From the title, you can see where I’m going with this. And you’re probably thinking that I’ll really have to back that assertion up, which I think I can do. In effect, the idea that we’ve had for the past decade of what web design is, is dead. There is still a lot of value in aesthetically pleasing design on the web, but it doesn’t hold nearly as much importance or meaning as it once did. If you can get over that wild idea, read on to find out why I think why.
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, a sole web site hosted on a server and delivered to a browser was the one and only way of massively communicating. Early on in the web, sites that functioned like glorified print publications only allowed for one way communication from the messenger to the reader of it. We would put up email links to allow for some limited discussion, but that was mainly it. Things like message boards and Usenet have existed for a long time, but those have been fringe venues that have never caught on with mainstream users.
Now lets go forward a few years more to where blogs became prevalent on the web. This was early on in the 2000’s before the time of Twitter and Facebook. At this point, more mainstream and “normal” web users have a more efficient way of publishing their own content via outlets like Blogger. It also facilitated an easier way of communication, with readers of blogs being able to quickly and easily comment on each post. Authors and readers of blogs began to form communities by creating link rolls on each of their sites. Eventually, larger organizations such as colleges and companies started adopting blogs and joined in on the kind of community and discussion that it enabled.
As we go forward a bit more, things like Facebook and Twitter have made that kind of simple point to point communication even more simple. By following or liking a page or product, information and updates are aggregated and delivered to the reader. Now information comes directly to a reader instead of them having to seek out a site each time. This kind of aggregation also gives groups and brands a level playing field by giving each one just as much space in a tweet or Facebook update.
As this kind of simple point-to-point communication becomes more accepted and widespread, I feel that the value of a web site as we’ve come to think of it has been greatly lessened. There will always be a need for a web site to exist so that interested readers can find a collection of information curated in a more specific way for them, but the modern web isn’t really about lengthy or involved reading. Aside from areas within academia, modern web readers aren’t going to become that involved.
There will still certainly be a place for web development. There will always be more ways to expand how we can use the web to communicate, and it will take more talented developers to enhance what we already have and create what we don’t. And there is certainly still a place for design on the web. Devices like Android tablets and iPads provide for almost physical real estate that beg for print-like design. But as those kind of devices become more prevalent, they make traditional computers the “trucks” of computing that fewer readers will use. How people view content online has changed and is continuing to change very quickly. As a designer, I feel it’s important for me to rethink what it is I’m publishing because of that. If I’m writing and designing content all day long, does it really matter if everyone is just on Facebook and Twitter all day and aren’t actually visiting my site?
I originally wanted to title this article simple “Web Design Is Dead,” but I realized that isn’t true. What we’ve come to expect from it and what we’ve assumed of it has just changed drastically in the past few years. How people use the web is now different, so it’s time to re-evaluate how we design and publish for it. Do we care more about what something looks like, or how effectively people are effectively communicating and being communicated to?