I recently read an article by Sergio Nouvel, titled "Why Web Design is Dead," in which he argues … well, basically the article does what it says on the tin. That is to say Sergio articulates why, in his opinion, web design is no longer something that designers should be concerned with. Here’s a quick breakdown of his argument:

  1. The pursuit of web design has no future, and designers need to move on to more important challenges. He goes on to explain why.
  2. Premade templates offer good (enough) design for most people/small businesses that it’s possible to get a decent website built for cheap/free.
  3. There is (little to) no further innovation possible in web design. A direct quote: “Trying to get creative at this point will probably be pointless or even harmful.”
  4. Automated tools and AI can make websites better than humans. Again, a direct quote: “Using cleverly chosen design basics (made by humans) as the foundation, it's hard to go wrong with it, and the result will probably be better than what an average web designer can do.”
  5. My personal favorite: Mobile is killing the web. Essentially, my takeaway here is that he’s saying that mobile browsing sucks and it’s more important to focus your attention on building your brand through social media and developing an app.
  6. Webpages are good for informational resources but things like social media, directory websites like Yelp, and a push-based content consumption model (content being delivered to you based on context) are going to overtake the current paradigm of actively going to a business’s website for information.
  7. Designers should shift focus to UX design: this is best explained through a direct quote: “This switch from web design to experience design is directly caused by the shift from web pages to digital products, tools, and ecosystems. Web pages are just part of something much bigger: mobile apps, API's, social media presence, search engine optimization, customer service channels, and physical locations all inform the experience a user has with a brand, product, or service. Pretending that you can run a business or deliver value just by taking care of the web channel is naïve at best and harmful at worst.”

So here’s the thing. I agree with #7. Websites are definitely part of a larger ecosystem. A solar system, really, with a company’s brand identity and consumers at the center. Yes, experience is extremely important—vitally so. And there is far more to think about than just making sure you have a nice looking website. Is the content easy to understand? Is it easy to find? Is the identity of the business something your target consumers can identify with and connect with on an emotional level? Are you excluding a large chunk of your audience by not paying attention to issues like responsive design or accessibility for the disabled? All of these questions and more should be thought about in a business’s digital strategy. However, to say that web design is dead is absolutely untrue. Here’s why:

An Industry Shift in Priority Does Not Equal Death

The Director of Technology at my agency, Suits & Sandals, said it best: “This is like saying that someone is dying because they are working out, getting fit and losing weight. There’s less of them there now, so they must be dying.” The move from handcrafting each page of a website to a template-base design is helping to shift the industry of web design toward an object oriented design approach. Design is becoming leaner, more impactful and more inclusive. And yes, free/cheap templates for content management systems like WordPress or Squarespace are getting better. However, saying you can get away with choosing a premade template, putting your content in and then shifting focus to creating better user experience through other channels is just silly.

As web design professionals, we need to be careful about how we talk about what we do

Premade templates are a one-size-fits-all solution, and user experience, by nature, is a pursuit of a tailor-fit relationship between a brand and its consumers. To truly offer your users a great experience, you need to pay careful attention to how they interact with your brand on all levels–including your website. And by relying on pre-made templates and automated tools for web design, you will ultimately bump up against issues where you want to offer your users a better experience through something that your template just won’t allow you to do–but a custom built template made by a real, human designer will allow.

Web Design ≠ Aesthetic Design

As I’ve mentioned, I view a brand’s digital presence as a solar system. Each aspect of the brand should be integrated with each other. So it is equally important to be planning for a brand’s voice, content strategy, development needs, user experience, cross-channel marketing strategies, social presence, so on and so forth. What Sergio Nouvel gets wrong is that web design is not a singular pursuit. He’s treating “web design” as if all it means is the aesthetic design of a web page or website.

In reality, web design is a network of interrelated services that requires thought in information architecture, web development, aesthetic design, marketing strategy, and content that all work together to promote a good user experience. And, yes, that approach towards integration should be part of a larger whole through an overall brand strategy that plays well with the other channels of the brand’s digital presence.

Design is More Than What You See

Just as I explained above, web design is not simply aesthetics. Design, in general, is not simply aesthetics. Everything is designed, even things you as a user do not think about. So when Sergio says there isn’t room in web design for innovation, he’s flat out wrong. The types of innovation that are happening in web design now have to do with efficiency, speed, accessibility, theory, strategy, and code. Are these ultimately things to improve user experience? Yes. Are they web design concerns? YES!

A few examples of innovations currently being talked about in web design:

Mobile is NOT Killing the Web!

Anyone who does a quick Google search for mobile browsing statistics can easily find plenty of data that supports this statement: mobile browsing is increasing in popularity. Here’s one example.

There are books on the subject, as well, such as the excellent Content Strategy for Mobile by Karen McGrane (which was published in 2012, by the way). In the first chapter of this book, Karen talks about the “mobile-only user,” a user who does not ever, or rarely, use the internet on a desktop computer. This is far more common in other countries but “… As of June 2012, thirty-one percent of Americans who access the internet from a mobile device say that’s the way they always or mostly go online … Those numbers are growing: the Pew Research Center reported in an earlier study from July 2011 that twenty-eight percent of smartphone users go online mostly using their phone” (Page 20-21 of Content Strategy for Mobile). So if mobile browsing is so important to users, then mobile browsing is basically doing the exact opposite of killing the web.

Ok, fine. Let’s assume that most people are unhappy with the way mobile browsing currently works (I don’t know of any research that backs this claim). The idea that mobile browsing sucks should not ultimately mean that web designers should stop focusing on it. Problems are opportunities; this one no different than any other. So what should designers look to do? Improve mobile browsing. And that’s exactly what the focus is for many web designers. My agency employs mobile-first design techniques to help mitigate design issues that used to arise by trying to design from desktop down. Why do we do this? Because mobile user experience is dependent on web design that is not only responsive, but takes good mobile content strategy into high priority—which in turn affects everything from information architecture to aesthetic design choices. Seeing a pattern here?

Reinforcing the Importance of UX

The tl;dr of this article is that we, as web design professionals (whether UX designers, UI designers, front end developers, content strategists, or web analysts) need to be careful about how we talk about what we do. It is absolutely critical to start recognizing that these individual pursuits are far more intertwined than a lot of us recognize. So to flatly say that web design is unimportant—or dead—is the wrong attitude to have about our industry.

It’s a trendy, provocative way to say “you should be thinking about user experience more deeply,” and I do agree that this is true. But the implications of a statement like the one Sergio Nouvel makes are dangerous in that it suggests that it’s ok to sacrifice a powerful and important element of a brand’s digital presence in favor of others. This promotes a false understanding that UX design is an isolated endeavor and not something that permeates through choices in all other aspects of a brand’s digital presence.

So while I agree that it’s important to start thinking about the world outside the website (if you aren’t already) I do not agree that web design is dead. You’re just talking about it wrong.

Image of outerspace excitement courtesy Shutterstock.

Article No. 1 448 | June 8, 2015
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In simple terms, i am one of those people who never (or rarely) surf the web on a pc.
If I didnt surf the web at work, where I am required to be shackled to a desk, I would never touch the web via a pc.
If we could strip this scenario out of the usage stats, i think Sergio Nouvel would be getting very close to accurate. Personally, I wouldn't dream of firing up a pc when i have my mobile (cell) phone constantly on, connected and ready to go. A phone (particularly todays level of phones) are incredible and far less clunky than a pc or laptop. And, that’s just the beginning of the argument 'FOR' the decreasing importance and relevance of the humble Website. I’m not in the industry as such but as a common user of the Internet, the web is going the way of the dodo. Your average idiot wants to do everything on the phone now. Websites? Pffff…

 

I think the anger comes from web designers who studied to become and produce websites from coding. They are in reality loosing money to all these drag and drop services. Other web designers who no longer make their 6 figures are writing books, selling online courses in hope of milking the newer inexperienced freelancers. Truth hurts, doesn't it?

I've just found this article and I find it incredible that a site called uxmag can ignore such a basic thing as line length when it comes to users ability to read the content of a website and typography. Just to be clear I'm not trying to get a long nonesensical debate/argument going here, i.e. trolling, I'm just stating that I came across this article when searching for a web design/UX question and I find it hard to take serious what uxmag has to say because usmag have ignored a basic of design… ensuring the content is easily read and followed. I'm sorry if any takes offense with what I have to say but if you question my point just look up "Optimal Line Length" to find the answer then select any randon sentence on this page, cpoy and paste it into any letter counter (search online) and see the result… UX would be turning in its grave if it were dead.

I don't necessarily believe web design is dead. As a web designer myself, I take pride in accomplishing the design aspect of the site I'm building and I also believe in the U/X design as I personally have received compliments from my clients how they are moved to see what the rest of the site has to offer once they see the first page. The web design factor is still a necessecity and so is U/X.

www.voodookustoms.com

Bottom line .. people are using web sites less and less and seeking information through other means(APPS that aggregate for the most part). You can look at the numbers and see web traffic declining (NY Times, etc).   The medium is always changing and those who are invested in it try and hold on and fight change. UX is still important, but in other applications apart from the web

I was wondering if you had any stats to back this up? I have noticed a distinct migration from mainstream media sources to niche publications, industry blogs and blogging platforms (eg. Medium or LinkedIN Pulse), not necessarily a cause/effect relationship between these major websites and aggregator apps.

One of the draws to these sites, as I see it, has to do with the UX and UI - distinct design for the dispersal of information in a very targeted audience. With this overall industry trend towards native, companies as well as industry personalities are increasingly putting efforts not only into their internal content production but how it's displayed and reaping results...I can only speak for my field, but examples would include companies such as Invision, Webydo, and Ideo while personalities might include Dan Cederholm, Dustin Curtis and Jacob Cass - all with a distinct web presence and visitors to the page rather than an application or aggregator.

Hello Caroline,

The web is a just a technology/protocol and when there is a better technology/protocol people migrate. VCR, Cable, Telnet, IRQ Chat, News Groups, RSS Feed, etc were all relevant at onetime until something better came long. Right now people are visitng web sites less and less and when they do engagment is down. Web sites will exist, but their role is much less important.

eg.urls are not permitted but you can find this info easily 

search "homepage is dead"

more info (Alexa,Comscore, Forrester research,MSI, etc)

Mobile Growing Strongly (+34% Y/Y) - apps are prefered on mobileDesktop Decelerating (+11%)

A lot of PC manufactures dennouced mobile as a threat and those who didn't prepare are now suffering the consquences. 

seach "pc sales decline"

When you are in technology it's part of the job to adapt. If you don't think things are changing then continue what you are doing, but I would advise young web designers to think about the next 3 years and how to best prepare themselves for the next paradigm shift.

 

Hey Lucas,

Thanks for your input! I'm not disagreeing that information is spreading across multiple channels. I just believe that it's important to consider all options for user experience, rather than defaulting to losing interest in web design. There are plenty of reasons to keep improving web design and to consider it a vital part of a company's web presence. Websites are not going away, by any stretch. Additionally I want to point out more clearly that my main concern here is that Sergio's article was reposted on Mashable–a publication that people outside of the UX community read, many of those people being potential web design project stakeholders who may end up being misinformed to think that it's perfectly okay to neglect their website and focus on other channels, rather than thinking inclusively and doing what they can to optimize user experience across all platforms that they actively use. It's just plain dangerous to broadcast ideas like this because it inaccurately reflects the state of the industry to people who will make business decisions based on the opinions pointed out in the article, regardless of the facts.

I'd also like to point out that, in this same vein, if these same stakeholders believe that the best thing they can do for their digital presence is build an app, they're going to have a false impression that users would rather use an app over a website in all instances. Home screen real estate is relatively precious, and users are not likely to download an app to substitute every website. It's too cumbersome, and so it's a bad idea to think this way. Having an app obviously makes sense for big names like social networks, financial institutions, publications (to an extent), certain eCommerce businesses (the big ones, especially) and even health and real estate companies, but it doesn't make sense for every business out there. And even if a business does decide to invest in an app, this should not mean they should relegate their website in favor of spending all their energy on this new app. Yes, the app is important–but so is the website. 

More than anything, I argue for change, in that we should change how we think about the web as an important part of a larger ecosystem (as opposed to an unimportant part of it)–and also in that we should advocate for browser changes that will heighten user experience so there isn't such a disparity between what can be done via native apps and what can be done via web, as well as improved UX within the website to reflect a cohesive strategic approach to all things digital and beyond for a business.

Again, thanks for the comment!

I'm not suggesting designing an app instead of creating a web site. There are a few apps that are consolidating a lot of the internet traffic (Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, AirBNB, Uber, etc) ... I am suggesting developing strategies for those platforms/apps that people are using everyday, instead of developing a robust web site that is an island (less people are likely to go to)

And my point is that we SHOULD be developing robust websites, but not ONLY developing robust websites. Offer great user experience everywhere. Sacrificing quality is never a good thing in my opinion. And above all, don't make the mistake of assuming any one avenue is the right fit for a business - users use the whole world. Companies should too.

"WEB DESIGN IS DEAD" is hyperbole ... but it's definitely on the decline.

I think there are two main reasons why "web designers" should start thinking about their career path.

  • Web traffic is on the decline - yes people will still use websites in the near future, but like a lot of other mediums internet traffic is becoming more fragmented so it makes sense for a marketer to use less of their digital budget on a web site and diversify their budget in other areas (facebook, instagram, pinteres, youtube, etc)
  • Value - Squarespace alone has wiped out a lot of small agencies because their solutions are reasonably good and their value is great. It might not be the best solution, but for the price it's a better value

net result there is less web design work and the budgets are getting smaller.

When google killed google reader that was a clear sign. RSS solved a ux problem, it helped aggregated content from disconnected web sites. Then more "user friendly" solutions became more popular to aggregate content (facebook, twitter, etc) and Google realized this so stopped putting resources in a declining product.

The term "design" was hijacked by graphic artists to refer to the visual aspect of design.  Coming from software engineering, "design" means so much more (The classic book "Design Patterns" from 20 years ago refers to reuse patterns of object-oriented software - design that is totally beyond the visual.)

It's good to see an article expanding the definition of "design" as it relates to web.  But for those who think in the old terms, their concept of "web design" is truly threatened. From a web project's budget, the percentage dedicated towards graphics has dropped sharply.  Installable templates/themes and do-it-yourself tools forces yesterday's web 'professional' to either get out or develop new and deeper skills.  While "web design" is not dead as long as we deepen its definition, the "web designer" must also deepen his/her offerings in order to survive as a professional.

Hey Randy, thanks for weighing in. I think more than anything in this article I'm trying to get across that those who currently think of web design as merely an aesthetic practice need to wake up and see the bigger picture. I think you effectively added nuance to that argument, so thanks!

I have to agree with you, Nick and disagree with Sergio. Thanks for this article and clearly pointing out why Web design isn't all wrong and why he's talking about it wrong. A guy like Sergio, apparently hasn't put in the time as some of us have (17 years and counting) to understand changing tides with web design will encourage you to move and flow in different ways, and if you're not agile in this business you don't belong in it!

Totally agree with Sarah. When I read Sergio's article--before I read any contrasting ones--I assumed that he's only been in the industry for 5-10 years. I also have 17 years in and we've seen the purpose, and therefore, design of websites morph many times and some old ways have died, (Flash just got another nail in the coffin), but the practice of web design will never do that because for the foreseeable future, we will need websites. I am not going to ask my users to download an app and take up resources on their personal devices for something that can be achieved with a website. We do need apps for specialized functions but if you just need to distribute information, NO. I do agree that user experience, product design, and other disciplines can help a web designer to make their "product" usable by getting into the heads of their audience, but I'm not going to abandon web design to go make chairs.

In any case, this was a wonderful article, Nick!

Thanks, Terri!

One thing I would like to point out: I don't think those in the 10-or-less-years bracket, in terms of experience, are necessarily more prone to not understanding the changing for times. Sergio himself expressed that when he graduated from art school, digital design was far less focused on websites and he's seen the web drastically change from then to now. Not saying I agree with the way he think the web is going (clearly. see article above lol), but I find it to be an unfair assessment that this has anything to do with being inexperienced. Also, I fall into that 10-or-less bracket. Just sayin'.

Love your comment on the use case for apps vs websites. We've been discussing that same topic in the office lately, and it's something I kinda wish I explicitly had in my article.

Thanks again!

I am sorry to have inferred that those in the 5-10 year bracket are less experienced. That is certainly not the case for everyone and I do think those just starting in web design are in a better position than I was at that point because they are automatically being taught the latest standards because the field has developed so much since I was in school and this gives them a better start. It's quite possible Sergio is more experienced than I in the technology and design, but I still think he might lack experience in the history of the field because if you look at history--how web design has gotten better and better--that doesn't signal death to me because, like any other living thing, it's continuing to grow.

Interestingly enough, Sergio has posted a follow-up to his article and took the time to explain the reasoning behind his claims and they're not as outlandish as the theories first seemed. He makes a good point that to call yourself a "web designer" is rather limiting today because the web is not the only endpoint to content consumption anymore; a lot of it is shifting to mobile, although I still disagree that apps wiill be the end-all. I work at a college and there is absolutely NO way we can fit everything our visitors need to know into Flipboard, Google News, and Facebook, which he cites. Now, I believe paring down your content to the basic necessities is always a good thing since there is so much content that people consume in a day, but I don't think the apps Sergio mentioned are ready yet to handle the content needs and organization of all businesses. Therefore, the web and websites are still an important element.

Quality uber alles, experience uber alles. And yes, TOTALLY agree that you'll never be able to fit everything a user needs into a news aggregator or any one curated experience via an app (unless you create it yourself). And even then you're only reaching those who use the app over the website. If you're robust everywhere, you reach everyone...or at least you get the ability to.

Thanks so much for your input, again!

Also, the AIs that he claims will replace designers...who do you think wrote the algorithms? That piece of software still needed human input. And design is so subjective that you could never write AI that would know what to do in every single situation. And if it does, it's likely relying on templates, which also have to be designed by a human first. Design takes an amount of emotion and intuition, which no robot yet has.

title should read: not dead you just suck at it