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“Web Design Is Dead.” No, It Isn’t.

Every now and then we see discussions proclaiming a profound change in the way we design and build websites. Be it progressive enhancement1, the role of CSS2 or, most recently, web design itself being dead3. All these articles raise valid points, but I’d argue that they often lack objectivity and balance, preferring one side of the argument over another one.

These discussions are great for testing the boundaries of what we think is (or is not) possible, and they challenge how we approach our craft, but they don’t help us as a community to evolve together. They divide us into groups and sometimes even isolate us in small camps. Chris Coyier has published a fantastic post4 recently covering the debate on the role of CSS in light of growing popularity of React.js, extensively and objectively. That’s the quality discussions we need, and that’s what keeps us evolving as a growing and maturing community.

Web technologies are fantastic — we all agree on this. Our tools, libraries, techniques and methodologies are quite fantastic, too. Sometimes they are very different and even contradictory, but they are created with the best intentions in mind, and often serve their purpose well in the specific situations they were designed for. Sometimes they contain mistakes, but we can fix them due to the nature of open source. We can submit a patch or point out solutions. It’s more difficult, but it’s much more effective.

There are a lot of unknowns to design and build for, but if we embrace unpredictability5 and if we pick a strategy to create more cohesive, consistent design systems6, we can tackle any level of complexity — in fact, we do it every single day. We solve complex problems by seeking solutions, and as we do, we make hundreds of decisions along the way. Yet sometimes we fall into the trap of choosing a solution based on our subjective preferences, not objective reasoning.

Graffiti letters stating yes
Web technologies are fantastic, and so are our tools. However, we might be focusing too much on discussions about tools instead of art direction we do when we design the web. Image source: empty_quarter7.

We tend to put things into buckets, and we tend to think in absolutes. Pro carousels or anti carousels; pro React.js or anti-React.js; for progressive enhancement or against it. But the web isn’t black and white — it’s diverse, versatile, tangled, and it requires pragmatism. We are forced to find reasonable compromises within given constraints, coming from both business and UX perspectives.

Tools aren’t good or evil; they just either fit a context or they don’t. Carousels can have their place when providing enough context to engage users (as Amazon does). React.js modules can be lazy-loaded for better performance, and progressive enhancement is foundational for making responsive websites really8, really9 fast. And even if you have extremely heavy, rich imagery, more weight doesn’t have to mean more wait10; it’s a matter of setting the right priorities, or loading priorities, to be precise.

No, web design isn’t dead. Generic solutions are dead.11 Soulless theming and quick skinning are dead. Our solutions have to be better and smarter. Fewer templates, frameworks and trends, and more storytelling, personality and character. Users crave good stories and good photography; they’re eager for good visuals and interesting layouts; they can’t wait for distinctive and remarkably delightful user experiences. This exactly should be our strategy to create websites that stand out.

There are far too many badly designed experiences out there, and there is so much work for us to do. No wonder that we are so busy with our ongoing and upcoming projects. Proclaiming our craft to be dead is counter-productive, because we’ve shown ourselves and everybody out there what we are capable of. The last fifteen years of web design were nothing if not outstanding in innovation and experimentation. And it’s not about to stop; that’s just not who we are.

If we can’t produce anything but generic work, other creatives will. The web will get better and it’s our job to make it better. It won’t be easy, but if we don’t adapt our practices and techniques, we’ll have to give way to people who can get it done better than we can — but web design itself isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

It’s up to us to decide whether we keep separating ourselves into small camps, or build the web together, seeking pragmatic solutions that work well within given contexts. We might not end up with a perfect solution every time, but we’ll have a great solution still; and more often than not it’ll be much, much better than the solution our client came to us for in the first place.

(og, ms)

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 http://tomdale.net/2013/09/progressive-enhancement-is-dead/
  2. 2 https://medium.com/seek-ui-engineering/the-end-of-global-css-90d2a4a06284
  3. 3 http://mashable.com/2015/07/06/why-web-design-dead/
  4. 4 https://css-tricks.com/the-debate-around-do-we-even-need-css-anymore/
  5. 5 http://timkadlec.com/2015/06/thriving-in-unpredictability/
  6. 6 http://atomicdesign.bradfrost.com/chapter-1/
  7. 7 https://www.flickr.com/photos/empty_quarter/12108068015/
  8. 8 https://www.filamentgroup.com/lab/performance-rwd.html
  9. 9 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/09/08/improving-smashing-magazine-performance-case-study/
  10. 10 https://www.filamentgroup.com/lab/weight-wait.html
  11. 11 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2015/07/06/hunt-for-the-webs-lost-soul/
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Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. Vitaly is writer, speaker, author and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine. He runs responsive Web design workshops, online workshops and loves solving complex UX, front-end and performance problems in large companies. Get in touch.

  1. 1

    Brent Alexander

    July 8, 2015 1:28 pm

    YES. Someone finally said it. It’s not dying, you guys. It’s just changing. There is far too much bad design out there to kill off creative design services. There is still very much a need.

    42
    • 2

      It’s changing, but it’s changing into the equivalent of theorycraft in WoW. There are plenty of tools and lots of new experiences to create, but it never seems to be the RIGHT way. I miss the days of just making things in Flash. Now I need to have a virtual machine, something watching and minifying code, an entirely different stack so that everything I knew is dead and the fresh grad knows everything while I’m too busy with adult life at night to skillup fast enough. I’m too old for this, I want out of the game.

      25
      • 3

        Ugh, I know the feeling, but you’ve got to level up always in all ways.

        7
      • 4

        “I miss the days of just making things in Flash”
        Really?

        5
        • 5

          yeah, me …. NOT, too :D

          Flash, the curse and plague of the webdesigner. Every client wanted it for its fany bling-bling, and every true _web_ designer loathed it for its clunkyness, bloat and closedness (no flash player? na gaw, dude!).

          cu, w0lf.

          0
      • 6

        I *love* the new tools available to us. I’ve been working professionally as a web developer since 1998 but built my first website in 1994 when I was 21. I’ve been in this game for a long time. The tools available to us now are cool. They’re fun, they have a practical use and enable me to learn new stuff.

        Since getting into using tools such as jenkins, node, gulp etc. my javascript skills have improved incrementally. I can write far better javascript now than I ever have done, I have far more confidence in my ability to build and deploy a working website than in the days of flat HTML sites and FTP deployment.

        Embrace the change!

        I’ll take these new tools and technology over table layouts, the blink tag, “This site is designed for IE3” any day of the week.

        3
        • 7

          I personally prefer Firebug + other developer tools, because my command line always was much better (anacron and automake ftw!), but aside of that .. /signed ;)

          cu, w0lf.

          0
    • 8

      Speaking of web design, why the heck is the number of likes next to the thumbs down? I thought 16 people didn’t like your comment.

      23
      • 9

        That’s what I thought too at first even though I have been to this site many many times. But the green number means it’s been voted up more than voted down, and if the number is red with a negative sign in front of it, it’s been voted down more than up.

        8
  2. 10

    At the moment I started reading this post, I was just thinking of the debate rose by Chris Coyier. And then you just cited it. I really thank you for being around these debates and opinions.

    I totally agree with your point in the fact that we have to give the best experience out of our work regardless of the technology or tool we use.

    Each technology or tools was created with an aim: Help somewhere in someway, not necessarily to kill others.

    Thanks for this sum up of the situation

    4
  3. 11

    I got totally pissed off when I saw that recent article on Mashable. Those idiots don’t know what they are talking about. They think web design is dead just because we have ton of online tools available of creating website templates. Did they use those same tools to design the Mashable website theme? I don’t think so.

    People who care about great design already knows the importance of web design and the amount of work we put into each project we get. Drag and drop tools will never be able to achieve that quality.

    48
    • 12

      I too saw the Mashable article before this one. So glad that someone spoke up about it, even if it’s not relating to the Mashable article. I also agree that good quality work and efficient and user-friendly code are better achieved by people rather than tools that auto-generate code through a GUI interface. Although it’s nice having familiarity in designs, it’s better to have a website that’s not generic, and it’s often better creating a theme from scratch than to use a pre-made template and hacking it for that.

      I really like this paragraph. It really speaks well:
      “No, web design isn’t dead. Generic solutions are dead. Soulless theming and quick skinning are dead. Our solutions have to be better and smarter. Fewer templates, frameworks and trends, and more storytelling, personality and character. Users crave good stories and good photography; they’re eager for good visuals and interesting layouts; they can’t wait for distinctive and remarkably delightful user experiences. This exactly should be our strategy to create websites that stand out.”

      7
      • 13

        Obviously, “web design” is far from dead. Virtually all communications are now traveling over the “web.”

        What is now very much alive, though, are these “services” that promote free websites for a dollar or two. The vast majority of businesses are very small businesses, and they grab onto anything that costs very little and buy into the failed idea that you can get anything at all of value for next to nothing.

        It reminds me of the early days of the web. So much misinformation out there now, hammered (ironically) by old fashioned broadcast media. They win by sheer loudness and abrasiveness, appealing to people who simply cannot spend the time or money to research their business.

        Do we compete with GoDaddy? No. But I am finding the gap between GoDaddy and what we do to be very perilous now.

        0
    • 14

      “People who care about great design already knows the importance of web design and the amount of work we put into each project we get. ”

      No, they don’t. And furthermore, they don’t give a damn.

      3
    • 15

      well said

      0
    • 16

      The kind of website that the guy in the article was writing about, and I suspect he didn’t realise, is your “mom and pop” store wanting a web presence. And absolutely web design is dead for that level of site, and so it should be.

      What web designer or developer even wants to work on a site of that level? Point them to Wix or Facebook. Job done. That level of website is simply not interesting for a web designer. When that mom and pop store grows from their template-based, flat site to whatever it turns into, that is where it starts to get interesting.

      0
  4. 17

    Great article. There’s still much to do in the web design world.

    4
  5. 18

    Randi Tastix

    July 8, 2015 2:46 pm

    My thoughts on the article in question is that it’s click-bait written by someone who wants to argue the semantics of their job title.

    There’s a reason some web designers started calling themselves “front end developers”, or even “architects” and it’s because of odd death calls like this. This is a debate in semantics and really, the truth is that in design you are called many things. Not just web, graphic or mobile.

    At it’s core you are a problem-solver, just as the many developers, project managers, producers and “architects” you work with. Problem-solver, however, might not be specific enough for your resume.

    —-

    It’s not that web design is dead. The concepts and thought processes are still relevant in UX design as they are in web design, it’s that instead of calling ourselves one thing we’ve now all gone and renamed. This same phenomenon happened nearly a decade ago when people started calling themselves front end developers instead of web designers, and it’s all because of how the job is perceived.

    It’s better to be called a UX designer than a web designer despite your job description likely entailing the exact same responsibilities. These confusions are likely caused by how young the web and it’s surrounding industries are, with time we’ll likely all stick to just one label and people will eventually take that seriously. No industry has been without teething issues.

    A lot of this is silly semantics that I feel are better explained by existing articles such as this one:
    http://www.elyseholladay.com/posts/2014/10/16/front-end-architect/

    6
    • 19

      Nobody takes you seriously. Seriously. The “web” is over twenty years old. I found a job description this morning that said senior javascript developer, full stack. Okayee. Employers don’t even know what they need, all they know is that want it. They aren’t even able to take it seriously enough to hire someone that can do the job and give them a reasonable salary. The whole industry has become a joke.

      4
  6. 20

    I’m just surprised that Mashable wrote something even semi-tech related.

    0
  7. 21

    Even I’m agree with Randy and his point about, all of this is part of a label debate. I think that is more of that.
    The reality is that actually the term is dead; you can check now how many work offers are available as web designer and how many you see as UX Designer.

    The term «UX» has eaten everything around in the late years. Is the magical word that decides everything now. It’s supossed to be cool, but I don’t like it.

    Because is the big reason of this great lack of originality and creativity in the web today.

    With the rise of the UX label, all the process has changed, now everything is about metrics (yes, I said well, not users, metrics); and there is no place here for the «artistic» point of view that used to have the word «design».

    Don’t blame the tools, don’t blame the options, don’t blame the technology.

    Blame the numbers.

    They force designers to be predictable, familiar and bored (and the users to be so comfortable as blind). They kill everyone that steps outside of the line, every deviation of the big number rule is punished.

    Yeah, this is a business, I know, but that doesn’t excuse it.

    4
    • 22

      For a while, forget about job titles. The people whom you’re referring to as UX designers are simply trying to make sites/apps user friendly and intuitive. Sadly, artistic freedom alone cannot deliver this. There’s a whole science behind this. It takes a whole team with diverse expertise to make something simple and beautiful. It’s sad that you don’t see value in UX design. It’s there for a purpose and the purpose is to represent users of the product/service that you’re designing for and make it easy to use. Openness and objectivity are needed, not hatred and negative criticism.

      1
  8. 23

    Roko C. Buljan

    July 8, 2015 5:25 pm

    Mashable simply took a day-off and went into foreign territory to click-hunt.
    The thing that’s amazing in the power of media is that on such (err viral?) articles we always need one (here I congratulate Vitaly) to get us back to the good ol’ balanced reality (and kind of feel that relaxing “I knew it” breeze).
    But, really? Sergio Nouvel’s article seems to summarize in words “At the beginning there was sublime chaos – Now we’re on a path to a disgraceful singularity…” with statements like: “fraction cost using templates and tools”, “Facebook = Small-business homepage” So..? I see no issue here. Well splendid days to even better tools, frameworks, Facebook & Co. to Filter “those ones” from one’s desk! “Mobile is killing the web.” Since when? Also, where’s Design here? (By the way, users know extremely well if they’re “Goog”ing or “App”ing).
    “Web design is dead.” No. It’s constantly changing.
    (And I think it’s a really exciting time to be part of.)

    3
  9. 24

    Nate Williams

    July 8, 2015 5:44 pm

    it’s not dead .. but it’s decreasing .. people access information more and more through apps and less and less through web pages … time to adapt

    -2
    • 25

      Web design is not decreasing, it simply evolving like it always has.

      4
    • 26

      It’s time to adapt? So what you’re saying is; it’s time to jump on the bandwagon to be a follower? That’s not a good mindset…no jumping on bandwagons, it’s time to innovate my friend! Let’s keep pushing the boundaries of web design and development. What can the web do that apps can’t do? Really, that’s the way we need to be thinking.

      2
      • 27

        Right. Because that’s what I really need to do, is learn another language, and another framework, and work on the same old shit I did last year, with even more junk in the trunk.

        2
  10. 28

    Well said, Vitaly. I think one of the issues when people look at the web is that they take it as a giant platform which means all sites are created equal. Websites can be any number of things and therefore their experiences should differ.

    Search engine results don’t need the same experience as a blog which doesn’t need the same experience as a web app.

    How many people really notice the fact that a lot of sites are using Unsplash images for their hero images or that popular WP theme they found on ThemeForest? If anything we should be happy that one of mankind’s greatest inventions (the Internet) has opened up these possibilities for almost anybody in the world.

    There was a time where you were either a crappy designer, mediocre designer, or great designer and each level was acceptable. Now with how clients are paying and sites like 99designs popping up, there really is no room for mediocre. You either charge crappy designer rates, or up your game enough to get great designer rates.

    The idea of a website is to get something up so you can share your ideas with the world. Only the design community truly cares that each website is a unique snowflake. The experience goes far beyond aesthetics as we all know, so maybe it’s not so bad if people start off with a template that has nailed the basics and over time gradually improve the visual experience.

    If web design was truly dead you would be able to get away with horrible experiences and crappy interfaces, but you can’t. If anything the level of web design has risen over the years to the point where the general public expect a minimal level of quality to be present.

    Web design isn’t dead, it’s just matured and isn’t the loud teenager that is always making a scene. Now it’s just the quiet adult sitting in the background getting the job done.

    3
  11. 29

    Bobby Adamson

    July 8, 2015 9:18 pm

    Another guy wrote another article with a sensationalist title. What is the surprise here? He had some valid points but his arguments didn’t point toward web design being dead. He just wrote a silly title there to get clicks, which worked.

    You’re giving it the exact attention it was looking to get. I’ll give the article merit for some of its arguments but it was title gore.

    10
  12. 30

    Josh Johnson

    July 8, 2015 10:36 pm

    Great insights Vitaly! Totally agree.

    0
  13. 31

    “Generic solutions are dead. Soulless theming and quick skinning are dead.”

    These solutions could only have become dead.

    Custom designed and well executed sites are anything but, clients are reawakening to the value of individuality and unique presentation.

    2
  14. 32

    …Long live web design.

    If anything, I think webdesign is entering a renaissance. We have built great tools for the foundation, which allows us to spend greater energy on the conceptual, or to provide better design to a larger audience more economically. Platforms and premade solutions have their place (they are nothing new), and they introduce more people to the benefits of good design that previously would have been shut-out. This increases the market for ideas, and thinking never goes out of style.

    We communicators are always looking for better words to express what it is we do. We get bored of our titles so we become ‘interactive storytellers’, ‘digital experience designers’, ‘UX rockstars’ and ‘communication ninjas’. Maybe rather than web design being dead, after 20 odd years, the title itself just sounds a bit dated? The same work is being done, but we’re using new terms to describe changing philosophies of what’s important, and where the value is added in the process.

    Years in the future you’ll probably see pronouncements of ‘The Product Designer is Dead’, ‘The UX Designer is dead’, and all the while, people will continue to do the work that needs doing under the moniker of the day.

    2
  15. 33

    Web design will never going to dead as its scope is really big. Latest technologies are bringing a lot of inspiring changing or trends in web designing.

    1
  16. 34

    We should all be thanking Mashable for running that article. Look at the conversation it has spurred in the design community and beyond. When is the last time that this industry took a very critical look at itself? Are we dealing with the commoditization of web design? Sure. That being said, like all creative pursuits, once the ability to reproduce becomes available to the masses, you will see the “sameness of things” proliferating your day-to-day experience with that medium – in this case it’s the web.

    But, inevitably, and as I am sure most of you will agree, we also see this Edison moment and the unveiling of the next great thing. It might be a burst of creative thinking and exploration within the field of design and the design experience with examples such as Species in Pieces, Vasilis, and a personal favorite, Legwork studio.

    It might even be innovation in the work process with the rise of tools such as Invision and platforms such as Webydo. Control of the web is shifting into the hands of designers – the web as a creative enterprise needs to be reclaimed by creatives themselves. Up until this point, the web was the domain of developers – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8To-6VIJZRE – I predict that not only will we see design concepts never before imagined but also that we will see a specialization of tools to fit the crafter that will bring this next wave of innovation.

    Who will lead this revolution? Designers. It’s time for designers to take the reins of the web through independence in creation that will bring a new, future for a better designed web. Web Design is not dead – it’s a phoenix primed to rise from the ashes, bigger, better, more unique and more creative than ever before.

    1
  17. 35

    Kultar Ruprai

    July 9, 2015 1:00 pm

    Am glad finally someone with some common sense said it. I’ve been coming across lots of articles lately stating ‘web design is dead’ especially the one on Mashable which seems to have gained much attention.

    Critics have been stating that ‘Web design is dead’ for over 15 years. If it’s not that then it’s ‘responsive design is dead’ etc… and yet we as creatives tend to be more busier than ever.

    True designers / creative will always be relevant. From Print to CD-Roms to web to mobile to whatever is next.

    I couldn’t agree with this article more. It’s not dead, it’s simply evolving. You either level up or fade out.

    2
  18. 36

    People seem to be forgetting that the article was reposted on Mashable, not written by Mashable staff. It was originally published in UX Magazine which is a respectable source.

    http://uxmag.com/articles/why-web-design-is-dead

    And apparently no one read to the end of the article? We should all be smart enough at this point in the history of click-bait to know to completely throw away and ignore headlines.

    “Things are moving in the direction of digital assistants like Siri… we are transitioning to a push-based model of content consumption, where the right information arrives without you even requesting it… This is not to say that web pages will die—they will be around for a long time, because they are —and will continue to be— useful for certain purposes… Web pages are static content that need to be found and visited (pull-based)… Here’s the good news: designers are really far from being obsolete. Quite to the contrary, you can see that the demand for UX designers is still on the rise, and everyone seems to be redesigning their digital products these days.”

    To me, the point of the article was that the FOCUS is not on the web PAGE any longer. You can argue semantics about whether web design is dead, but the article clearly laid out why DESIGNING PAGES is now a commodity, not a specialization.

    2
  19. 38

    The demand for Web designers and developers will never die. The main reason why is because despite new tools 99% of clients want customizations and integrations. And, because there’s still a major issue with service providers flaking out on customers, there will always be a very high demand for talented, responsible designers and developers.

    2
    • 39

      I remember when the entire world was going to run on QR Codes, too.

      I love absolutes.

      1
  20. 40

    A template, or a theme – even customized could (probably) never be better than a human web designer. I’ve worked with a whole lot of clients who are VERY picky in what they want, to the smallest finest detail, so that it matches their business or say, store. Web design for me is to match the clients business to the perfect point. Something I think I could never do using a template. Even using templates or themes, it takes me a few hours to figure out how the hell it works and especially if I’m doing customizations.

    Another point is that most of the projects I’ve done have had something special to them, a special functionality, a business system integrated, user-integration, or other customized functions. This could be more of a web development subject, but it sure ain’t dead and I don’t think it will ever be.

    1

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