Web design is (finally!) dying of irrelevance. Web pages themselves are no longer the center of the Internet experience, which is why designers need to move on to the next challenges—products and ecosystems—if they want to stay relevant.

Web design has no future—a risky statement I know, but this article explains why it has no future and what we, as designers, can do about it. As a discipline, web design has already exhausted its possibilities, an emerging combination of tech and cultural trends highlight the need for a broader approach.

Let’s start with the symptoms of this inminent death.

Symptom 1: Commoditization by Templates

Most of the content that you see on the web today is run by some framework or service—WordPress, Blogger, Drupal, you name it. Frameworks provide you a foundation and shortcuts so you spend less time struggling with the creation of a web site, and more time creating content.

As a consequence of the ubiquity of these frameworks, a whole world of free and paid templates lets you get started with a professional-looking design in minutes. Why hire a web designer if you can achieve a fairly acceptable design for a fraction of the cost using a template? Actually, many web designers (especially the ones on the cheaper side) just pick a pre-made template and make some minor branding customizations.

Either way, if your web page is a standard, informational one, there’s probably a template out there that can do the job for you.

Symptom 2: Web Design Patterns are Mature

What is the latest web design innovation you can point a finger on? Responsive design? That’s digital ages old. Parallax? Useless eye-candy. The web has had all the user interface components and patterns you might need for a while now (and no, parallax is not something we really ever needed). And that’s why you don’t see much innovation in web patterns as of late.

This maturity is good for users: they will find consistency in their daily use of the web. Checkout forms, shopping carts, and login pages should all behave in a similar way. Trying to get creative at this point will probably be pointless or even harmful.

Symptom 3: Automation and Artificial Intelligence are Already Doing the Job

There’s a new trend of automated web design services, arguably started by The Grid. It’s a service to build basic websites which makes design decisions—semantic ones—based on artificial intelligence. It analyzes your content to detect the best layouts, colors, fonts, and extra imagery for your site. 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.

When something can be successfully automated, it means that its practices and standards are established enough as not to need much human input. And this is obviously the beginning. There will be a fierce competition about which service can deliver better designs, faster, and with less human intervention.

Symptom 4: Facebook Pages as the New Small-Business Homepage

In the late 1990’s, future-minded businesses would buy their .com’s, purchase expensive hosting plans, and hire a “web master” in order to have The Web Page, the one that would make them visible to the rest of the Internet. By 2005, creating a site in Blogger or WordPress.com was more than enough for your new wedding photo business (it was also quick and free).

Today, this function has been completely overridden by Facebook pages. They are free, made to be viral out of the box, offer powerful tools only available to big businesses a decade ago (like subscription for updates or media posting), and are as easy to set up as your own profile page. They are so efficient in making a business visible that they are rendering basic web pages useless.

Symptom 5: Mobile is Killing the Web

How often do you visit a web site from your mobile device by directly typing the address? Only when you don’t have the app, right? People don’t seem to think much in terms of web pages these days: they think of digital brands, which mostly translate to apps or subscriptions (likes, follows, etc). That’s why most big websites, blogs, and portals are pushing their mobile apps to you—out of home screen, out of mind.

Mobile web has always been slow and cumbersome. Typing addresses is weird. Navigating between tabs is weird. Our underpowered mobile devices and saturated data networks don’t help create a smooth web experience like the one we have in our desktop machines.

As vital as responsive web design is (not adopting it is commiting digital suicide), it only guarantees that your user can view your page in a mobile device, if she ever finds it in first place. And the limited space in her mind is already mostly occupied by apps.

The Rise of Web Services and the Content that Finds You

The truth is, we need fewer web pages, not more of them. There are already too many competing for our attention and assuming selfishly that we have all the time in the world to close pop-up ads, explore navigational hierarchies, and be dazzled by transitions, intros, and effects.

But what really matters is not how you arrange things on a page: it’s the content, in terms of a specific user need. That’s why Google is starting to display actual content in some search results, without you having to visit another page. Just an example: if you Google a nearby restaurant from your mobile device, the search results include a button to directly call the place. You don’t even need to visit the page. The page designer’s ego and the visits-counter may suffer a bit, but ultimately the user experience is improved.

As a discipline, web design has already exhausted its possibilities

Things are moving in the direction of digital assistants like Siri, and especially Google Now with the new changes announced for Android M: they aim to provide you the exact bit of information you need, when you need it. This implies a shift from web pages to web services: self-sufficient bits of information that can be combined to other services to deliver value. So if you are looking for a restaurant, you get the reviews from Foursquare or Yelp, the directions from Google Maps and the traffic conditions from Waze.

Even more: we are transitioning to a push-based model of content consumption, where the right information arrives without you even requesting it. Google Now, for instance, warns you of how early you should depart in order to arrive on time to your meeting. All of this is already happening thanks to APIs—interfaces that let other services interact with your data. In this world, web pages are not required at all.

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. But there’s nothing interesting there for designers anymore. They are a commodity and a medium, no longer the default state for digital products and businesses.

Web pages are static content that need to be found and visited (pull-based). But in the emerging push-based paradigm, the content finds you. Through data obtained from your context, your activity, and even your biometrics, content and tools will smartly present themselves to you when you are most likely to need them.

That’s the big thing about the new breed of smartwatches: they obtain data from your body and show you proactively tiny bits of information for your brain to chew on. Computer technology is already making big steps in order to dissapear from your sight.

Where does this leave us?

Web Design is Dead, Long Live UX Design

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.

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.

And all these touchpoints need to be designed, planned, and managed. This is a job that will continue to exist, regardless of the channel. We will still need cohesive experiences and valuable content across smart climatizers, virtual reality devices, electronic contact lenses, and whatever we invent in the decades to come.

In fact, as technology fades into the background, all we can see is the value transmitted by it. The designers who want to stay in business need to be experts in managing content and value across channels.

It’s time for us to grow up, because we have been part of the problem: we have helped to give birth to self-righteous web pages that assume they deserve to be watched and awarded just for the time we invested in crafting them. Now more than ever, in a world flooded with cognitive noise, the world needs simple, intelligent, integrated ecosystems of information. The sooner designers embrace this need, the better prepared we’ll be for the future.

Image of dewy cobweb courtesy Shutterstock.


Check out our interview with Sergio Nouvel, where we discuss this popular and convtroversial article in greater detail. (MP3)

Article No. 1 449 | June 9, 2015
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  • 1- Why do you assume that anyone can use/set up templates? That's just plain wrong
  • 2- Web Design Patterns are Mature?? What..? It's like saying "tshirts design is now mature" That sounds bad doesn't it?
  • 3- AI. Well right.. potentially AI can replace every human being in every circumstances, that's the whole point of AI. Still, that doesn't exist just yet (The Grid really??), but web design won't matter much by then I suppose.
  • 4- Facebook pages. Yeah, that works well for babysitters and maybe plumbers but can we talk about actual businesses delivering a lot of structured contents through their websites??
  • 5- Mobile is Killing the Web? More like somehow re-inventing maybe? Do you really think people will install an app for every website they want to surf on?! Mobile browsers (an app that browses the web, now that's genius) have a long life ahead of them.

The essential point you're missing is that brands want to STAND OUT. It's called competition and every business wants to be more visible than the next one. You need to ADVERTISE your services/products/contents in a creative/pleasant way if you want people to remember you and come back to you. I've never heard of standard/templated/data-oriented advertising strategy. But yeah sure, why would anyone hire a webdesigner when even Word97 can export HTML?!

just for a good measure, nowadays journalism is dead and bloggers are taking over. here is my post to mashable FB page who rehashed this article... Rarely seen a more BS click bait article than this. Just to emphasize usability you cant claim that something else is going to disappear (die). Shows again how little understanding mashable bloggers - wanna be journalists have about the topic.If you would have asked someone who is actually in the industry you would know that- templates are worth nothing without the proper tool driving it. often those CMS are to complicated to setup for users them self, even installing a template and configuring it right can be a nightmare.- 'web design patterns are mature' thats what i call bullshit bingo catch phrases with out meaning. there is innovation in web patterns every day. just people dont notice it anymore because its well done.- artificial intelligence: just because one site posts some automated design it doesnt mean its going to catch on. its design is limited and its not what majority of small business will ever want.- facebook is not replacing business websites and shops. it is adding to it,yes, but not replacing by far. a lot of illegal trade is going on on social media, legal much less.- mobile websites slow? majority has 3-4g or higher, the speed of connection and CPU is high enough to download and display websites fast. never had a problem googling one even incomplete word to find website and click on link.. why typing all? and ever heard of history and automatic suggestions while typing urls?- what has siri to do with webdesign? it doesnt replace it. it just compliments a website.just because you wish something in your wildest wet dreams it doesnt mean its becoming true. imminent death... bitch please! get a real job

my comment might look harsh, but in reality people are fed up with catchy titles and blogger articles which say something but mean something else.. on mashable FB repost of this everybody is in uproar over the article and the statements claimed here.if you would have said  "golden era of usability design" in the title, it would have been all fine :) 

You seem like an intelligent guy.. perhaps there is a wrong definition of what 'web design' actually isWhat you wrote sounds like 'web design' is something a nephew of the company owner does in his spare time. In reality usability is less than 10% of a web site or web app design process. there is information design, graphic design (web design?!), architecture design (technical).yes usability is important and most web designers do not have an idea about it.Web design is not dying anytime soon... :)

Patently ridiculous supposition. Fails on all counts.

Does he know he just said that millions of people who don't use "smart" phones are irrelevant?

Everyday in my professional capacity I speak with people trying to use my employer's product/service to build their website. The majorty of these people are those for whom the personal computer as a business tool and the commercial internet as a communications medium are just something that happened to other people. Most of them have no idea where the pc ends and the internet begins. They have the gravest difficulty with how to copy and paste something with their mouse. They have no idea what a web browser is. That kind of ubiquity might actually be a positive development if the technology was anywhere's near up to it. After twenty years it still is not. 

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there. Does it make a sound? I gurantee you the thousands of my employer's customers I have spoken with over the past five years have no idea they have become irrelevant.

What you are talking about might actually come to pass in another twenty or thirty years. But I doubt it. To believe otherwise is to deny the essential state of human nature.

 

I think one of the reasons not outlined in this article that has caused this descent into production-level web design is pricing. I used to work for a small web design firm in Denver, CO who was building a website for a rather large charity. The thing that shocked me a bit was that the design process for this website lasted months on end. Consistent changes were requested and made, and I ended up leaving the business before it was completed.

The thing is, the charity had money to burn on something like this. They had money to throw at the designer to develop wireframes, detailed comps and more. Most businesses do not have or are unwilling to spend that amount of money on a website. This in turn creates less demand for the more expensive designers while others reduce their prices. Price reductions mean the designer can't soend the same amount of time on a project, hence the development of tools like Wordpress to accomodate. 

Anyway, just my thoughts.

(comment ended up as a reply, sorry for the repeat)

Agreed with your article on many points. Web patterns are mature and a designer making an attempt to redesign say the checkout process in a radical new way could be detrimental to your customer's experience and completing the task at hand. The problem with web design tools (e.g. Wix, Squarespace, Wordpress) is that we are enabling anyone with a computer to "design" a website. Remove user research, user testing, IA, task flows, user goals etc.. from a web product and you get pretty looking page components full of dead ends, frustration points and utlimatly bad design, as what everyone reading this would consider to be so. These tools also enable even more websites to be created, so is this really adventageous to the web as a whole?

Web design from a technical point of view might be "dead" as implied here where coding knowlege is no longer a requriement to get content to the web. Traditionally wed designers not only had to devise the layout, styling and assetts, but they also had to code it. By removing the technical barrier, web design is no longer viewed as highly specialized craft, but rather it's now a commodity. 

While I agree that as design professionals we need to take a broader approach to our products and understand that our customers have numerous means in accessing content, it is premature to say that responsive design is old news. I consistently come across products and businesses that utterly fail to present users with relevent and well structured content on mobile devices. People in general are using their phones for multiple tasks (photos, video, health tracking) outside the spectrum of accessing web content and simply will not take the time or enenery to download an app for every content type that interests them. 

I do think that most of the Web out there has to keep up with standards that are not really new at all, like responsive design. They're anything but a novelty for those who are interested in the field. But what you mention that makes a Web product successful (user research, IA, task flows, user goals, etc)., is that make a digital product successful, regardless of the medium. Same applies to mobile, virtual reality, hibrid systems, service design, etc.

So the broader approach frees us up from having to center our strategy and our decisions to websites, because in many cases a standard website doesn't make sense anymore.

With regards to your point: "People in general are using their phones for multiple tasks (photos, video, health tracking) outside the spectrum of accessing web content and simply will not take the time or enenery to download an app for every content type that interests them", that is true, because we already have apps for it: we consume most of our Web content through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other similar apps. Sometimes they show us the content through an embedded Web browser, but sometimes they don't have to. 

I totally agree with your points raised here however I think your assumption of 'Web design' is incorrect. Because what you're implying is that web design is designing pages for the desktop...and what the title should be is 'Web page design is dead' or 'Those designers who choose to be complacent and design template driven sites, not acknowledging content can be fragmented, redistributed and be viewed on any device that has internet access and who are not continually upgrading their skill set are dead'..

And I really love how UX'ers want to distance themselves from the term 'web designer'..cracks me up..

 

Doesn't each device that has access to the internet have access to the web? Which you design for the experience for? Long live UX'ers!

 

As someone who transitioned from web designer in the late 90s to UX practicioner in the mid-2000s, what the article says is for the most part spot on, even if it could be said on a less vitriolic tone. The last 20 years of web development were those of (re)inventing the wheel, as there really was none. Today, there is no more wheel to invent - we already have a mature, adaptable and robust system of standards, protocols, templates and whatnot that works for most everyone. What the author probably really wanted to state across is that web design, understood as mere window dressing or aesthetic eye candy — yeah, that is really, truly, absolutely dead now. If that is still your idea of web design, better stick to t-shirts instead.

 

Skeumorphization gave (thankfully) way to minimal, flat interfaces where what really matters is the content and what you do with it. Looks here play a second role to purpose and are, in any case, a consequence of this new approach to web development. Form (finally) follows function — the way it should always have been. And that's why UX will still be relevant as a career for years to come — since it's all about interaction with elements and achieving goals/purposes, regardless of whether you're using a computer, a watch or a percolator.

I think you summarized it perfectly.

For more tools and products than can you help to build a web site, e-commerce site, the web design isn't only design, includes a many other aptitudes and abilities, than the itself job needs. The design patterns can telling you a history it support the user can interact but the persons, calls normal person isn't have and idea about it, also the web design is design based in a branding, the most of companies hiring designers because they need the designer adapt their branding to the website,even apart the tool or rules like you mention.

Regards.

That's why is WEB design which I argue it's dead, not design itself, not even design that uses Web as a medium. Branding, content, interaction, all of them exceed Web design itself and are more required than ever, now that Web design is so commoditized. So this is an opportunity to think what really means being a designer in these days.

Cheers!

Must disagree on almost every point made here. This is by no means a "new" article. You can go back to 2010 and find similar UX people waxing poetic about the death throes of web design.

 

Did you know the great designers of today are very well versed in Architecture, Persona Development, User experience, and Human Centered Design techniques. Simply stating anyone can just get a template is a little bit arrogant and misses the key points of...

"Is this template Accessible or Compliant?"

"Do I need to create additional functionality beyond this basic template?"

"Is this the same template others in my field are using?"

"is simply stuffing in a few modules or plugins going to allow my site to remain secure for the long term?"

"Do I support it?"

"Am I going to have to force my users to bend to the pre-made plugins functions or should I design ones that actually work for the end user?"

 

These are all design questions.

 

Sure, Facebook is a great way for small businesses to reach out and communicate to their audience, but generally it's mostly used as a method of broadcasting outward & most interaction is usually completely one sided. Posts will almost inevitably fall directly into the dreaded internet vaccuum unless they are willing to pay to promote those posts, and what then? "Here's our facebook post for something we're selling, if you want to learn more or perchance go buy it..." Where do you go? You can't exactly offer sales or transactions off of Facebook, so at it's best for small businesses, it's a clumsy CRM tool. Small businesses need a presence beyond just broadcasting. ( I can't imagine your twitter feed if this is truly your belief. )

 

The "everyone needs an app because using a website on a phone is a terrible user experience" argument is nonsense and backwards too. You know who needs apps? "Apps need apps" websites do not, at least not all the time.

 

Isn't making a user who may just want your phone number or address to make contact with you, who you've forced to download "an app" a pretty shit user experience? Do you like getting to a website for the first time and being asked to do their survey?  Well this is worse.

 

I think the argument you should be making, is as UX people we need to stop relying on Templates, Automation, and cramming Users into the same one size fits all bucket. Maybe as UX people we should learn more about design, just like the great web designers of today have been learning and honing their UX chops and creating tools you're all currently enjoying.

 

In the end No, design isn't going anyplace, this methodology you've described is a recipe for stifling innovation & advancement in a theatre that's really only barely a over a decade and change old.

 

We have to keep growing as creators of content, design, experiences, and we cannot start on this path of thinking The UX people can just go it alone.

“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”

― Eric Schmidt

I'm so glad you've figured it out Sergio.

It's funny, because in the article actually I agree with every point you make. The thing is: content does not equate with Web. It's content the thing that needs atention and craft, not the Web as a self-justified medium. But you already pointed in that direction too.

Cheers,Sergio