Much has been written lately about doom and gloom and the end of web design. The writings are extensive and altogether exhausting. Some feel that the traditional design firm is in decline and ending—while others feel that we are on the cusp of a new kind of web design. I tend to believe the latter and here’s why.
A lot of these apocolyptic thoughts come from the fact that there are new systems being introduced quite rapidly. Some of these systems are simply like fleeting thoughts—whereas others are brilliant pieces of work that alter the way we do things as designers. When I talk about systems, I am referring to a crop of companies/services that are radically changing the web design landscape. Most of us were shocked to see a Squarespace ad during the Superbowl and have balked at the likes of WordPress.com and snickered at the thoughts of thegrid.io. I am just as guilty of being one of those people who can be sceptical and critical of the latest webby things. The reality is, the future of web design lies in the embrace and use of these and future systems.
Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration.
—Thomas A. Edison
In the early days of web design, a lot of the innovation came from slaving on the design and development of these systems—on top of creating unique and engaging user experiences. It seemed that most of the time and effort was put into creating the system than creating the end product. The custom design of systems on a per client basis has been dropping off over the last few years and we are now facing a much different web landscape. It is a landscape revealing the future of the web—a future in which designers will be required to embrace systems.
This by no means is implying that innovation will fall off, if anything, it will soar. As designers—not all of us know code and that can indeed be a hindrance in completely realizing our designs. Embracing these systems could open up the door for more designers to learn code and elevate their design skills at the same time. The foundation and structure will also allow for designers to worry less about the technology and focus on the more important factors like usability and user experience. It may also offer an environment that fuels greater experimentation and prototyping which will in turn lead to more innovation.
Embracing systems frees our mind to imagine more creative solutions for our clients—while at the same time giving them unique products that they have always expected from us. This does however not mean that it is not without challenges.
The “T” Word
One major challenge is shedding the idea of these systems being purely a delivery mechanism for templates. A client sees a template as something lacking uniqueness and feels that they are paying for a solution that anyone could deliver. The templates that we build or reuse are the building blocks —they are not the site. The template system is purely what drives the web experience, it almost gets placed on the same level as web hosting—and some might say it is web hosting.
Freeing up Time
Systems may also be a vehicle for freeing up developers’ time and open up the door to push the edge without having to build from the ground up. Alot of these systems have great developer communities along with API’s that allow for just about anything to be imagined and realized. This freeing of time could also help in bridging that developer and designer divide that has existed all too long and still hinders our work to this day.
We can definitely start to see a lot of duplication happening on the web where sites are appearing to look quite similar. This can start to become a problem when people are treating these systems as template factories and not as frameworks or foundations for their ideas to flourish. This will be something that we as designers can help to change if we properly embrace the systems.
How Do Designers Embrace Systems?
1. Open yourself up to new and emerging systems
2. Learn about the features and limitations of the systems
3. Use templates as rough sketches that can be applied to any situation
4. Always resist the temptation to repeat your designs
5. Rapid-prototype your ideas using the system
Open yourself up to the concept of systems and it will free your mind. Less worry about the technology from a designer and developer standpoint can provide an environment where ideas have a chance of seeing the light of day and fostering a happier and friendlier work environment. Web Design is not disappearing, it is getting better. It is becoming the type of design environment that we have always dreamed about.