With website builders on the rise and people becoming more tech-savvy, is there still a role for web designers?

This is a question I get asked quite often.  Sometimes it's by concerned friends or family, occasionally by a potential client, and something I ask myself quite regularly.  If any Joe Schmo can install a WordPress site and theme without any programming knowledge, am I still relevant?

Future of web design

Very simply put, web design is changing and people that call themselves "web designers" might find themselves jobless pretty soon if not already.  It just comes down to how valuable your skillset is and there's no sense in fighting this.  And if someone can do it on their own, why bother paying someone else a decent chunk of change to do it?

Builders and web programming

Once upon a time, being able to write HTML was considered an employable skill in and of itself.  Along came Dreamweaver and let the common pleb create syntactically correct HTML with a visual interface.  Now if someone were to come looking for a job with just HTML on their resume, I would do my best to hold back a very insurmountable amount of unprofessional laughter as what could only be interpreted as a joke.  I know you can do HTML, so can my dog when she's not chasing her own tail.

P.S. If you're still using Dreamweaver, please move to a real editor.

Marketplaces and visual editors

The rise of visual editors from plugins like Visual Composer and Beaver Builder as well as sites like Wix and Squarespace finally bridged the gap for styling sites without programming.  Between these drag and drop editors and the bajillion themes available, creating a site is just plain easy.

Time to throw in the towel, right?  Well there's still a few frontiers where web designers may still find themselves with jobs.

Quality web design  

There is quite a large margin for quality in what can be considered web design.  I have no doubt in my mind that you could get someone to build you a website for $1000.  Heck you might even be able to find one for $500 if you looked hard enough.  I know that because I was once that developer.  I also know that that website will look the quality of its price OR that the price is fleeting as the designer builds his or her portfolio.

A good web design is not created from thin air and it certainly doesn't come pre-packaged in a theme.  Proper web design takes time and a number of good working hours.  I've seen people buy some of the better looking themes available only to take a decent design and turn it into a steaming pile of garbage.  What's worse is the amount of people thinking that mess is great design.  Can they not see design or are they blinded by the fact that it's their own creation?

Great web design takes experience.  Years of experience.  And as design continues to morph, so should designers to improve their craft.  Not a year goes by where I look back and feel some sense of embarrassment at a piece of previous work.  They say that's the sign of growth (or at least that's what I tell myself to sleep at night).

Web design is not just "web design"

Kind of cryptic heading, I know.  But what I mean is that web designers don't draw a website out of macaroni, stick it to the fridge with a magnet, and call it a day.  There's quite a bit more to it.  It takes time to:

  • Consider the best layout and site structure
  • Design something that meets a client's needs
  • Find and Photoshop the correct images
  • Gather content and place across the site (while considering SEO)
  • Testing for user experience and general functionality

And that's just the design process- we haven't gotten to actual development.  Between setting up a decent hosting environment, checking keyword density and tag placement for SEO, styling through CSS, check for errors, and optimize for speed.  Yes, speed matters if you ever want users.

"I'll just sign up on GoDaddy.  They can host and build my website for cheaper."

– Anonymous person with a short-lived business

Now don't get me wrong, this is the kind of stuff I can do in my sleep as I've done it a million times, but it would have to be a very long nap.  It takes time to do all of these  things.  And I guarantee that a non-developer could not complete the same tasks in 3 times the amount of time.  Challenge anyone?

Adapting and moving towards web application development

I've been told since day 1 in this business that I would be out of work in a year.  I was first told that Dreamweaver had replaced programmers, then told that India would take all the jobs, and most recently I find people telling me that themes have replaced web designers altogether.  And yet, here I am.

Web designers as we knew them are obsolete.  It's just not a valuable enough skillset to have.  This is just the way jobs work.

You may notice that I often refer to myself as a developer first and foremost.  That's because the term web designer seems to have lost its meaning and significance.  It may be the herd of amateurs that saturated the web calling themselves web designers without having any experience.  Or maybe it's the lack of a more specific skill that undermined the title.

So, being ever-so-slightly more specific, the question should be:

Should designers or developers worry about job security?

Absolutely not.  Good UI/UX designers are incredibly hard to come by.  The best theme or page builder in the world cannot prevent its user from turning it into a poorly design website.

Developers who have continued to learn new languages already know that there is nothing yet that can replace their programming.  While editors, themes, and plugins can to some extent replace static code output like HTML and CSS, they cannot and will not be able to replace dynamic languages such as PHP, Ruby, or Python.

But in both of these jobs, you'll have to continue to adapt to learning new technologies and practices; that's the nature of the business.  Staying sharp and learning new frameworks and programming languages is one of the best parts of my job and something I actually enjoy doing.

What does this mean for the future of websites?

It's hard to say exactly, but I imagine that websites with very basic content needs may stop needing a designer and/or developer at some point.  

What this means is that web designers and web developers need to focus their trade into more specialized areas.  Web applications and SaaS products are a booming market that has huge demand for skilled individuals.  Higher level programming languages are a surefire way of keeping job security, especially if you're good at what you do.

As you can see over time, web app has overtaken web design in search trends.  It's hard to draw exact conclusions from just these 2 terms, but it most likely relates to a greater need of application development over general web design.

There are also still a large number of opportunities for businesses that value branding and understand the importance of marketing a website to the public.  While I'm sure a lot of businesses would love to be able to do this for themselves, there's simply too much work for a business to handle without hiring a web developer or web marketing company.

What do you think- is web design as we know it dead or is it thriving as much as ever?