everything, leaving room for the specialist. It’s too soon to tell how sustainable specialist agencies are, but for now, outsourced specialist services are still in business, working with these in-house teams.
Web designers working within agencies have a lot of thinking to do regarding their path in the long term. Safer options may be joining in-house design and developmental teams, or gaining specialist skills – these will help you remain relevant.
Development of SaaS
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) emerged a few years ago, and has become a threat to low-end skills in virtually all sectors. SaaS is gnawing at all traditional models in services from customer management to recruitment, and web design is no longer exempt. Services such as Squarespace have provided ‘laypersons’ with avenues to build their own websites.
This means that freelance web designers who could previously make good income building cheap websites from their homes now have much less to do. Platforms like Shopify have reduced the number of clients looking to build their ecommerce websites and shopping carts.
This is pushing the lower end designers higher up the ladder, at the exact time higher-end designers must lower their prices. All these meet at an already packed and squeezed metaphorical middle. Much of the bespoke services that gave designers an edge have been commoditized, thanks to the SaaS packages that are taking over the market.
Not too long ago, it was enough to know how to code in CSS and HTML, but not anymore. This is because the market is now full of people who can do this, and there are tools which have reduced the necessity of knowing how to code, like Adobe Reflow and Macaw.
While such tools now create terrible CSS, which render them undesirable presently, this won’t always be the case. They will increase on sophistication and quality, and eventually become very proficient, meaning that having knowledge for coding in CSS and HTML will no longer matter. Even though they cannot substitute the proficiency of a human being, for most people, it will be good enough.
Such tools are already having an impact. Tasks like prototyping, which would take front-end coders days and weeks, are now significantly simpler. Good coders may smugly want to dismiss these tools, but that would be unwise. Think about what DTP did to graphic designers. While people are still needed for the actual design work presently, who knows whether this will remain true in a few years’ time?
It’s unlikely that people will be replaced by tools this year, or even next, but it’s hard to tell beyond that. With the automation of tasks that gave individuals an edge in the industry, web designers have no choice but to expand or specialize their skills to ensure they remain relevant amid changes in technology.
Changing role of websites
Generally, and ironically, the website is declining in significance. Suppose you’d like to see a certain movie, but don’t know where to go. Previously, you’d have to go to theatre websites to find out whether they’re screening the movie you’d like to see. Each theatre had a different design, thanks to the hard work of a team somewhere.
However, that’s probably not happening anymore. Most people have a native app on their phones which curates listings from different sources. Even if they don’t, there’s the option of Google, and that Siri many techies both love and hate.
The result is an easier time for users since they don’t have to deal with multiple interfaces on multiple sites. Good thing, of course, but on the flip side, it undermines the work of the designers who crafted those sites. In the near future, you’ll be able to ask Siri where your movie is showing and she’ll tell you, just with a voice command.
In short, content is no longer dependent on design. Some businesses have dispensed with the idea of having sites at all, simply posting content directly to their social media sites.
Don’t pack up yet!
Such dismal news, isn’t it? Many of you are probably thinking about a change in career or something. However, spoken as somebody who has practiced web design since the internet was a toddler, I’ll tell you that you’ll be alright as long as you can adapt. Your role will change continuously, even drastically, over the next few years, but you won’t be out of a job.
However, just by expecting the change, you have made the path forwards much easier – change is hardest when thrust upon a person.