Is There a Future for the Web Designer?

By Jenny Knizner | Dec 17, 2015
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As they say, you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. We’ve done much reflecting over the past week on how our agency has taken shape, as well as the last 10 years in web design, web development and SEO. One constant in each of these posts is that every day seems to bring the release of some new technology, tool, algorithm update, you name it. And with that, our agency’s culture, service offerings and best practices also have adapted and evolved.

Looking back at the web designer I was four years ago, I am truly amazed at how much I have been able to learn and grow since I started working for Marketing Mojo. The agency environment (and Janet, really) fosters my need to learn everything, throw out the junk and get better.

Earlier this year, I read several articles claiming that web design is a dying profession. Looking around the web, it’s hard to believe this claim, but when thinking about changes in client demands and expectations, technology releases and improvements and today’s fads, these doomsayers make some valid points:

  • Prefab templates built on framework like WordPress, Blogger, Squarespace, etc. offer good enough website structures and designs for small businesses that need a solution that is free or cheap.
  • Web design patterns have matured to the point that getting too creative or innovative with your site layout would be pointless or even harmful.
  • Automated web design services are becoming more and more popular.
  • Many small businesses opt for using other methods to establish an online presence, such as Facebook pages, Etsy and Ebay stores.
  • And my personal favorite claim: “Mobile is Killing the Web.” I agree that mobile browsing is still not where it should be, but, really, killing the web?

While these statements hold water, I hardly see them signalling the end of web design. Just as I have learned, adapted and improved, I would urge other designers to not ignore these realities but instead learn from them and adapt.

Ultimately, we’re more looking at a shift in focus from the pre-2005 vision of web design being the practice of interweb prettification to a network of interrelated services that require consideration in information architecture, web development, marketing strategy, and content all working together to promote a good user experience.

I’m not saying that every designer should be or even could be a marketer, copy writer, UX or SEO expert and programmer. And if you’re an employer or client thinking that’s who you are going to hire, then you are looking for a unicorn and will never be satisfied. You may find someone close, but you really need a team to get it right these days. But designers, I urge you to start getting data-driven now. You need to start adapting, or you’ll become extinct like the dinosaurs.

Best Practices for the Future

Not Just a Pretty Face

If you are thinking of design as just aesthetics or making something pretty, then you’re just looking at the tip of the iceberg, or more like just the seals chilling on top of that iceberg. Visual considerations are only as useful as the efficiency, speed, accessibility, theory, strategy, and code behind it.

our-future-seal

What do you mean “I’m not a pretty face?”

Data-Driven Approach

With all the data available to you today, quantitative or qualitative, it is no longer acceptable to just design based on your gut or your clients’ opinions of what looks pretty. If you aren’t tracking your site users’ actions, get Google Analytics on your site stat. Consider investing in a marketing automation tool for even more insights. Heat maps and click maps are also amazing, but sometimes a straight survey will be the only thing that really answers the “why” of a problem that your analytics data has uncovered.

Conversion Tracking and Optimization

We’ve seen the web shift from electronic brochures to interactive content with forms and downloads, allowing your website to be your hardest working sales person, generating leads and selling 24/7. But if you don’t have an idea of how many people and who specifically is converting on those important actions, how will you know if your site is truly successful? We still battle the issue of missing or incorrect conversion tracking on client sites and analytics accounts all the time. Don’t be that guy.

Design for SEO

The Search Engine Optimization business has changed just as much as, if not more than, web design since 2005, and probably “the biggest change from 2005 to now is 2005: Emphasis almost 100% on External Link Volume. 2015: Emphasis on over 200 different ranking factors” says Tad Miller.

This means you most certainly cannot just design your site and then get folks to link to it. No more if-you-build-it-they-will-come-Field-of-Dreams mentality — that just won’t work any longer. You’ll need to be sure that SEO is considered from the onset of a design project and then every step of the way after that. Images need to be optimized, and image-heavy designs may need to be reconsidered (the giant background image trend is pretty awesome but so heavy for page speed). And schema isn’t just someone misspelling scheme, I promise.

ifyoubuildittheywillcome

“If you build it, they will come” only works in Iowa.

If you’re looking for suggestions on designing for SEO, take a look at our checklist: 16 Web Design Essentials You Need for SEO Success.

Mobile-First Strategy

While I am still guilty of not always writing the mobile CSS code first, I am most certainly keeping the mobile audience that makes up 20% (and growing) of our website traffic top-of-mind when designing. Create a user experience for all platforms, mobile first.

But let’s be honest, EVERYTHING still needs to be designed, including all those templates SMBs are using on WordPress and Facebook. I only urge you to design better, with greater care and consideration above and beyond just aesthetics.

How does web design look in your crystal ball? Comment below or holler at me on Twitter @JennyKnizner. P.S. that was a subtle request for Photoshopped gypsy pics.

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