UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 1238 May 14, 2014

The Self-Service Web Design Movement and its Implications for Web Designers

Just a few years ago, building even a simple website required many lines of code and a good amount of technical knowledge. Today, technology may have truly outrun us. Thanks to the recent rise of platforms like Squarespace, a small business owner can have a website up and running in hours—without coding knowledge or experience.

These web design platforms are low hanging fruit for early-stage entrepreneurs and freelancers, giving those with limited web design and development skills the ability to launch a beautiful website in minutes. All users have to do is choose a template, upload the necessary copy and photographs, and hit “publish.”

For many, these types of platforms will save both time and money. However, web designers and developers might be asking themselves if technology has overstepped its boundaries. Are web development jobs at risk because of platforms like Squarespace? Despite what the evidence may suggest, the answer is no.

The Self-Service Trend

Squarespace is part of a larger automation trend that has spread far and wide, across multiple industries and beyond personal websites. In the e-commerce space, the popular automated platform Shopify allows users to create a functional online shop with the click of a few buttons and then upload a few inventory items. In the events space, Splash and Attending are playing a similar role. These platforms allow users to quickly and easily set up a landing page for an event with the bells and whistles of ticketing and social media registration.

These platforms are turning what was once a long, technical process into a seamless and code-free one. This is only the beginning. With the self-service trend gaining traction among industries everywhere, many think it could spell trouble for web designers and developers. Still, I wouldn’t discount the value of an IT degree just yet, becasue these automated platforms have their limitations.

The Limitations of Self-Service Platforms

Although these platforms may be the bread and butter of freelancers or small businesses owners who “just need a website,” these websites are still mere frameworks built for the masses and lack the sophisticated and complex functionalities that a reputable business website requires. Out-of-box solutions cannot accommodate a business that needs a complicated drop-down menu, specific navigation options, gift card and discount code redemption, or a sophisticated search results filter.

These are all features that need to be customized to a brand’s unique needs and business model. They require coding from scratch. Shopify would be crippled by the weighty needs of a company like Warby Parker, with its sophisticated filtering and “virtual try-on” option that allows customers to superimpose and fit specific glasses to their individual faces online. Forget the large-scale e-commerce needs of retail behemoths like Amazon, with their huge volume of products, custom imagery, and grouping. These types of requirements are so far beyond the capabilities of generic template sites that it would be the equivalent of trying to stuff an elephant into the trunk of a MINI Cooper.

Shopify would be crippled by the weighty needs of a company like Warby Parker

With these types of limitations to self-service platforms, I think it’s safe to say that web development jobs aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Nevertheless, to stay relevant for years to come, coders should be leveraging these platforms to do more in less time.

What Coders Should Do to Adapt

As the automation trend evolves, it will only affect those designers who have no value-add beyond incorporating a few design tweaks in template websites. Designers and coders need to be able to work together to develop attractive, functional templates that can be used across multiple projects by multiple people. Designers and coders who have trouble doing anything but adding a couple of cosmetic features will find themselves struggling to keep up.

Platforms like Squarespace may have their limitations, but template solutions aren’t going away. By adapting accordingly and embracing these solutions for what they’re worth, web developers should sleep easier knowing that there’s still value in writing code.

 

Image of Mondrian knockoff courtesy Shuttershock

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Mr. Rameet Chawla is the founder of Fueled, an award-winning design and development company based in New York and London, and the founder of the Fueled Collective, a co-working space comprised of over 35 startups in downtown Manhattan. Combining a decade of experience architecting web and mobile applications, Chawla has created apps for a wide range of industry clients, from high-end fashion brands to successful tech startups. Chawla is passionate about building and being involved in disruptive technology ventures and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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Comments

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I know that working with templates is almost a requirement in the industry but I hate it personally. Whenever it's possible I try to convince clients and my coworkers to pay the price of extending the development process to gain uniqueness. Company I work for has almost 10 years of experience in managing the whole process of designing, building and launching websites and I can proudly admit that it always pays off.We would be truly glad if you contact us with any question you may have (no obligations) at http://www.headchannel.co.uk or directly on +44 (0)20 7099 6399.

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Web designers are every day new thought and make a new design thanks.

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Jumping on Craig @ Shopify's point, there are only a few platforms that offers what Squarespace and Shopify do– a beautiful backend user interface, a rock-solid infrastructure, and an awesome development platform that lets you code a design from doctype to close. If anything these platforms should be given more credit. The fact that you can run a Warby Parker operation or a high volume website/blog while effectively outsourcing the entire infrastructure for a $10-$30/mo monthly fee, is quite unprecedented. I think the better argument would be the "implications for engineers, dbas and IT departments". Squarespace and Shopify are creating amazing platforms that designers can go crazy on, while turning over a site that's going to run without the need for maintenance.

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You says any people easily design website. I'm not feel like that because hiring a professional designer design best website, create good color combinations and many thing's that make website attractive and profitable for business.

There are many limitations for a site that an ordinary user can't understand, so hiring a professional designer for site creation is good or better option.

http://rvtechnologies.co.in/

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He says that these solutions aren't good enough for "reputable businesses." Did he seriously say that?

I sure managed to pay my house payment as a non-reputable business using a "cookie-cutter" website.

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Thanks for sharing an interesting post with an abundance of useful information. I would like to add an increasingly debatable business advantage of self-service is the potential it brings the company to assemble personal data about the people who work with it.

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I've had at least 4-5 clients come to me to set up their site on something like this. Since their sites were mostly informational, I was able to do some really beautiful stuff with services like Wix, it didn't require me to code and it was up fast. I don't complain about where the work comes from, I just make sure they see the value I bring to the table no matter the platform.

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I find that SAAS (sold as a service) websites are not really a problem. Most clients who decide to use them still actually need full help and support to get one of these sites up, running and functioning how they want. Even though their made to look simple to setup, they still need a professional touch to get setup and in turn the work always comes back round to us (designers/developers).

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I completely disagree that Shopify cannot handle larger merchants like Warby Parker. There are 100,000 stores that use Shopify, and some of them are huge multi-million dollar companies. One in particular recently did over a million dollars in sales in under one hour using Shopify. Another survived the traffic onslaught of a Super Bowl ad without problems. The platform can handle the traffic and sales without issue.

In terms of customization, you have access to templates and CSS using our scripting language called Liquid. You also have access to our API which you can use to extend your site to literally do whatever you want it to (or pick from the over 400 apps we have that can do this with a few clicks). So I would stress we are really, really flexible.

That said, I do completely agree with you when you say "I think it’s safe to say that web development jobs aren’t going anywhere any time soon." We actually have thousands of web developers and designers that are building online stores for their clients using Shopify. The good news is these developers and designers don't have to spend their hours building mundane things like backend order processing systems or customer login flows, and can instead spend their time creating a lot more value for their clients. Some often take what they built for a particular client and then sell it to others in our Theme Store or App Store.

So I completely agree that there's still value in writing code, but I would argue that writing ecommerce systems from scratch is definitely not the most valuable use of a developer or designer's time.

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Well, this is completely inaccurate as to comparing the capabilities of a function specific web application to the endless possibilities of coding from scratch. Coding from scratch allows one to do anything they can imagine.
A function specific application is purpose made for example ecommerce. It can only make a webpage with the features associated to its hardcoded framework. There is a very limited number of options:

Layout
UX
Menu structure i.e. Drop down
Graphics, VIdeo, Animation presentation
User Interactivity

etc. etc. There are hundreds of options and all are limited by Hardcoded Apps like Shopify. After you look at fifty or so they all appear and function nearly the same way.
It may work for simple ecommerce solutions that require no unique, exciting or cool features. So basically for those businesses that are not putting their all into their online presence and are willing to be represented as a generic and boring marketing inept not to mention reluctant web luddite, just one among the masses of similar boring sheep.

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I think the point Craig was making is that platforms like Shopify (and Squarespace) are flexible enough to handle the needs of many businesses. While it might not be the best decision for all businesses, if the business' requirements can be handled by a platform like Shopify or Squarespace, it's a great decision to go with those solutions.

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Hi Rameet,
Yeah these sites definitely have their limitations and in my opinion are deceptive in a way as they present themselves as a complete solution when most of the time they are not. Hiring a designer is still really the best option for anyone wanting a true web presence with true marketability.
Thanks for the post.