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

    There are number of issues that I have with this article;

    1. Whilst I agree that apps will become more prominent as a medium for accessing content from the web. Cameron seems to be comparing Technology “now” with the internet in the “future” – They are not on the same playing field. There is a reason why there are so few website templates available for the mobile internet. It’s not because consumers “don’t care about design” – It is because, AT THIS POINT IN TIME mobile browsers struggle to render full size websites properly – However, as the mobile internet becomes more popular more mobile browsing devices will be manufactured, and these will be able to handle standard size websites much easier (think ipad-like devices etc..) –

    2. Secondly, Cameron has assumed that people will favour their mobile device over a Desktop machine or laptop… I do not believe this to be true. A Desktop/Laptop is a tool, not just for accessing content, but also for creating it! – I’d be willing to bet that Cameron didn’t write this article using her mobile phone!?!? – She most likely used a Desktop/Laptop … she states that “If there’s a definite winner in this possible future Internet, it is the content creators.” – Does she envisage that these content creators will use a Desktop/Laptop to create their content, and then turn to their smaller “app-filled” mobile device to access other content they are interested in? – No? – As matter of convenience, they would simply use their desktop and browser to access the content.

    There’s a time and a place for mobile apps just as there is a time and place for full websites! – This will never change.

    3. Finally, there is an assumption by the Cameron that design is just “making things look pretty” – A very naive assumption, in my opinion. She states that “…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…” – Completely failing to recognise that “not interfering with the ability to access information” IS design!!! In fact that is almost the definition of Good UI Design;

    “defining how to present content in the most effective, economic way possible whilst maintaining consistent accessibility and aesthetics” – Richard Bland, Web User Interaction, July 2010

    I think that what we can take away from Cameron’s article is that, in the future, the term “Web Designer” will not just refer to websites, but also mobile app design aswell, perhaps as part of the “Web Design Package?” – On that note, web designers do not need to worry so much… this opens the prospect for more work! Not less.

    2
  2. 154

    HA!, another dooms day technologist with nothing better to write about. Web designers will never be out of a job, good design principles stay the same (especially for visual design) and there are not a huge amount of people who are actually that good at it (there are a lot who think they are) If you stay up to date with code and have solid aesthetic execution techniques you’ll always put food on your table. You’ll never get rich though….

    -2
  3. 205

    I don’t think it’s an accurate statement to say users don’t care about design. I think this is more of a case of they don’t know that they don’t know. Stick a person who has no idea about design, layout etc… in front of two websites, magazines, anything really that is a medium for delivering content. Both websites have the same or similar content, but one is well designed with proper type hierarchy, golden rule, etc… and one is poorly designed by a monkey. Someone with no prior investment in design (they don’t know, that they don’t know) is going to be drawn to the website that is designed well – It may be on a subconscious level. There’s a reason why we use something like harmony in design… it draws the user in. Why has the golden ratio stood up for hundreds of years? Type on the web has been steadily improving online but we aren’t reinventing the wheel, we’re just figuring out how to take existing best practices from print to web…

    -2
  4. 256

    This is a great article it is important to now that as the future arrives with new technologies, the internet will be changing as well depending on the new technology,.. the question is if it will really affects web designers / front end-developers,.. as we see now IE9 will arrive soon, CSS3 is already here and they are a new way to present the web on the screen, it just a matter of adjusting to the new technology as they come,…. if something new comes up along the way you should adjust to it, DO NOT GET STOCK IN WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW,…..

    -2
  5. 307

    Great post, but I agree with a lot of the commenters. The title “Web Designer” might die even though I really don’t see that happening anytime soon. Companies and marketing will still need an avenue for their brand.

    Like many mentioned, the new title will be “UI designer” or just “Experience Designer” but you will always need design and function to work together to produce great apps, no matter what the titles are. If the designers are removed from the workflow we will end up with apps that have minimal user experience and IA architecture. We will be going back to the native app era where everything was designed by programmers “we don’t need no stinckin’ designers”, you remember those days!? I know scary!

    As designers we just need to keep evolving.

    -2
  6. 358

    I’m in the design is here to stay camp. That said, I’m learning RoR… anyone that doesn’t have cross-disciplinary skills is going to be in trouble. The idea that “content is king …for most users, design is irrelevant” is a groundless assumption. What users? Is this what they said? Did you observe them disregarding design? Or does the idea just make sense to you? This is the trouble with half-baked generalizations. They make great headlines and stoke conversation, but that doesn’t make them anything more than assumptions. The web is and has always been about content, communication and commerce. Design will work it’s way into the mobile space as soon as clients fit it into their budgets. It’s easy to get away with templates when you treat mobile as an after thought, but it doesn’t mean you’re using the space as effectively as possible.

    -2
  7. 409

    Great article Cameron! I agree with everything that you mentioned about the future of the internet and how it affects web designers and developers. I feel everyone needs to just become more adapt to change. The internet is a forever changing platform, and the principles and practices used will never be the same 5 years down the line. Who am I kidding, after a month or two there is a new practice or trend that everyone uses.

    I mean there are a lot of flash developers feeling somewhat like this about Jquery, and I know all those people that loved coding in tables hate CSS, lol. As long as one remembers to just improve and change to suit the changes, or improvements depending how you look at it, of the internet, there really won’t be a problem. I mean there were

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  8. 460

    Do you want content? Navigate using Lynx browser.

    -1
  9. 511

    This article reiterates the fact that specialization is as much a vice as it is a virtue. Sure, x years from now we won’t be designing websites like we do today. It’s part of what makes this career exciting, right?

    I think that to say there will be a greater need for developers than designers is naive. I don’t like the idea that designers need to also be developers to succeed in this field.

    I doubt that we will all become cold data-eating robots anytime soon.

    -1
  10. 562

    Content is king and always has been.. unless of course you are Lady gaga.. Uniform across the board design, will turn into wallpaper faster than you can say windows vista.

    When companies, brands and humans want to stand out from the pack.. talented artists, visual designers and creatives are summoned.. they will always have steady work.

    -2
  11. 613

    I would like to think there’s people or organisations out there that would stop millions of people losing their jobs by taking the proper actions. Nothing is forever but we’ll see what happens.

    -2
  12. 664

    I see the whole UX industry booming. It might shift away from websites toward apps, but there will be constant competition to make apps more efficient. The app that plays well on my refrigerator might not play as well on my bicycle computer or in my car. So rather than bump up skills in pretty gradients, become a master at the wireframe. Its how people think. As we’re forced to process more information faster, efficiency will be at the forefront.

    -2
  13. 715

    I don’t think websites are going anywhere yet.

    What we have had is a two-tiered structure of information: storefront and website. We are simply moving toward a multi-tiered structure, where the degree of spacial aesthetics versus content varies according to the individual momentary needs of the consumer. I see the marketing world expanding to incorporate new tech, meaning MORE work for designers and developers… not less.

    -2
  14. 766

    I really don’t need to say what has already been said, but in short, I disagree with this article. I don’t see mobile devices and applications dominating the industry to the point of putting web designers out of business. There’s a lot of information simply being overlooked and I think “bchild” said it best.

    -2
  15. 817

    Pretty good analysis. Web designers who take a “site decoration” approach to their job will probably find fewer opportunities as things continue to evolve (finally, perhaps, print designers will be unable to pass themselves off as web designers).

    However, I think web designers who can function as UI or UX designers will continue to find themselves in demand.

    -2
  16. 868

    I think that articles like this are awesome! Not because of the content, but because of the reaction. It is very entertaining.

    I my opinion, which is really not worth much, I think that the term web designer will go away. I think it will be replaced with just designer. A person who can take a brand and make their presence relevant no matter the medium.

    The issue in the digital age has to do more with context than anything. How are you digesting your content? If it is a mobile device then yes I can see “form following function”, but if you are on a computer with a large screen then I can see more form.

    Design in general has been splintered so much that people are getting confused. Designers are not just people making pretty pictures. I know that there are some that do, but the ones that I work with also take into account usability and brand relevance. So it really boils down to the way someone will get the content and the what the content is that really affects how it should be designed. But it will need to be designed.

    Facebook, YouTube, Google are all about information, but not all sites are built that way. Video Game sites are not about large amounts of information. They are about wowing users about the game and that requires elaborate design, but if you are looking at the same site on your phone then you will need to make it more content friendly so that users can actually read the content. Even there a designer will be needed, to layout the content in a way that makes sense and that user are use to.

    As a developer I want a designer who can design well for my website, mobile app, and my mobile website. A designer that understands that the user comes first before their own ego, because in the end if a user doesn’t use your site or app then the design is pointless.

    So honestly in the end it is not about the content, design, or the code. It is about the user you are trying to reach. If your user requires and app then make an app that works. If your user requires an experience then make a website that blows them away. If your user needs a service then make a site and an app that is functional.

    I don’t know a lot about the future, but I do see a lot of movies about the future and none of them have websites in them. StarTrek, The Matrix, etc… Have you ever noticed that? Funny.

    0
    • 919

      “I don’t know a lot about the future, but I do see a lot of movies about the future and none of them have websites in them. StarTrek, The Matrix, etc… Have you ever noticed that? Funny.”

      I also don’t recall movies in the 50s envisaging movie trailers, social networking and eBay taking up most peoples lives either … it was all about making video calls between different planets and getting your robot assistant to do your chores.

      0
  17. 970

    Companies need to sell. They need to stand out from competitors in order to succeed in selling. That is why creative marketing and branding has never gone away.

    Because of this, I don’t see digital design having no room in the future … but we can definately say goodbye too all the crappy websites that just get in the way of finding quality content. Leave those spammy cruds for a few apps instead so we don’t have to trawl through the boggy internet ever again.

    0
  18. 1021

    Great post and some very good ideas.

    However, I must contest to some of the points.
    1) Design is still crucial as usability and user-experience become more important. It takes just as much work (if not more work) to design a simple user-experience and UI design for both websites and mobile applications. It’s becoming a cut throat world out there so people have to focus on creating an aesthetic and UX that convert.
    2) Don’t scare the developers away from the web and into app development just yet. The line between the two is becoming smaller with HTML5 and CSS3 around the corner. I feel that these technologies could very well be powering web apps in the future (instead of proprietary and sketchy frameworks like objective C).

    Long live the web designers and developers!

    Later!
    Zach Ferres
    BounceFire (www.bouncefire.com)

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  19. 1072

    While content is already one of the most important things, I don’t think design is going to die off. People already mentioned UI design, but design is what differentiates companies. If everyone is using the same cheap templates (don’t even get me started on that!) then branding will not exist. If that is the case, then marketing on the web will dramatically change as well. If everything goes the way of this article then I think it will actually make sites that have design and branding stand out amongst the pack.

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  20. 1123

    Someone can post an mp3 of a new band on their Facebook feed and all their friends can listen to it right there from this designless point of view. But if they like them, they are going to want to go to a page some where that has more of their music, some bio info about them, maybe some profiles and photo galleries, tour list, videos, mailing list sign up, blog/news/feed of their own, all their stuff in one place.

    You can watch a movie on your phone, but you would much rather watch it on a big screen. I can hunch over in my computer chair designing all day staring at what I think is an enormous 20 inch imac screen, but I would rather be leaned back staring at a 60 inch HD while designing all day.

    I think things will change and have the possibility of dramatically changing, but like a number of people have already stated, there has and always will be a need for design. From writing on cave walls, to newspapers, to television news graphics, to websites, to whatever is next. As long as we have eye balls and information & images to look at, there will be a need for someone to organize, structure, make it all easy to find and look pretty to look at.

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  21. 1174

    Let me add to the ubiquitous lineup of designers ready to contest the obvious point.
    Design will never die off. Great design is design you hardly notice because it removes the impediments to accessing content. Content may be king, but without design nobody will even be able to read it.
    It’s like saying typography isn’t important to most people reading books. If they find the book easy on the eyes and a pleasure to read, it’s because the typesetter did their job. Only a font-nerd would buy a book because of a beautiful choice of font!

    As websites become easier and easier to self-create, design will be more important because it will be increasingly more difficult to get noticed. According to one poll, 42% of visitors get put off a site because of poor design. In the future, great, greater and greatest design will make the better content stand head and shoulders above the garbage (which will also become easier and easier to create).

    1
  22. 1225

    I agree with some of what was said in the article but do not necessarily agree with the author as to the reasons why web developers need to rethink their career paths. I don’t think the need for websites will ever go away. Companies will always want to control their brand, create a presence and collect information through a source they own. But I do think the web design industry is going to go through a significant change in the next several years. I personally feel it is the ease of website and content creation that is starting to make a significant impact in the need for a website that is designed by an outside party or contractor. It is also making a big dent in the profit of web development companies. I used to own a web development company – one that would provide custom site design to small – medium sized businesses and I can tell you first hand that I do feel it is a dying breed. There was a time when you could build a robust, professional looking online marketing presence for a profit but those days are starting to get few and far between. It seems as though everything is getting cheaper and cheaper – from hosting to design, to creation. Yet companies still have to pay their employees! We all know that most web development companies survive off of small to mid-sized companies who need a website. Today, whether you agree with it or not, most of these businesses are leaning towards templates – they are much cheaper and can be managed and maintained themselves. WordPress is a great example of how easy web design and management can get – and the fact that the platform is catching on like wild fire is a tell-tale sign. I am totally bummed out by it, but can’t deny reality. I think what is going to happen ultimately is that many of the small web design and development companies will start going out of business. Larger, more stable companies will remain and then hire designers and developers. The remaining designers and developers are going to have to look at larger corporations for jobs – get on their marketing and/or web development teams in order to ensure your stability. I do not think the websites will go away, but the need for web development companies just might.

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  23. 1276

    Mauricio Hernández

    September 24, 2010 11:25 am

    I think some of the arguments of the article are valid, but in human story the aesthetics and art have been a lot of importance, companies like apple have in design a great diferencial business value, as web designers we should change being from simple graphic designers to extend our knowledge to user experience, information architecture, usability, to know our users and improving their experiences through designing more efficient plataforms or aplications (mobile apps or anything else)

    0
  24. 1327

    This argument isn’t new. Every time their is an adaptation of a new technology or medium that shifts the application of design, everyone who buys in wholesale that isn’t a designer says it’s dead. Form should always follow function, regardless of what it’s being applied to. If someone told you different you weren’t talking to very disciplined source(s).

    There will always be a place for aesthetic applications in this world, in marketing and in business. The most obvious evolution seen in recent years for designers has been the jump from print to web but also UX, eMarketing, online branding and advertising. Also the argument that we’ve reached some pinnacle in interactive innovation is like saying lets just stop here. Platforms and technology will progress in ways we can’t for see decades from now.

    “Design is where science and art break even.” — Robin Mathew

    “Computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking” — Milton Glaser

    1
  25. 1378

    “This is because for most users, design is irrelevant.”

    Unbelievable comment from a web designer. Most users may SAY that design is irrelevant, but of course it isn’t. Design affects users in many subtle, perhaps even subconscious ways, but it certainly does make a difference. This is the very root of visual communications and advertising!

    Without bagging on the author too much, a quick visit to her site makes me think that she is a writer, not a designer at all.

    Apps are here because smart phone browsers have been pretty much useless. Once those start getting halfway decent, then apps will become less important.

    1
  26. 1429

    Great article, I kept thinking of Yahoo throughout my readings and just how much that company does not get it. Information has to cone through devices such as the iphone, ipad and phones in general. What is boils down to is that this generation of kids are awkward face to face and they have been trained to, they have been told not to talk to strangers, open doors or have no physical interaction with strangers. Hence they interact virtually, that bad man around the corner online is just another name that a 9 year old could tell to buzz off virtually. It’s a generation thing, why talk when you can text? why spell “okay” “you” talk to you later when you can type “K” “U” and “TTYL”? who is it going to hurt? remember spelling in grade 3? I love this generation, their demands are awesome, no big massive expensive TV, youtube would do with a less that perfect video quality, same goes for cameras? who really cares about some $5,000 camera? well our 40+ generation foolishly cares and for what reason? Talk to your 5,9 and 15 year old to see what’s tp come not the big companies who continue to hold on to this stupid notion that bigger is better? go kids, go, this article could have been title “What the kids are doing”

    0
  27. 1480

    People don’t have to worry about their careers. Web design isn’t going extinct anytime soon and if it does lean toward apps there will just be a greater shift from web design to UI design. Just diversify yourself and you’ll be just fine for the next 50 years of your career.

    0
  28. 1531

    I like how she references the hilariously off-the-mark Newsweek article from 15 years ago and then goes on to make predictions with just as much assurance and arrogance. The truth is the future of the web is just as murky as it was 15 years ago. Things are still changing extremely fast and anyone who claims to know how things are going to be in 5, 10, or 15 years is just being reckless.

    0
  29. 1582

    This article seems to suggest that designers become content creators…how exactly? Should we start selling Tshirts or something? Designers are aesthetic problem solvers and there will always be problems to solve. And it’s a pretty drab future if we leave it to Google and Facebook to determine design. I think the success of Tumblr indicates that people really want and even crave design to express themselves and most certainly their brands. I actually see Facebook eventually hijacking the Tumblr free form design idea at some point in the future. Google has never demonstrated any real appreciation for design so I hold no hope for them. But it looks like Facebook is taking over the web anyway. And templates and themes…in the context of small businesses who can’t afford to pay a premium for design, sure. But real brands will always need to define their image through design. Maybe it just means we’ll be doing more interactive billboards or space design. But the loss of a real immersive design experience on the web would actually be sad…

    0
  30. 1633

    This article raises some very interesting questions as it develops, but it’s lack of an informed conclusion is terrible.
    Content has always been king and will always be.
    The web “decorators” job will always have a niche. becasue as it was pointed before, there are many niche industries that require design to be different.
    Those who fall under that category will certainly see diminishing bussiness.
    There’s a term called “Front-end Developer” which i think is the kind of job that will remain as strong as it is today. A frontend developer doesn’t makes things pretty. He solves real design problems and his job will forever remain relevant.
    Apps are homogeneization is mostly a sad thing to see and it happens because designing realluy customized apps is much more costly than designing apps like everyone else with standard elements and standard functionality.

    The internet bussiness has always been about staying on the cutting edge of trends and even anticipating them. That’s not news.

    0
  31. 1684

    I had to respond to this because our past tells us different. People and companies don’t want to be put in “boxes”

    Back in the early 20’s when Bauhaus was opened there was a project that made housing for the masses, although a great idea for that time it was the eventual downfall for Bauhaus and it’s future. People don’t want to be put in “boxes” as they prefer their individuality and freedom. Design is an essential part of the web and our daily life. Without it every page has the same look and feel, and boredom strikes. Companies, businesses don’t spend 20.000 or 30.000 dollars for nothing, they want to be individual from the rest. A web page that extends their branding, house style.

    I do agree that data is essential to the web. Without it! It would never have been as big as today. But I do prefer a good designed app or or website above the rest.

    0
  32. 1735

    Christopher Anderton

    September 24, 2010 12:55 pm

    Seems that most of the commenters did not read the article.

    -1
  33. 1786

    Like the title, but the article did not go anywhere. bit of a disappointment from smashing. Brave statements, gets attention, and you may have some ideas/be on to something, but a lot of this is just not accurate. I disagree with a lot of your points, not just opinions but facts. Your points about Content being king and no one caring about design. Users may not be conscious about design, but they do notice it and subconsciously care about it. I have said this before, Content and Context are both king no one it bigger than the other. You have to have great information delivered with great informational organization and style. Look, feel, design, location, and structure are all elements of Context, you can have the best content in the world and if it is white text on a yellow background no one wants to read it. If you have the best content but it is structured bad no one want to read it. There is and always will be a role for designers and information designers in content creation, delivery, production, and publication. Maybe you should have focused on transitioning from a designer to a “front-end developer” not “content creators”.

    0
  34. 1837

    Very interesting, yet disturbing words seeing that it is written by someone who makes their living off web and graphic design…hmmm. Anyone see the irony here? Content is king, but the functionality of a site is based on good design. Design is important and will never be futile for the mere fact of individuality and originality which a competative client looks for, period. This is Smashing Magazine for god’s sake, the site we use to get inspiration and resources to design the web. Stop posting crap like this guys!

    0
  35. 1888

    First of all, while APPs are everywhere now a days, they are no replacement for an actual website or it’s content. APPs are a glance, a quick shot of info that you need in that moment. I don’t know many people who just sit around on their cell phone and surf the net for long periods of time when they have a computer feet away. The cell phone browser will never replace the computer’s browser. When I’m at home, if I want info I’ll go to my computer, not my cell phone, I’m not that lazy. There is something to be said about a great user experience, which most APPs just don’t provide. A huge part of user experience is the design, the visual stimulation. Basically, I think the purpose of this article was to drum up comments. Mission accomplished.

    0
  36. 1939

    I think the author is making a good point. However, she seems to ignore the very real and present emergence of online video becoming primary content in the future.

    Bandwidth delivery issues are fading away as the pipes get fatter. In terms of learning and entertainment (which is entirely we we get on the internet), video covers a much broader spectrum.

    Online video is the new literacy for the 21st century!

    0
  37. 1990

    ‘In the beginning, the earth was without form, and void. . .” says Genesis 1:1. And so it was for the Internet, too, which began without any graphical form at all, as a way to exchange messages and information among researchers. Even hypertext was basically created simply as a better way for scientists to share textual content with one another. The Internet has never been about anything but content and never will be.

    But just as the earth went on to have a form — a shape — so the Internet could not remain just text. The Mosaic graphical web browser was born because humans enjoy getting some, if not most, of their information visually. I am old enough to remember the days when I used an 8 MHz 640k PC (yes, my children, that was MHz, not GHz; and kilobytes, not mega or giga) with a 300-baud modem to access text-based bulletin boards. But soon bulletin boards went graphical. And then they changed to online web forums, using interfaces accessed by a graphical browser.

    Along the way there were other pronouncements of the impending demise of, or at least the reduced need for, the web browser — I can recall that in Java’s early days it was declared that Java would enable everything from refrigerators to cars to children’s toys to access data on the Internet, rendering the browser nearly irrelevant. Java indeed enables even thin plastic smartcards to access the Internet, let alone cellphones and automobiles — but still the web browser has not become irrelevant.

    In other words, I think a huge amount of skepticism is called for when it comes to similar kinds of pronouncements from either the author of this article or magazines like Wired about the demise of the web or of the browser or of the need for design. History should teach us to adopt a great deal of caution when we are tempted to predict very much about the future.

    0
  38. 2041

    UHHHH Got a quick question… this Clifford Stoll guy… he supposedly wrote the article referenced at the beginning in 1995… Well how has he been surfing the net for the past two decades.

    “After two decades online, I’m perplexed. It’s not that I haven’t had a gas of a good time on the Internet. I’ve met great people and even caught a hacker or two.” – Stoll

    I mean I know the Internet had been around for a little bit and the Military used it. But Since 1975? Really? I dunno seems shady….. Did anyone else notice this?

    0
  39. 2092

    what have you been smoking? ;)

    0
  40. 2143

    I don’t use Facebook much, only when someone sends me an e-mail or writes on my wall, or something.

    Heck, I don’t even have a Twitter account… I did, but I closed it, a total waste of time.

    I’m already over community sites, and I honestly could care less if Facebook and Twitter stay or die, they are irrelevant to me and to my work, and that makes me happy.

    Yes, I’m a Web Designer.

    0
  41. 2245

    I disagree, there is nothing you can do when it comes to the creativity. Surfing web without a nice design would be a nightmare.

    0
  42. 2296

    I would love to go into the future right now, point a finger at you, and tell you: “Ha-ha! Told ya that wouldn’t happen”! However, everything in this world is uncertain and subjective to change, so I guess that all of the things you mention in your article might happen, but it’s HIGHLY UNLIKELY that it will. One thing is for certain though: these damn Internets will eventually be the end of us all, lol :D

    0
  43. 2347

    Web Designer, that title is very vague and many of us don’t use it for years at least my circle of people.

    Web Designers are also Web Developers who can design and code sites at the same time, as well as prepare the entire layout for SEO. However there are still plenty of folks who just design and their work is still very much fine.

    In either case none of us will go away and all of us are here to stay, regardless of Facebook, Twitter or Google who are only a supplemental marketing and “bridge” from Social Network to our sites and that won’t change any time soon.

    0
  44. 2398

    If this wasn’t the same week as “Top 25 Dog Logos”, “Top 50 Logos with Thoughts Behind Them” and “Best 30 Blue Website for Inspiration”, this would be the most ridiculous thing published this week. Got it, so once we go to “apps” and “devices”, we won’t need design since “content” will be king.

    0
  45. 2449

    I think the concept of “design is from now on worthless” is nothing more than an eye-candy in this article.

    I think this article is worthless.

    0
  46. 2500

    There is no function without form.

    0
  47. 2551

    Wow. Right out of the gate, flawed claims of little (and dwindling) mobile browser usage.

    The mobile browser is currently the fastest growing browser, world wide.

    I found this article to be counter to current usage trends and documented mobile growth. It then proceeds to claim that users care not about design.

    Um, are you serious with this?

    Great design is not about color palette and pretty graphics. If you hire a designer to make you a “pretty website” you’re doing it wrong. Solid web design is rooted in user experience, information architecture and accessibility, not about pretty pictures.

    With the growth of mobile commerce, I care more about solid design (site architecture, UX, and user security) than EVER! The mobile browser is opening an exciting door for designers, and we are creating fantastic mobile experiences for users with applications and for the mobile browser.

    While I am completely content to consume straightforward literary content in a clean, straightforward mobile template for many blogs and publications, I expect a lot more from the brands that want my business. And they are learning. Brands are providing exciting and memorable experiences through the mobile device.

    The other thing that really grinds-my-gears is when brands/content providers plaster stuff all over Twitter and Facebook etc, knowing that their users can access those sites with a mobile app, and forget that when I click the link to your article in your Tweet (as I did tonight), it takes me to a PC formatted site. User Experience FAIL. I got to your LINK on a mobile app, but I will (possibly) consume your CONTENT on my mobile browser. Let’s start thinking about our users, shall we?

    I work with brands and destinations that understand that marketing in the MOMENT (mobile) means not being able to count on the consumer to search for and download an application. It’s ridiculous to assume that.

    I’d like to see more research and solid evidence before your publication decides that the native app is the end-all-be-all of mobile marketing and design.

    I’d also like to know how long the author has been working in the mobile space, and what time she has spent researching mobile design, design tools, mobile commerce, and new design tactics that are changing the way we create mobile experiences for users.

    Also, it’s bad form not to allow the writer to defend her work. I keep seeing the editor jump in to her defense. If you want to put your ideas and opinions forth, be prepared to debate them and defend your stance.

    2
  48. 2602

    There are good point in this article – And I have been steering towards app development and template design as a natural reaction to the changing market BUT the idea that websites will be footnoted is short sighted. They will always fill the role of brochures and online magazines.

    Imagine if all magazines looked like facebook – BORING. Yes, of course apps, utility software and templates have grown exponentially and satisfy a niche – but websites will always be one leg of the table.

    Take a small business, a law firm for example – They can use a Drupal template, save 5K – 1/1000 of their yearly budget – and what do they gain? They end up with a mediocore cookie cutter site that is clean, yes – but they are competing with companies that understand the value of investing in their brand – and know that little differences can make the difference when customers are making choices.

    Also – Not much mention of advertising here – display and print ads will always be as useful as they have always been.

    There is nothing new in the advertising world. Only metaphors change.

    0
  49. 2653

    This article, quite frankly, is terrible. For a number of reasons:

    1. Content is king, but presentation is everything. Saying people are only on your site for the content is true if you’re just googling something and it’s a one time hit, but most if not all websites visitors return to on a daily or weekly basis do not look like shit. And there’s a reason for that it’s called gaining a competitive edge, or in other words, the entire reason design even exists at all.

    2. If ANYONE is becoming less relevant, it’s coders. I mean what’s really a bigger threat… every client suddenly “building their own site”, or designers and art directors using cheap overseas freelancers and/or a “psd->xhtml” service (see ads on side of article) for $150 a page template. Not to mention wordpress, wordpress is a much bigger threat to coders than it is to designers. Just because thousands of fly by night SEO spam sites and random blogs don’t bother to change the basic template on wordpress doesn’t mean it’s game over for designers.

    3. This article has a serious lack of foresight, which is interesting because that’s entirely what it’s supposed to be about. I could go on for days but here’s the things that bothered me most – A. Apps run off the same code websites do. Absolutely nothing changes when you assign an icon to a url shortcut. So it doesn’t matter if “everyone is accessing web content through an app rather than a browser”, designers have absolutely nothing to worry about here. The real question here is what will prevail on mobile platforms, apps from the app store or mobile versions of websites? You overlook this as if apps have already won when alot of signs are pointing to the opposite. And even if apps DO prevail, someone’s gotta design the UI. Jesus. B. I agree with you about content aggregators but what you fail to realize is it’s layered. The aggregators you speak of (google, facebook, etc) are aggregating other aggregators, just as those aggregators aggregated, and just as something is gonna come down the road and aggregate google and facebook. It’s how content works on the internet. C. “Function Will Prevail over Form” this is just ridiculous.

    In closing, to attempt to leave this deconstructive criticism on a somewhat positive note, I’ll quote the one moderately fresh/interesting idea offered up in this whole article –

    “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.”

    1
    • 2704

      Well stated, the author of this article was probably trying to get attention by posting something that would cause a stir up. She should delete the link to her site before everyone thinks she’s a joke… seriously.

      0
  50. 2755

    Sorry, this article is dead wrong. “classic” websites like this one won’t be going anywhere soon. Web designers will be in need for at least another lifetime i’m sure. Though obviously they won’t be doing the same thing throughout that lifetime. I for one, don’t own a smartphone. Theres no point. There just isn’t a need for me to own one on top of a landline and an internet connection. And even if the majority does have a smartphone, classical websites will still be around longer than you’re thinking.

    0
    • 2806

      You’re right about the smartphone thing. iPhone users, especially, seem to think the world revolves around them, when the reality is that there are countries where netbooks are just NOW arriving and those who live there will probably never own a smartphone in their lives.

      I do think we get ahead of ourselves. At the same time, it would not hurt for web designers to pick up some user-interface design skills.

      0
      • 2857

        Web Designers need to have a basic understanding of UI Design. If they don’t then I cannot see how they call themselves web designers. :)

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