As a web designer, you certainly know the sinking, slightly helpless feeling when you come across advertisements à la "Your own website - create it yourself quickly and for free! Maybe you've also asked yourself questions like "Is my profession dying out?" or "Will I even be needed in the future?". I have dedicated myself to this topic and would like to present my findings to you today.
A short journey into the beginnings of web design helps us to venture a prognosis for the future. The profession of "web designer" has by no means followed a linear path. Since the emergence of the World Wide Web around 1991, the technological, graphic and psychological demands on the web and its users have changed constantly - and with them the demands on the profession of "web designer".
The beginnings of HTML and CSS
At the beginning of the web and web design, for example, no graphic elements were inserted on websites. All websites were programmed in HTML, so "web designer" and "developer" were considered one profession. Only since 1996 have style sheets been integrated with the help of CSS, so that an individual design of websites is possible.
What started out as a tool for presenting written information has now become an important platform for digital self-marketing for many companies. Today, it's hard to imagine our professional and private everyday life without websites.
The demand for quality is on the rise
Just a few years ago, companies, agencies and self-employed people could distinguish themselves by having a website at all. In the meantime, websites have become standard for anyone who wants to offer their services or share their knowledge and experience. With this change, the role of the web designer has become increasingly important and, moreover, divided into new divisions.
What one person used to be able to do - for example, upload limited formatted texts to a web server - is now often done by a whole team. New areas were added: among others, UX design, frontend and backend development, graphic design in the digital field and, of course, web design. Note that the responsibilities of the individual professions depend strongly on the respective company structure.
Due to the steady growth of the web and technological progress, it became indispensable to make this technology accessible to everyone. Today, almost everyone has the opportunity to make themselves visible on the web. The wealth of information has grown so enormously that we increasingly navigate the internet with the help of search engines.
A few examples of what is possible in web design today:
- Embedding animations in web browsers
- Create videos, photos, changing graphics and parallax
- Making selected areas accessible to specific target groups
- Integrate external content (such as advertising)
- Create complex experiences like browser games
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What exactly does a web designer do?
What are the daily tasks in web design? Why should we care about this profession? As a web designer, you design websites and other multimedia applications. This includes the graphic design of websites and often their technical implementation. So far, so good. Where are the dangers now?
The profession of "web designer" is not legally protected. In plain language, anyone can claim to be a web designer. The market is correspondingly crowded. It doesn't matter whether you taught yourself your skills or took a course of study. There is no classical training to gain a foothold in the job of "web designer".
Calling yourself a web designer does not guarantee that the results will be of high quality. I know from experience that you have to be convincing and authentic enough to your future clients and convince them of your expertise. This is different from the protected professions, where such a prerequisite is often given.
Furthermore, there are some hobby web designers who offer their skills for little money and thus push the price down or at least give your target group an unrealistic asking price. This can lead to misunderstandings, frustration and lost time on both sides.
Offers like these make life harder for the self-employed: competing on price against someone who has no social security contributions of their own to cover and is not dependent on making a profit is impossible in my opinion.
There are many career changers in web design. Until a few years ago, there were few further training courses and degree programs on the subject. Especially freelancers often work from home. This has made the profession of web designer very popular in recent years.
Laboriously writing every line of HTML for every new website is time-consuming. As a programmer, I would keep my code snippets and reuse them - for example as my own created library. The written form of the drag & drop tool, with the help of which I can create my own websites even as a novice.
In the meantime, we distinguish between drag & drop tools such as WordPress page builders and WordPress templates or WordPress themes. Another difference is made by the designation Content Management System (CMS), whereby WordPress is at the forefront with its market share. Followed by Joomla, Drupal, Magento (e-commerce), PrestaShop (e-commerce) and other, less widespread CMS such as TYPO3.
Despite everything, as a user I often need at least a basic understanding of programming if I want to create my website with the help of a free CMS such as WordPress. Without this knowledge, only basic functions are available to me. However, the freedom of design is not easily accessible to me. Now, I can either make do with the limited version or learn the programming in depth. Or I can buy themes where I only have to fill them with the appropriate content.
Drag & drop tools
Drag & drop tools such as WordPress Page Builder, Squarespace, Wix, Weebly on the other hand, give me design freedom with little expertise – at least at first glance. Because if I want to implement very specific designs or integrate more specialized functions (such as an online shop), I quickly reach my limits here. Of course, this only applies to the free versions. Moreover, my website is only displayed without advertising and without clear branding if I have paid accounts that function like a subscription.
Page Builder: Curse or Blessing For The World Of WordPress?
From these prerequisites, new specifications have in turn evolved. Now there are specialized WordPress developers who only deal with WordPress and PHP. At the same time, there are self-appointed designers who offer low-quality websites for too much money.
At first glance, it looks like our profession will die out in the next few years. One could get the feeling that our expertise in web design will soon no longer be needed.
If anyone can put together a website and buy themes for little cost – How can I then justify as a web designer that a website can cost me several thousand euros depending on the scope? Do I have to adjust my prices to remain competitive?
What can we do that these tools cannot?
We create websites that are 100% aligned with the corporate brand. Our websites focus on those who use them and their experience. We put ourselves in their shoes, track their potential mistakes and prevent frustration before it happens. We keep the website up to date, manage its security and engage personally with our clients.
While a template is tailored to a broader audience, I engage with my target group. I try to create something that is tailored to them. The websites we create for our clients are unique and free of third-party branding in the footer. With my websites, my clients know exactly what is being tracked and stored. So they can create their cookie notice with a clear conscience. Our clients get what they need. Sometimes this includes creating a complete corporate identity, sometimes a landing page and sometimes even just advice.
Domains, backend & responsive design
As a web designer, you're familiar with domain hosting, know how to access the backend, and can find and fix errors. Very few programs offer sufficiently sophisticated use on mobile devices – which is of course insufficient in the long run with over 60 percent access from smaller screens.
What else do we pay attention to? SEO-optimized content, fast loading times, web-optimized images and videos, font pairings and font sizes, legal requirements. Why does a user flow of a website appear harmonious? How much text is too much? How do we arrange information in such a way that it is easily digestible for readers and reaches them?
These are all topics we deal with every day. Topics that are foreign to newcomers at first and are not easily covered by page builders and themes.
How do I personally deal with it?
Do I adjust my prices? No. My time and knowledge have not lost their value. Nevertheless, I understand that there are clients who cannot (or do not want to) afford a website created by me. I find that perfectly acceptable.
Especially as a new company, these costs are often not taken into account. I even recommend that these customers use such construction tools. Those who are afraid of costs are perhaps better advised to sit down for an afternoon, watch tutorials and create the website themselves. I offer my advice and explain the pros and cons. That a website created by me first represents a lot of costs, but also that a subscription style payment method can cost more in the long run. If I notice that the technical affinity is lacking, I even offer to give short introductions to these tools.
We simply have to be aware that not everyone needs a professionally created website. So we can use the tools that are already ready for us in a positive way.
Websites are marketing tools and depending on the services I offer with my company; off-the-shelf websites are enough.
And it's not uncommon for precisely these clients to come back to me later when they have the financial means to create a website that is professionally tailored to them.
Drag and drop tools, page builder & Co.
Another big topic is Do It Yourself (DIY) websites and WordPress page builders. With the programs and web applications that are now available, it is becoming easier and easier to create a website without programming or specialist knowledge.
The 16 Most Popular WordPress Page Builders in Comparison
In a time when almost everyone has access to the internet, a simple company website is no longer enough to stand out against the competition. The internet has made a huge leap towards the user. The focus is more on reaching and engaging visitors to your website than simply presenting the most necessary information on the company website. To achieve this, it takes more than a sense of aesthetics and time to learn drag & drop tools or page builders such as Elementor .
How can you stand up to it?
As with every product, the following also applies to us: you can't offer the perfect product for everyone. Instead, you should be clear about what makes your service special, what sets you apart from the competition and, above all, who your target group is or is not.
Your prices should be fair and transparent – so that you can defend them. Especially as a newcomer, you often sell yourself short. I would strongly advise against that.
Clearly visible prices help you to weed out customers who don't belong to your target group.
A professionally designed website that provides a convincing insight into your services is indispensable. If you realize that your own website has long been less of a priority than that of your customers, then it makes sense to hire someone for web design who can optimally communicate your brand for you.
A high-quality portfolio explains higher prices. Your potential client already gets an idea of what kind of cooperation he can expect from you.
Especially as a freelancer, as mentioned before, you always have to stay up to date. This includes continuing your education. If the majority of your clients need not only a website but also an SEO strategy, you should think about whether it's worthwhile to expand your expertise.
In the future, it will no longer be enough to be good in one area. As a web designer, you should seek additional expertise. Exciting areas include SEO, WordPress development, marketing, programming, security, content, user experience and testing.
In a time when almost all information is publicly accessible, this doesn't automatically mean that we have the time and patience to deal with it. The tax advisor's profession has not died out despite the emergence of programs like WISO or the online tool Elster. On the contrary, we still need their expert advice of many topics.
Perhaps our profession will also evolve a little more away from the practical to the advisory function. That our future clients will develop more independently with the help of our expert guidance.
Of course, anyone who works with technology cannot afford to stand still. Just as the profession of web design has constantly changed since its inception, it will have to adapt again in the future. We have to constantly think about what added value we offer compared to automated programs and develop it further.
"Change" also means exciting opportunities for further development
We can specialize in different areas and focus more on the user and their experience, for example. Digital experiences are becoming more and more individualized. Who knows, maybe in the future we'll see websites that look different on every device and for every user? Maybe our digital business cards will soon be holograms? VR and AR functions, which will certainly be integrated on websites in the future, can be actively shaped by us as designers. The basic idea of a website is still to present information. There are no limits to our creativity in how we communicate this information in the future – and we have a head start on automated programs
IT professions are still sought after, offering a promising future as well as good money - not only in Europe but worldwide. To "actively shape our future" is far beyond an advertisement.
The coronavirus pandemic and changing needs
In 2020, I published this article for the first time - and a lot has happened since then. Let's think back to October 2019: While the digital industry in Germany is thinking about whether and how our professions might change in the next few years, we are facing one of the biggest digital challenges of recent years: Covid19. What does this mean for the web design profession? How have we grown since then? What growth is still ahead of us?
The trend towards remote work had been around for a while and was intensified by the pandemic. Back in 2019, working from home was a rarity and then suddenly it became the main working model. This put many companies to the test. But there were also aha moments: a completely remote team can also work wonderfully.
Many workers who enjoyed more free time and more family time because of the lack of commuting no longer want to miss the benefits. The consequence: remote jobs like that of web designer are becoming more and more popular.
With the changing work and life situation came entirely new demands on our websites and apps. People who spend a lot of time in isolation and at home are looking for more personal experiences in dealing with our digital products.
Companies that had previously been able to sell their products in person had to act quickly and switch to digital. Catering businesses had to change their concepts and try to reach their customers digitally. Food delivery was used much more often. Solutions had to be found for data transfer, meetings and communication in general. To name just a few areas where adaptation was necessary.
All these rapid changes required fast, cleanly implemented and well thought-out solutions. Not only that: especially in the digital industry, we see ourselves constantly changing, because we have to recognize the changing needs and react to them as quickly as possible. This often means that, as a web designer, you have to constantly educate yourself and reinvent yourself. And at the same time, it means that websites and web applications have an ever-shorter life cycle. This means that clients often develop into longer-lasting partnerships.
What forecasts can we still make for the future?
In their article Professions with a Future: Current Trends and Prospects, Digitale-talente.com have analyzed professions in a wide range of fields.
Above all, employees in the professions with a future must have a lot of technical know-how, because in times of digital workplaces or Work 4.0, work is changing away from the rigid workplace towards more mobility and virtual collaboration. Knowledge of computers, media and good self-management are important here.Digital-talents.com
With digitalization, creative professions in particular have been created, some of which don't yet belong to any classical training in Germany and will only be further developed in the future. The creative professions with a future include above all: online marketing manager, social media manager, graphic designer, content writer or copywriter, communication designer, user experience designer, web designer.
As a web designer, you still belong to a young profession. Even if it seems like there's a surplus of skilled workers, we need more and more expertise in the field of digitalization. We can assume that these professions will continue to subdivide. This means that some job titles will drop out and be replaced by more specific ones.
As a web designer, you could, for example, create online shops or focus your expertise on web applications. AR and VR will continue to play a role and have their long-awaited breakthrough in web design.
In addition, our websites need more and more care and maintenance. Most orders nowadays are not finished when you're done building the website. Content has to be adapted to new trends and technologies. Plugins and themes have to be updated and monitored for compatibility. Security gaps have to be identified and fixed.
In the future, our websites must be just as agile and adaptable as we are. Websites need to be relaunched at regular intervals. Be it because the technology changes or the design is no longer up to date – a job with a future.
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Stay up to date
The mass of information surrounding web design is extremely large and hard to keep track of. The websites you should visit to keep yourself informed depend on your respective focus. I have specialized in UX design and frontend. I regularly visit the following blogs and websites:
- Smashing Magazine has useful practical articles from the fields of web design and development.
- UXPA UK shares a lot of information as well as workshops and discussion rounds on the topic of UX.
- Awwwards offers a wide selection of award-winning websites that inspire and follow current trends.
On Instagram & Co. I regularly search for sites and people who provide relevant context for me. This keeps me up to date with new tools that can make my life as a web designer easier.
In the meantime, a wide variety of courses for further education are offered online – whether for self-learning or accompanied by a professional. These include Udemy, Webmasters Europe, Interaction Design Foundation and many more.
In addition, you'll increasingly find (location-independent) Bachelor's and Master's degree programs with a focus on media and design. Before you spend a lot of money on a course or degree program, I recommend reading testimonials and (if possible) taking a trial course.