Does The Future Of The Internet Have Room For Web Designers?

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Update (27.09.2010): this article caused quite a heated debate in the design community. Please read the rebuttal of this article, called I Want To Be A Web Designer When I Grow Up131 here, at Smashing Magazine.

— Vitaly Friedman, editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine

It seems that new posts about what the Internet has in store for us down the road pop up every week or two. Some propose that the Internet will deliver more of the same, but different somehow (it’s usually ambiguous just how), while others propose such radical changes that it’s hard to believe they could ever happen. And the truth is, none of us really know what will happen with the Internet in 10 or 15 years.

After all, it was only a little more than 15 years ago that Clifford Stoll wrote the now-infamous “The Internet? Bah!2” post (subtitled: “Hype Alert, Why Cyberspace Isn’t, and Will Never Be, Nirvana”). In that post he detailed why a lot of things just wouldn’t happen online but most of which are now commonplace.

As web designers and developers, what the future holds for the Internet is imperative for our livelihoods. If the Internet has radical changes in store for us, we need to understand how they might effect what we do to earn a living and what we’ll need to do to adapt and keep pace — if that’s even possible.

The Future is Content and Data

Look at your mobile phone. If you’re like most tech-savvy consumers, you’ve likely got a smartphone of the Apple or Android variety (or maybe a Blackberry, especially if you’re working in the corporate world). Most of us use our smartphones on a near-constant basis doing everything from checking email to working on projects to entertaining ourselves. How much of all that do you do in your phone’s browser?

The answer is probably “not much”.

We use an app to check email. We use the Facebook app for status updates. We use Twidroid or TweetDeck or the official Twitter app for tweeting. We use a YouTube app to watch videos. We use the Pandora or Last.fm apps for streaming music.

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Mozilla Prism4 is an application that lets users split web applications out of their browser and run them directly on their desktop. Is this the future of mobile applications?

It’s likely a similar scenario on our desktop or laptop computer. We use apps for a lot of our common Internet-based activities. We even have options to create our own apps with single-site browsers (like Fluid5 or Prism6). And Google’s Chrome OS7 is just around the corner with devices already planned to use the web-based OS.

Content is king and design is becoming less relevant – we’re already seeing this with mobile themes

Look at how many WordPress sites use one of less than a handful of standard mobile themes. It doesn’t matter what the site looks like in a standard browser; open it up in your mobile browser and you’re often greeted with a page that looks exactly like the last 10 sites you visited.

This is because for most users, design is irrelevant. That’s not to say they don’t appreciate good design. Many of them do (and many of them don’t). But they’re on a website because of the content. They don’t care about visual design, and they don’t care about interaction designer that much, either: as long as the design doesn’t give them a headache or interfere with their ability to find what they want, they don’t really care how exactly it looks like or how exactly it is working. The most widely-used mobile themes offer the content in an optimized format for mobile viewing. That makes users happy.

It is not just apps that reduce the need to visit a website

It’s not just apps that will pull data directly, without the need for an actual website. Devices are making real headway in this manner. We have cars now that can pull information from the Internet for you. Soon devices for Google TV will be out in the marketplace, pulling video content from the Internet without the need to visit a website.

Google TV8
Soon devices for Google TV9 will be out in the marketplace, pulling video content from the Internet without the need to visit a website.

It’s likely that more devices will add Internet integration in the near future. At some point we’ll probably have refrigerators that automatically generate shopping lists for us (including any available coupons and where the best prices can be found that week): based on previous shopping habits; what we currently have; and our average usage rates for different foods. This is just one example of how online data and content will become infinitely more important than the designs surrounding that content.

Content Will Be Funneled Through a Handful of Sources

It’s impractical to have apps for every website we visit. Most of us visit hundreds or thousands of websites every year. What’s more likely to happen is that most of our content will be delivered through aggregators.

Who will these aggregators be?

Currently, there are three big players on the Internet that are likely to continue to be the primary content delivery platforms. Who are they? Twitter, Facebook and Google. Think about where you spend most of your time online and you’re likely going to find that those are the sites you visit most often. This market share is only going to increase.

Facebook is already trying to be the Internet

Look at how much content is now aggregated through Facebook. They have pages for virtually every topic under the sun (most of which have canned content taken directly from Wikipedia). Post a YouTube video to Facebook and your friends can watch it right there, without ever leaving Facebook. Even third-party applications like Networked Blogs stick pretty closely to the Facebook environment.

Facebook apps10
Post a YouTube video to Facebook and your friends can watch it right there, without ever leaving Facebook. Even third-party applications like Networked Blogs stick pretty closely to the Facebook environment.

Besides that, look at the gaming environment that’s cropped up on Facebook. I’ve lost track of how many updates in my news feed are directly related to games like Farmville or Mafia Wars. Facebook has grown into such a complete online ecosystem that many users might never find a reason to leave. Facebook shows no signs of slowing down either. They’re expanding their business and their reach – a trend that’s likely to continue for as long as they can sustain it.

Google wants everything to go through them

Google already has its hands in virtually everything online. It has two operating systems (Chrome OS and Android), its own browser, web applications that allow you to do a lot of things that used to be limited to desktop applications and the most-used search engine in the world put it in a pretty solid position to continue to be a major stakeholder in the future Internet.

Google is also one of the more forward thinking and active participants in Internet policy and technology. It has a vested interest in how the Internet shapes up in coming years and will push to shape that Internet in a way that benefits its business model. I can see a future where Google doesn’t just offer a list of search engine results, but actually shows you the content you’re looking for without ever leaving their sites.

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If you look at Google’s complete product offering, it’s easy to see that it wants to be the primary online destination for most people (or maybe even all people). Google is firmly positioned in blogging, video, search, business applications, webmaster tools, ecommerce and even phone services – expect its reach to expand even more.

Is there room for other services?

There are always going to be innovative startups online. Most will fall by the wayside soon after they’re started or are absorbed into other established companies. A select few will go on to become major influencers online. It’s unclear at the moment where there’s room for new companies and services online. The idea of more location-based services (going beyond FourSquare, et al) is probably the most promising as well as services that go beyond normal Internet activities and integrate into daily life more.

Function Will Prevail over Form

If everyone is accessing web content through an app rather than a browser, then no one will care what a website looks like. The way it functions and the content it delivers will become the paramount concerns to users. There will be no more balancing of form and function on a website; function will override form.

Form will retain a place in the design of apps. In all likelihood, content will be open to the extent that APIs will be developed that anyone can then use in application development – so the form in which an app displays that data will become what separates the good from the bad, the great from the mediocre.

There are Advantages…

There are some big advantages to this kind of model where apps and a small number of content aggregators deliver and control most of the content online. One issue is bandwidth. If there’s no design being transferred to a device (because the application on the device already includes all the design elements), that saves bandwidth. As more and more activities are done online, we’re going to have to consider infrastructure costs. Lower bandwidth use per site will result in more bandwidth available.

Another advantage is that there’s more potential for user control. Users can define their preferences on their device and see content in the way they want. This especially has positive implications when it comes to accessibility. Those who need special settings because of a disability will no longer have issues with unviewable content.

Technical advantages

Let’s face it: the technologies upon which the Internet is built aren’t the most efficient ones available. Part of this has to do with building upon infrastructure that isn’t as good as it could be. The Internet has to be backwards-compatible over very long periods of time. We can’t just suddenly change things, even if it is to make things work better in the future, if it causes half the sites out there to no longer function.

With a content-based Internet that uses device-side applications for displaying data and performing tasks, we can create more efficient applications. We won’t need to make sure each application can handle a huge variety of content and processes (as browsers currently have to do), because we’ll know exactly the kinds of data that application will need to process.

What Does It Mean for Users?

Practically, users will have a more integrated experience with the content they view and the services they use online. The Internet will become even more a part of everyday life, incorporated to such an extent that it’s seamless. It’s already happening in bits and pieces.

Again, look at your phone. You probably use apps or widgets for things like checking the weather or generating a shopping list. These apps will become more integrated and will work better with the data available online. For example, you could use that shopping list to automatically find the best prices on products, either online or at your local stores. In all likelihood, that data would be aggregated through a service like Google Base.

One profile fits all

An online profile will become even more important for users. Rather than setting up every device or service you have, you’ll simply authorize the device to grab your profile and preference information from the web. Security and privacy experts will have a field day with this, but most consumers will opt to use it anyway if it means the difference between going through a two-hour manual setup process or clicking a button and authorizing it to set everything up automatically.

What Does It Mean for the Web Design Industry?

So what does this all boil down to? If the web becomes app-based and content-based, where do web designers fit in — if at all? The bad news is that if the Internet starts relying much more heavily on access via app rather than browser, there’s going to be a lot less demand for web designers. Companies won’t see the point in hiring someone to create an entirely bespoke website when they can just use a template and then feed all their content to Google and Facebook and Twitter.

Developers, on the other hand, will likely see a boom in business. A lot of money will be exchanging hands for apps that work better than current offerings and apps that might be able to undermine the big players. Of course, all these apps also need design work, but it will be a lot less demand than there is now for website design. It’s likely a lot of designers will need to expand their offerings to cater to content creation rather than just web design.

Websites aren’t going to go away any time soon. It’s likely that there will be a bigger market for templates and themes as companies stop paying for custom designs. And there will be certain kinds of sites (like portfolios or art projects) that will always want to be designed.

Multimedia content will also still have a strong market. Those who can produce high-quality videos and even web-based apps (for things like Chrome OS) will have a strong business for years to come.

Who Wins in All This?

If there’s a definite winner in this possible future Internet, it is the content creators. If the only thing that sets one company or organization apart from their competition, then those who can create high-quality content will be in high demand. The thousands of dollars that a company used to be spent on website design will be funneled into website content instead.

Users will also benefit as they’ll have a more integrated, customized experience. Their version of the Internet will be tailored specifically to them, based on their own wants and needs. They’ll get content in the manner they prefer and find most usable.

Application developers will also likely win in all this. While the APIs and the data available will be pretty standardized, the manner in which it’s displayed will become a battleground of creativity. Innovation here will be key, doing something different and better than what everyone else is doing is the only way an app will stand out.

Update

Update (26.09.2010): We’ve got quite many negative responses for this article, like Web Designers Won’t Die Out, They Will Transition12. At Smashing Magazine, we are aiming for strong, high quality articles and after reading the article we do think that it raises some valid points, and now in retrospect we understand why the title and the content may appear to be aggressive. We also can see where the accusation of trying to be sensationalist comes from. But it was never the intention of the article.

We are trying to do our best to provide only relevant and high qualilty content, but apparently sometimes we see our things differently than our readers do. We do appreciate constructive criticism like the above post on Drawar. And we are listening to what you are saying. And we will certainly keep it in mind for our future articles.

Update (27.09.2010): this article caused quite a heated debate in the design community. Please read the rebuttal of this article, called I Want To Be A Web Designer When I Grow Up131 here, at Smashing Magazine.

— Vitaly Friedman, editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine

(afb)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/09/27/i-want-to-be-a-web-designer-when-i-grow-up/
  2. 2 http://www.newsweek.com/1995/02/26/the-internet-bah.html
  3. 3 http://prism.mozillalabs.com/
  4. 4 http://prism.mozillalabs.com/
  5. 5 http://fluidapp.com/
  6. 6 http://prism.mozillalabs.com/
  7. 7 http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/introducing-google-chrome-os.html
  8. 8 http://www.google.com/tv/
  9. 9 http://www.google.com/tv/
  10. 10 http://www.facebook.com/press/files.php
  11. 11 https://www.google.com/accounts/ManageAccount
  12. 12 http://www.drawar.com/posts/Web-Designers-Won-t-Die-Out--They-Will-Transition
  13. 13 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/09/27/i-want-to-be-a-web-designer-when-i-grow-up/

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Cameron Chapman is a professional Web and graphic designer with over 6 years of experience. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing. She’s also the author of The Smashing Idea Book: From Inspiration to Application.

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  1. 1

    I definitely agree that content is going to be a big factor with the semantic web being the next phase. However, I do not think that apps will be taking over web design, but instead be an integral part/addition to the web designer’s tool box. I think apps for facebook, twitter, etc that integrate into sites will merely be a slowly dying trend. Remember AOL keywords? Every commercial on TV was all about them. Now it’s “friend us on facebook, be our fan on facebook, follow us on twitter, etc.”. Same situation, though I think now that way more people are using the internet than back in the day of AOL, internet trends take a much longer time to die out or change, so these elements will stick longer.

    And as for templates, I don’t think they will be in use by anyone who is trying to be credible. I cringe every time I hear a client suggest I use one. Unique design leaves unique impressions, and hopefully that will always be the case.

    0
  2. 2

    Seems like I should look for a career change.

    -2
    • 3

      same here :(

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    • 4

      Please dont go by the article…. it has no thoughts.. just words put together mean nothing…

      -1
      • 5

        Do the words “I love you?” mean anything to you?
        Do the words, “I’m sorry, she didn’t pull through?” mean anything to you?
        A string of words is, of course, important. Words have power.

        0
    • 6

      Ha ha … I know you read this one.

      0
      • 7

        This is MADNESS!!!!

        0
        • 8

          no, this is SPARTAAAA!!!!

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        • 9

          CORRECTION!

          If this was a term paper in school it would pass. Its like saying the clothing industry should get rid of its designers because people will not care in the future so long as they have something to cover themselves. But lets welcome you into the REAL world of the Internet. Few CRITICAL points you over looked:

          1. We DON’T design websites for companies, even their staff could care-less. We design them for their customers. So customers are King (not content) and content comes after customers. So we find out what clients want first, then we put it in there in the way they want it.
          2. iPhones and other dagdets: we are the ones who do that too. Am sure you forgot. Without us, no content on gadgets (the boss can’t do that.)
          3. Entertainment is not the only thing we do on the internet. Serious business is also happening. We shop, buy, compare etc before making a decision. Well designed websites save clients thousands of dollars they would otherwise use in phone calls and transit. Oh, and did I mention that the reason we find information quickly on the internet depends on design? Can I also mention a majority of visitors to any site have no time to read? So we use icons etc to catch attention?

          AM JUST SCRATCHING MY HEAD WONDERING, IF ITS NOT A DESIGNER WHO PUTS CONTENT FOR DISPLAY ON THE INTERNET (USING TAGS) NO MATTER HOW EXCELLENT OR SHODDY, WHO DOES?!?

          I can go on and on and on. Designers go through hundreds of websites each day and we see trends every morning when taking coffee. Your article CAN’T even be considered as an opinion! Do more research!

          0
          • 10

            You could go on?

            I’d prefer if you didn’t.

            The article is clearly editorial in nature and your absolutist stance to its nature is ironic.

            Great work, Cameron.

            0
    • 11

      I can take this as an opinion, not as a rule. And if I might have an oppinion I’d say this is like saying fashion might become a thing for the past because people will not care how clothes looks like, but rather they’ll care to feel warm in their clothes, so fashion designers won’t have a place in the industry.

      2
      • 12

        Exactly, and there will always be the need for someone to design those functional and practical clothes to ensure they are functional and practical. If you leave it to someone who knows nothing about designing clothes they will make a horror show of short sleeves, tight gussets, weak seams, badly placed zips etc.

        Even the article above confirms that website design will be less important so long as it doesn’t give the user a headache or make them want to leave – experienced designers know how to do this.

        The likelihood is that there will be higher demand for experienced designers and a lot less demand for new and inexperienced ones.

        ….and no, developers generally cannot design well at all.

        There is also likely to be a backlash against Facebook and Google when people begin to realise the criminal way in which their personal data is being used and that government intelligence agencies in collaboration with the incoming global fascist one world state are using these platforms to psychologicially profile people and censor and eliminate all ‘thought crime’.

        There are good alternatives, competition is healthy!

        6
  3. 14

    This is a realy nice Article, exciting thing to think about :)

    I think the profession ‘webdesigner’ goes very well hand in hand with ‘ui design’ or ‘interaction designer’, whatever one wants to call it. For that reason i think that even it’s for a website or for a app, it still needs a good and nice design and UI.
    My guess is that already a lot of app builders/designers are also webdesigners.

    Besides that, i realy don’t believe in the future of apps! Wow that’s a real statement isn’t it? :) Yes it is! But for some reason i think the range of platforms is becoming too wide for everyone to just keep up and building the same single app for different platforms. It’s getting way too expensive for most of the businesses.

    Plus we have the powerfull development of html. like html5; almost everything is possible with html5. The BIG plus: No need to build for different platforms, just once and for mobile devices maybe some screen adjustments. But that won’t be a problem.

    I could go on and on about this but my guess?: Yes there always will be apps, but overall HTML and co. will win the battle and webdesigners will evolve with it and remain supreme ;)

    3
    • 15

      I totally agree – It’s all gonna be about GUI/UX design and interaction in the future. As technology develops more into touch and motion detection with design and displays, design can only progress with it. But I think minimalism will play a big part. The possibilities are pretty exciting really; but graphic design and visual interaction will always be a big part of digital progression and user experience. Without design and imagery… content would be boring :)

      -1
    • 16

      Agreed – it’s likely that HTML/CSS will become increasingly important within the App space – there’s already a variety of x-platform toolkits for producing ‘native’ Apps using web technologies as the UI framework – Palm/HP’s WebOS and ChromeOS will only increase this. Apps need design as much as pages do.

      And I say this despite the fact that as a software developer with experience of other desktop application frameworks, I’m still unconvinced that HTML and CSS are the right tools for the job. But then I didn’t rate Intel or Windows in the 80s, preferred ADA to C++, and know from experience that popular technologies with a low learning curve usually beat superior but lesser known ones.

      Equally, the web has always been about content. It’s just early on people who couldn’t / wouldn’t / didn’t see the point of design would use GeoCities, or Frontpage, or whatever tool-of-the-day was available. Now maybe they use Blogger or WordPress, which is slightly better for our eyes! Equally a lot of smaller stores and sellers can now use Etsy or Folksy.

      And of course web designers themselves often build on increasingly standardised underlying software platforms, which in turn offer basic templates, to speed up the process.

      But I don’t think any business that would previously have actually employed a designer to create their web presence, brand, will shift over to a standard template.

      For most businesses, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter may be alternative channels to reach their customers, but they don’t want their brand subsumed into someone else’s.

      A final point – the desire to build once for All Platforms is strong amongst developers and designers – but we should always stop and understand why users choose particular platforms. X-platform apps were often rejected by Mac users because the developers had little understanding of how the Mac OS differed from Windows in terms of basic UI conventions, keyboard shortcuts, integration with the wider system (i.e. not using the system-wide dictionary and keychain).

      Now I don’t own any smartphone or tablet (yet) but I would wager that there are already similar platform differences, and of course device differences (owners of phones with GPS or other positioning would expect your code to use this feature, for instance).

      The right way to do this is to build a re-usable core, but understand the differences between platforms – and make sure your clients understand any trade-offs.

      (Lowest common denominator cross-platform may often be the right answer – many firms don’t have the budget for anything else. On the other hand, if you’re designing something to sell via the iPhone App Store, don’t think that you can do it by owning an Android phone and never using anything Apple).

      0
    • 17

      Jules,
      I agree with you 100%, every designer / developer needs to apply their skill sets to as many markets it can apply to in order to ensure employment in the future and now.

      As far as designing for the web browser going away all together.. I’m not too sure about that. Even if all that remains is enthusiest designer, there will always be a need for webdesigns.

      0
    • 18

      I strongly second on that!!! Very well said partner!

      -2
    • 19

      Same here. If every thing is controlled by app still you need UI designer. To put every thing in place you need them for sure.

      -2
  4. 20

    I believe that it’s just part of the flow in the way things develop…. It’s the exact same thing with the fashion industry.

    In this case we will just have to wait until every single PC, notebook, iPad, smartphone is just overloaded with apps. At that point it won’t be new anymore and it will need something to spice it all up a little. Usually the first steps in doing so is enhancing the aesthetic feel….

    Nice moment to share my favourite quote… “All art is quite useless.” by Oscar Wilde… But we’ll always want to make life look a little better!

    3
  5. 21

    I think the difference between apps and websites already is trivial, and will become even more so in the near future.

    -3
  6. 22

    There are a couple different factors at play here. Consider the professional photography industry and other niche markets. I guarantee that if your business puts up a template, you’ll be laughed at. Templates have no business in a world where personalization trumps everything else. Prospective clients are going to a website not just for content, but for the experience that the brand is willing to offer. Not to mention that if you’re in the business of selling yourself, a high profile custom website speaks volumes about your dedication to your chosen niche market.

    0
  7. 28

    Content should definitely never be overlooked… especially now that most everyone needs to play the SEO game to some degree.

    But even as companies are turning more and more to mobile optimization and apps, there is still a need for work from designers… somebody needs to make it look pretty.

    The role of web designers is evolving, not dying. So I would say there is room… it’s just a different size / shape room then it’s been in the past.

    0
  8. 29

    With the way this article overlooks obvious facts I’m surprised it’s not on Fox News.

    Just because Facebook and Google and whatever other content aggregators you want to list want everything to come through them doesn’t mean the content will originate with them. There will always be original websites and new web applications that may or may not integrate with these mainstream players.

    It seems like you think there is some kind of trend here but I’d say what you’re claiming is the direct opposite of what’s happening. For instance, while I may find a lot of links through Twitter on my iPhone or iPad, when I click those links, i still see the original website (and it’s design).

    This honestly seems like dis-information or some sort of scare tactic to me. Please think through this stuff in the future.

    4
    • 30

      Agree 100%. I don’t see the companies changing their original web sites for a “Facebook fan pages” in the future. There’s more on the internet than just watching YouTube videos, updating statuses and social networking. I think that web design trend is going towards more “minimalistic” designs, but that’s still a designers job to make it look appealing.

      1
    • 31

      Now ya done it. You had to bring up Fox News. Ok smartass….any link to “overlooking facts”?? Only ones I see overlooking facts are the left wing medias….CNN, MSNBC, NBC, etc.

      Either keep your bias and ignorance out of these discussions, or back up your ignorance with links. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

      But I do agree with you on the scare tactics of this article. There will always be room for web designers.

      -8
      • 32

        Left wing media? Where? That hasn’t existed since the mid 1980’s…
        All we have now is right wing ‘social’ democratic media, and super-strength right wing, bordering on fascist media. The agony of choice!

        -3
    • 33

      Exactly. I find the Fox News remark funny. Everyone else needs to calm the hell down.

      0
    • 34

      I find that “Fox News” comment kind of amusing. That’s the worst news channel in the world. Especially Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. Everything that comes out of their mouths are just negative.

      0
    • 35

      That’s also my point: as much content I find on fb and twitter, there is almost NO original content there. fb and twitter are “just” aggregators and only a few businesses have decided to leave their website behind and just market on facebook.
      I just read about those companies and it seems to me as their decision to leave the web and only present themeselves on fb was based on the fact that their websites didn’t perform well and the budget for doing both fb and website isn’t there…

      -1
  9. 36

    I’m glad to see someone else see’s the potential change in a web designer’s future. It can be a little unnerving, especially you’re unable or unwilling to adapt. These days we are expected to be able to do more than create icons and web layouts, with many seeking light programming as well as design.

    One thing I think a lot of designers have that will never go away is usability. Something can be designed beautifully and programmed rock solid, but if people can’t use it, it’s useless. So I think that is one thing a lot of designers have up on the content creators and programmers. Maybe we are evolving from web designers to interface designers?

    Either way, really nice article Cameron.

    -2
    • 37

      Interface designers already exist and have for decades ( even before the WWW). They study UX design and HCI and Human Factors. That’s a point the author overlooks, all those apps she sites as evidence are designed. Computer science learned a long time ago that leaving interactions in the hands of developers who did not understand cognition lead to poorly designed interfaces. She says users don’t care about interaction design. Well why should they it should be so ingrained in the app that it is invisible. Because it is guaranteed that a bad design in terms of usability will make people notice, at least in the past it has on PCs and even on terminal applications.

      -1
  10. 38

    Very good article and a pretty scary, if you ask me. To think that the web will end up being nothing but content fed through a couple apps is not exactly the freedom that the web allows. Personally, I don’t want to get all my content through one source. I prefer going to different blogs to read on specific topics. I like stumbling onto sites while searching for various things online. I like how the design of a site adds to the personality of the content it houses. The thought of companies feeding their info into some ‘content meat grinder’, and losing their individuality online, wouldn’t be much different than automakers churning out their cars under one, bland, gigantor brand. Designers exist for a reason. If we’re relegated to doing nothing more than making templates, then the whole design world will be nothing but a sad assembly line of photoshop mediocrity.

    0
  11. 39

    Interesting as I was just thinking about #NewTwitter and it being an effort to draw some traffic back to their own site rather than people using third party clients like Tweetdeck. This is vitally important from an advertising/revenue perspective.

    -2
  12. 40

    I dunno. Sounds like the content creators will be the big losers here. I mean, what’s in it for them unless there’s some kind of pay-for-use model? Why spend your money providing content for an aggregator and getting nothing in return? The bad content will chase out the good…

    Oh, shit. I forgot. That’s what’s happening right now, isn’t it.

    -1
  13. 42

    You make a lot of good point. – though scary ;) I’m wondering about the idea of companies using templates and themes. Specifically when it comes to branding. Companies wouldn’t want to appear to be cookie cutter.

    -1
  14. 43

    Creativity is king. See Apple, even though they are not the best in offering technology in their products, creativity makes them the largest company

    -2
  15. 47

    Design will always be an important portion of any marketing media. Users will always tell you they don’t care but on a subconscious level they do. That’s the reason why successful companies don’t mind paying big bucks for branding. Their branding is their signature, their invitation card, the message they want their potential customers to understand via shapes and colors. Content is extremely important, but the way it is displayed is what will make people absorb that content. Don’t bury designers yet. Templates are not always going to cut it for companies who are seeking to separate themselves from the competition. The rules of the internet are changing, that’s undeniable, and and they are changing fast, but designers will always play an important role in the delivery of these new technologies simply because people trust branding even if it’s on a subconscious level.

    -2
  16. 48

    I couldn’t disagree more. Design is not, and never was, eye-candy. True and good design serves a purpose and, without it, there’s nothing left, other than… things. The way you picture web design here is the way that people have always done: making pretty images and placing here an there.

    We have grown so much in terms of good web design in the last years, grabbing inspiration from classical areas, as well borrowing from newer grounds. It’s not only wrong, but terrible, to see someone putting all that effort in a trash can. Your article is extremely sensationalist and does not fit the quality of this online magazine.

    -1
    • 49

      Couldn’t agree more Jackson. How would companies differentiate themselves from competitors and comunicate their values without creative design. It’s such a weak argument.

      -3
    • 50

      Vitaly Friedman (editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine)

      September 24, 2010 6:43 am

      Actually, Cameron is talking about visual design and interaction design; her main point is that the focus will shift from web site design to content design, leaving the idea of web design as it is today aside. And that’s a very thought-provoking concept, actually.

      -1
      • 51

        You’re still equating web design to “making it look pretty”.

        True web design is interaction / content design on the web. The only problem is that 95% of the population think it’s about textures, templates, and other eye-candy. All they do is contribute to visual pollution and the misunderstanding that web design is about eye candy. It isn’t.

        The best designers solve REAL problems (everything from overhead to usability to content hierarchy – think Facebook’s layouts), and are able to maintain the business’ brand image regardless of the platform (again, Facebook and their mobile versions, as well as Opera mobile). The rest of the so-called web designers who don’t understand this are nothing but pretenders. Who are they? The ones who come up with “templates” (a laughable concept – as if every online business has the exact same problem as everyone else), or use the same Photoshop “techniques”, such as glossy buttons, on each and every project (another laughable idea – so all brand identities must look shiny? Ha!). Usually, they are equipped with their pirated copies of Photoshop and Windows. Some of the more successful ones now have Macs – but their copies of Photoshop are still pirated.

        I could go on, but the point is simple: design isn’t about eye-candy. It’s about problem solving. If your web “design” isn’t solving quantifiable issues, then it isn’t design, it’s “decoration”. “Decoration” is the act of putting together eye candy. Maybe SM should rename the article to “does the internet have room for web decorators?”

        -1
        • 52

          Good God. Thanks. Articles like this are why I usually avoid Smashing. Not very well thought out, kind of amateurish.

          -4
        • 54

          Great reply Andrei.

          “…her main point is that the focus will shift from web site design to content design, leaving the idea of web design as it is today aside.”

          Website design (and just about every other kind of design) already is content design. If it isn’t then either your site sucks, or your designer does.

          -2
        • 55

          Couldnt have said it better myself, Andrei.

          -2
        • 56

          Andrei, I agree with you entirely, very well said.

          -2
        • 57

          Nothing against Ms. Chapman, but a quick look at her personal site, experience level (“over 6 years”), and work history tells us a lot about her mindset. I’ve been working in interactive and print design through two economic bubble bursts, and in my opinion the only people who’ve lost employment are those who can’t adapt to the rapid change and ability to “forget conventional wisdom” that the medium requires. I don’t feel she has the long-view necessary to see that things mutate and change on a short cycle in our particular space.

          Ms. Chapman writes for sites like Smashing, Tuts+, and other sites whose primary content type—no insult intended—consist of weekly design trends and one-off design lists (another example of her work: “40+ Awesome Keynote and PowerPoint Templates and Resources”). The designers who depend on that type of information are probably not long for this profession either way.

          Anyone who has a solid education in design theory and history regardless of software packages, and ability to relate critical concepts in a novel fashion for the interactive space, will be gainfully employed. Those who hope to retain their jobs by using the latest Photoshop filters and gradients are probably not investing in their craft enough to stay relevant in this profession.

          3
      • 58

        Sorry Vitaly, but web design has only ever been about designing the content. No one in the history of design has designed “a page” or “a website.” Content is the only thing a designer can design. Those who perceive a difference between designing content and designing a page have no grasp of design. These people are decorators who see the “page” as ripe for being decorated. Content is what we design. Period.

        -1
        • 59

          Andrei is right on the money here. I wrote an article on this recently also, there are far too many ‘designers’ pumping out cheap templates that don’t solve any problem, they’re just chock full of useless visual and aesthetic trends which are making it difficult for people to recognize real design. It’s gotten so bad now that if someone doesn’t see glossy buttons and rounded edges, then they think there’s something WRONG with the design.

          -1
  17. 60

    Matt Orley of Akron, OH

    September 24, 2010 6:20 am

    Time to reinvent ourselves….again…

    0
  18. 61

    Thought provoking and well-balanced article. One caveat for your conclusion that content providers will win. That will likely be true as long as level playing fields, especially the level playing field established by the practice of net neutrality, are preserved. We need to be vigilant as telecos work to carve up the interwebs into tiered networks and walled-off gardens. Especially as more content is available on wireless and other non-PC devices.

    -2
  19. 62

    You touch on this a little bit but I think there’s a major flaw in this article, that you treat design as purely aesthetics and almost in a, what’s flashy what’s pretty sort-of-way.

    Design is not just colors and shapes. Design, now more than ever, is about usability. Why something is where it is and how does it help the user get to what they need. It’s also very, very easy for someone with no usability experience to mess that up.

    All “designers”, and not just kids who pirated Photoshop, should know how to take a bunch of content and organize if for greatest accessibility, know how to balance featured content and supplemental content. Designers also need to know how to design pages so they are social-site accessible, and bring the site together with internal links.

    When you say: “Developers, on the other hand, will likely see a boom in business … all these apps also need design work, but it will be a lot less demand than there is now for website design. ” I don’t think that’s a statement you can fairly assume. If anything it could become easier to design a program and its UI completely, screen for screen, and outsource the development to a cheap international company whom just acts as an assembly line.

    I do think designers who can only work on a flat plane and cannot develop at all are in big trouble though. Media on the web will get richer, so it is likely that video editing / 3d modeling will become requirements for more and more jobs.

    Always remember though that those of us posting here are really at the front of the web technologies, and that there is still a small/local business market that is always huge for independent designers. We still got some time left in our hourglass.

    -1
    • 63

      Vitaly Friedman (editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine)

      September 24, 2010 6:47 am

      Dave, I think the main point of the article is in the conclusion: “The bad news is that if the Internet starts relying much more heavily on access via app rather than browser, there’s going to be a lot less demand for web designers. ”

      Cameron is talking both about visual design and interaction design, explaining that its importance will decrease over time, along with the growing importance of “content design”. And thanks for the very insightful comment! We certainly have some time left, but is it just a matter of time when one medium will be replaced by another one?

      -2
      • 64

        Visual design will always be a differentiating factor for consumers. Visual design allows users to gather 1000’s of details about a piece of content, at-a-glance.

        If all content were fed through an aggregate design template, it would become immediately more difficult to discern and evaluate information irrespective of how good the actual content is. Design is as important as ever in differentiating your content and establishing proof of authority.

        The fact that more content is being fed through aggregate sources such as Twitter, Facebook and RSS readers has not demonstrated any indication of slowing the online design economy. If anything, it has only served to increase the number of apps and designs for evaluating and feeding aggregate information.

        In a world where we are caught choosing between variations of essentially the same products, design is often the only differentiator. This applies to the online world too. Three RSS readers with three different approaches: Google Reader vs. Feedly vs. Fever. Email campaign services: Campaign Monitor vs. Litmus vs. MailChimp.

        It’s important to consider the types of content being referred to here. It might be the case that publication resources, articles, blogs, news and purely information-based content would better suit a simplified single-template aggregate design. However it’s short-sighted to discount emotionally-driven content that requires more than just an intellectual connection with users.

        -2
      • 65

        I agree, it is “… just a matter of time when one medium will be replaced by another one”; you can apply that logic to any area in life and follow that through history itself.

        The tools may change and the trends may change, but we will still be drawn to visual appeal. What about tv or billboard marketing, are either of those really all that different from websites, or webapps for that matter? They have to be visually “sexy” or people just won’t buy into it.

        Really, if you look at society, I think what you will see is the opposite from the article; people want to be wowed with the flashy neat thing, but skip over the content for the next big neat thing. What I’m trying to say is that people are superficial and lazy, and they will only continue to get more and more superficial and lazy.

        Oh, and to the people that keep saying that minimalism will take over… I love minimalism and simplicity, but lets look at movies for example. What usually is REALLY popular? Is it the simply quiet films about inward conflict… or is it flashy superficial films like Avatar?

        People are hungry for the bigger and bigger, more flashy, more sexy.

        0
      • 66

        I think the problem is that all those apps the author mentions are also designed. At least in the sence that Andrei mentioned above and interaction design is also very strong in the applications the author mentions. For instance the idea of the ‘swipe’ on the iPhone didn’t come from no where. Much of the behavioral interactions on touch devices were researched in HCI labs as far back as the late 1990’s, including multi-touch screens. In other words, interaction and graphic design has already played a large part in what the author ascribes to the end of graphic and interaction design.

        -2
  20. 67

    This feels a lot like Wired’s “The Web is Dead. Long live the Internet” article.

    It’s a bit unnerving, but the funny thing is that I keep, accidentally, being one step ahead of the game.

    I got into web development 5 years ago because I realized Web Designers were being replaced with automatic software, and templates.

    I started telling my business customers to invest in a good template and CMS instead of a custom one-off webdesign because then they could focus their money on content and advertising.

    Time to start working harder on iOS and Android programming skills…

    -4
  21. 68

    Consider this. Im webdesigner since 1999. In the beggining it was about feel and web was kind of art. I agree that content is the king. But as a webdesigners we are also a experience designers, we make the mood, we set the candles, we create the atmosphere, we make you connect or disconnect. Good webdesign wont make you sell, but the more good it is the more credibility you will gain.
    We evolve! We survive!
    m.

    -2
  22. 69

    I do see more devices going towards less web based technologies such as desktop and mobile apps, HOWEVER, I don’t quite see a need for a career change. The simple fact that 80% of people don’t even know how to use half the aggregator devices that pull feeds. Apple TV, Google TV, heck most people can’t even work a DVR or a simple cable box. Companies need their websites. It is no like you are going to go lumber shopping on your TV. Only for that small niche of people who will actually use some sort of device or application all the time. General public searching Home Depot will go to the site.

    I do agree, content is always king. Web designers are actually the only ones who give a rats about good design.
    Layout, content architecture, and content itself are the actual things people are looking at, not the pretty flowers, butterflies, coffee cups, etc. that get added to the layout design (this coming from a web designer).

    A good website could just have boxes of content and 2 colors. Look at Craigslist. Insanely minimal design, if any, simple layout architecture, yet used all over the world.

    Eh, who knows.

    -1
  23. 70

    Wow what a stupid article, I am sorry but the web will always need web designers.

    -3
  24. 71

    Another possibility is that the mobile web scene advances and we are able to see more advanced designs, this comes from advancement in the technology and the bandwidth that drives these mobile devices. We’ve seen it previously in the web since we’ve moved from dial-up to high-bandwidth.

    I also agree, this does come off a lot like Wired’s “The Web is Dead” article.

    -2
  25. 72

    New media never replaces old media, it extends it. The web hasn’t removed the need for print designers, TV didn’t replace radio, and neither will apps render the web irrelevant. What we can be sure of is that whatever the communication medium, design and designers are essential.

    -1
  26. 74

    This was very interesting. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. It will be funny to look back in 15 years at the internet.

    -3
  27. 75

    From a designers point of view, I like to have a look at the web-sites out there, but only because I want to keep up to date with what’s hot and what’s not. To be honest though, if it weren’t for that fact, I would never visit other websites, all I need is google reader and a feeds manager… nothing more! I personally think the internet as we see it today is slowly changing from it’s enormous ‘bazaar’ type character where a person go to a site and visit, to a ‘cathedral’ environment where we as surfers decide what content to ‘let’ in, a place where content is king!

    I’m also with Ellis, time to start exploring other platforms like android and iOS (I’m going to have a bash with symbian!). An excellent article.

    -2
  28. 76

    I’m pretty sure I recently read an article that was stating the exact opposite (apps are temporary, everything will live in the browser alone soon)… but anyway, be it browsers or be it apps built in HTML5 I really see little difference. They might even merge in the future, who knows? But both content and design will always have a big part in it. So I really think there is nothing to worry about. As long as we keep up with the new stuff, of course! But that’s the fun part of this kind of work, isn’t it?

    -1
  29. 78

    Need to think

    -2
  30. 79

    I agree to a lot of what you say here, but! Although the “content writers” will be able push content through their portals, those portals will still need to be designed. Clients will still desire a way to brand there content. Therefore I think the content may switch from one place to another, but the need for design will still exist. More and more developers and designers tend to be multidisciplinary.

    The content published on the web is more interactive by the second. The beauty in interactive design is a result of the magic between design and technique. Everyone may have to be more interaction-orientated. So even though the game may change, it still requires the same player as before.

    -2
  31. 80

    Seriously?

    “Content is king and design is becoming less relevant … ”

    Of course content is the most important aspect of any page. But there will always be designers there to arrange it. Just because design is changing doesn’t mean there won’t be a need for it.

    -2
  32. 81

    It’s interesting that the article seems to be placing typography and use of space outside the realm of “design.” Our JOB as web designers is to put the information in front of the user, making the experience as simple as possible. Yes, branding and other elements creep in to the design as well, but that can still be done elegantly, seamlessly, and much more subtly as the web continues to evolve.

    I think you’re wrong to say that the future will not include web designers, but that our focus in who we are designing for (users instead of clients) will shift even more dramatically. In turn, our focus in what and how we design will also shift.

    0
  33. 82

    Provocative text. Seems to me that informations is well based and fits the reality. I think however, that designers, web and app, still will play an important role in the market. People are refining their visual perception and well designed interface is important and help to send the right message;

    Another point is that not everyone have the practice with devices and even the new digital generation is not too good with inteligente utilization of apps. They access Google and Facebook, but this don’t mean they know how integrate the apps.

    The third world have an entire population to be inserted into digital era to after think about use iPhone/Android apps. But 15 years can be a time enough.

    -2
  34. 83

    Very good article, was thinking about it this morning.
    I think the designers will always be part of the process, maybe not as intense as it is now, but still there’s a need for good design, regarding usability. The psychology part of how the content is presented will be more important as ever I guess. There are huge opportunities for us as web designers in this area, as long as we want to dive into this subjects. I think learning is part of the job, we have to go forward and think in opportunities instead of threats.

    -2
  35. 84

    I sure hope that’s not the case. It’s not like the Internet is slowing down though. It’s just expanding to different mediums. We’ll always need web designers!

    -2
  36. 85

    Does The Future Of The Internet Have Room For Pseudo-Journalists?

    Answers on an e-card.

    -2
  37. 86

    I don’t understand this article.

    -2
  38. 87

    You speaks only about web applications. What about the online advertising industry ? There is a lot of microsites, emailing, concepts that lives around. I assume your point is that the Internet will need more Interface designers. But working for years and years as webdesigner, I can assure you that customers demands quality in what they are looking at as well as the functionality.

    -2
  39. 88

    So basically what the “future” holds is that instead of the design of the WEBSITES being important, it will be the design of the APPS.

    I think the designers are going to be ok! :)

    -2
  40. 89

    Web design is a mess right now, so … let it die :) I’ve always felt that the best way to present information is to remove all unessential graphics and presentation materials – just black text (formatted of course) on white background with images only when needed.

    After all mobile devices will eventually become powerful enough and maybe bandwidth won’t cost our souls any time soon – and we will see a new medium emerges from the ashes of web design … maybe designer of holographic interface blah blah something :) – now that will be cool.

    So what do you think guys are we going to work for Google, MS or Facebook (Apple will be bought by Microsoft or Google…).

    -5
    • 90

      Long, long ago, people made art on the walls and ceilings of caves, on the sides of mountains, on pottery, wove it into clothes, shaped it into letters.

      We are wired to appreciate aesthetically pleasing shapes and spaces. Which is why artistic and custom design will always exist in human culture.

      We like it that way.

      0
    • 91

      Are you serious?

      You are one of those people that think that you can do without something that everybody takes for granted and then realises that it was there for a reason.

      “…just black text (formatted of course) on white background with images only when needed”. You tell me, when was the last time you visited a site like this? And did you actually read all that nonsense to the end? I don’t think so.

      Nobody likes blank sites. They are mind-squishingly boring. Society thrives off of design/art. Pictures tell stories. Not words

      1
  41. 92

    This article invokes thought, however I think it overlooks many different caveats that make up the organic components of the world wide web, the most important of which is the freedom to create with minimal boundaries or overshadowing control. As much coverage as a new HTML standard has received (HTML5, duh) and been accepted on new platforms as rapidly as it has i.e., mobile this only opens the door for more creativity for businesses and individuals small and large via the world wide web rather than less. There will always be content aggregates as a new niche which will still need branding and experience. Just as there will still always be a world wide web along side of these new apps. We are consuming information in many different ways than ever before, this doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for web design right along side of the content aggregates.

    I can’t agree about the freeing up of bandwidth as the world grows and more and more less fortunate people today finally have the ability to access the content most of us enjoy now. This also does not cover anything related to the motion capture industry, i.e., television & movies with more and more content coming online in high definition standards consuming more bandwidth today than ever before regardless of the design of interface players to stream the content.

    As far as the perception that designers will be less relevant I think the bigger concern is how as a designer you stay relevant by shifting your focus from simple design concepts to complex UIX design methodologies that shape the interfaces of the apps and the world wide web which I doubt will go away in the next 10-15 years. Take the new Twitter as a perfect example, the new interface was released shortly after their iPad app and they have many of the same features and look and feel.

    Unless of course those that control our access limit our freedom of expression in the ways we access the world wide web I don’t see there being any major shift of web design in the industry, only more work as we add app design to the list. My uncle once told me way back in 1997, “why do you want to be a web designer and start a web design company? In a few years all of that will be done by bigger companies with automated software applications and there won’t be a need for web designers.” He was wrong then and I believe this article as thought provoking as it may be is just that, worth while of a great open discussion. However I don’t see web design going away unless the “web” part of web design ceases to exist.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents, take or leave it, or make change and leave me a penny.

    -1
  42. 93

    I always get a chuckle out of these “the web as we know it is dead” type of articles. They are good for a laugh if anything else.

    Apps aren’t going to replace web sites. Mobile isn’t going to replace the desktop or laptop. Facebook isn’t going to replace Google. Google isn’t going to replace the internet.

    Web sites, apps, FaceBook, Twitter… these are just different ways of delivering content. One isn’t going to replace the other. They compliment each other.

    Now take a deep breath and relax.

    0
  43. 95

    Developers have to also consider the end users. They dont care who gives them what content. End users only care about aesthetics and usability. Most users dont know or care if content is dynamic or static, as long as its useful. So as someone mentioned above, design also incorporates usability and placement, and even simple designs like Google and Facebook have designers working hard to improve their looks. For artists, form follows function….but we know that developers have to code their functions to follow the form. A developer can not work without that template or design.

    -2
  44. 96

    Tom | NewEvolution

    September 24, 2010 7:40 am

    Thanks for the reality check :(

    -2
  45. 97

    I think the web is only dying here in the U.S. Maybe we should research on the standards of other countries. Not all people have mobile devices like the iPhone. Also, not all developers are good in user interface design which web designers do.

    -2
  46. 98

    I really don’t think this is a matter of whether or not there will be a need for designers in the internet future.

    I think it’s a matter of adaption. When the internet popped up publishers probably started thinking “ooohhh shi-” but actually the internet has benefitted that industry immensley, from providing a new retail medium to a whole new platform altogether.

    It’s a matter of how we, as designers, will adapt to the shift in internet. To be honest, I earn my bacon designing websites, but I don’t call myself a web designer. There is far too much crossover in the web world to call yourself just a WEB designer. We’re designers, UI designers, UX designers, we’re all the same animal.

    However it’s the UI/UX designers that are savvy enough to wade knee deep in the app world, while most web designers (according to this article) should be sitting biting their nails for the impending internet holocaust.

    -2
  47. 99

    Web Designers may become extinct…but just in name. The new name will probably be “App Designer” or “UX Designer”. Programmers will ALWAYS need a designer, just like they do more standard computer applications. We are not at risk.

    -2
  48. 100

    One thing to keep in mind. As the professionals in the industry, I think we have more influence to shape what comes next than most give us credit for. Yes, technologies will evolve, and the tools we use will change. But that has been the case for years.

    I just don’t see us going the way of the Dodo.

    -2
  49. 101

    Does the world really want to view everything internet on a 2.3″ x 4.5″ phone screen – constantly scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, back and forth to view the content?

    Not likely.

    I believe desktop and laptop computers will be around for a long time to come – and the demand for attractive, content-rich, multi-page, custom web designs (that will also display well on the smaller phone screens) will be around too.

    0
  50. 102

    Mobile apps, which let’s face are still in a very primary stage, are peripheral to desktop/netbook computing, it’s only used for the most basic limited tasks, it’s far more likely that design will become an even greater part of app design as they expand. I’m not sure this writer really understands the part design plays in usability, i remember what the web looked like 15 years ago and it would not be popular today if it still looked that bad. Witness the uproar when a major site changes it’s design even slightly and tell me users don’t see design, it’s nonsense, the web has always been about content but aesthetics are a major part of a web site success and will always matter. People aren’t turning into logical robots, more the opposite.

    -2

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