Which web designer doesn't know the sinking, slightly helpless feeling when you stumble across ads á la "Your own website - do it yourself for free and fast!". You quickly ask yourself the question "is my profession dying out? Will I even be needed in the future?" I have dedicated myself to this question a bit more intensively and would like to present my findings to you.
A little journey into the beginnings of web design could help us forecast future changes. The profession of web designer hasn't followed a linear path at all. Since the emergence of the World Wide Web (WWW) around 1991, the technological, graphic and psychological demands on the web and its users have changed constantly - and with it the demands on the web design profession.
The beginnings of HTML and CSS
In the beginning, for example, no graphic elements were inserted at all and all websites were programmed in HTML, so that web designers and web developers were still a single profession. Only since 1996 have style sheets been integrated with the help of CSS, so that an individual design of the websites is possible.
What was at the beginning merely a tool for presenting written information has now become an important platform for digital self-marketing for many companies. Today, it is hard to imagine our professional as well as private everyday life without websites.
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The demand for quality is on the rise
While a few years ago you could stand out by having a website at all, these have now 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 also divided into new divisions. What one person could do in the past - namely upload limited formatted text to a web server - is now often done by a whole team. New job titles were added, such as UX designer, front-end and back-end developer, graphic designer in the digital field and, of course, web designer. Whereby the areas of responsibility of the individual professions strongly depend on the respective company structure.
Due to the steady growth of the WWW and technological progress, it became essential to make this technology accessible to everyone, no matter their skills.
Nowadays almost everyone has the opportunity to make themselves visible on the web. Information and data has grown so enormously that we almost only know how to use the internet with the help of search engines.
We can now incorporate animations into our web browsers, as well as create videos, photos, motion graphics, parallax and make certain areas accessible to certain users. In addition, we can integrate third-party content, e.g. advertising and let the user decide for themselves what information is stored in their browser. Or we can create complex experiences such as browser games, or display information tailored to the individual user, such as online banking. These are just a few examples of what's possible.
Laboriously writing every line of HTML for every new website is time-consuming. As a programmer, I would keep code snippets that I have already written so that I can reuse them. In other words, "copy-paste" from my own library. The written form of the drag-and-drop tool, with the help of which I can create websites even as an inexperienced user.
In the meantime, we distinguish between drag-and-drop tools (e.g. Wix or some WordPress Plugins like Page Builder) and templates, or Themes (like those from WordPress ). Another difference here also makes the designation CMS (Content Management System), with being in the lead with WordPress its market share. Followed by Joomla, Drupal, Magento (e-commerce), PrestaShop (e-commerce) and other, less common CMS like TYPO3.
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. Without this knowledge, basic functions are available to me, but freedom of design is not readily apparent. Now, I can either make do with the limited version, get to grips with programming in depth, or purchase themes that I only have to fill in.
Drag and drop
Drag-and-drop tools such as 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 specialised functions (online shop, user area, etc.), I quickly reach my limits here, at least as far as the free versions are concerned. Moreover, my website is only displayed free of advertising and without clear design branding with paid accounts, which function like a subscription.
From these prerequisites, new specifications have in turn developed. Now there are specialised WordPress developers who only deal with WordPress and PHP, but unfortunately also such "web designers" who offer low-quality websites for too much money through drag-and-drop.
At first glance, it really looks as if our profession could become extinct in the next few years. You almost get the feeling that our expertise will soon no longer be needed. If everyone can now put together their own website or buy themes for little money, how can I as a web designer justify the fact that a website can cost several thousand euros, depending on its scope? And do I have to adjust my prices to remain competitive?
What can we as web designers do that these tools can't?
We create websites that are 100% aligned with the corporate brand. Our websites focus on the user and their experience. We put ourselves in their shoes, track their potential errors and prevent frustration before it happens. We keep the website up-to-date, manage its security and are in personal contact with our clients.
While a template is tailored to a wider audience, I engage with my client and 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 area. With my websites, my client knows 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 the creation of a complete corporate identity, sometimes just a landing page and sometimes even just advice.
Domains, Backend & Responsive Design
We webdesigners are familiar with domain hosting, know how to get dive into code and backend, can find and fix bugs. Very few programs offer a sufficiently mature 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 sizes, legal backgrounds. Why does the flow of a website look harmonious? How much text is too much? How do we arrange information in such a way that it is easily digestible for the reader - and thus reaches him in the first place?
These are tasks we deal with every day. Tasks, which are foreign to beginners and are not covered by themes and page builders.
How do I personally deal with it?
Do I adjust my prices? No. My time and knowledge have not lost 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 fine.
Especially as a new entrepreneur, these costs are often not factored in. I even recommend these clients to use such construction kit tools. To sit down for an afternoon, watch tutorials and create the website themselves. I offer my advice and explain the advantages and disadvantages. 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 missing, I even offer to give short introductions to these tools.
We simply have to be aware that not everyone needs a professionally created website and can use the ready-made tools accordingly in a positive way.
Websites are marketing tools and, depending on the services I offer with my company, "off-the-shelf" websites are also sufficient.
And it is not uncommon for these very clients to come back to me later when they have the financial means to get a website professionally tailored to them.
In these times - when almost all information is publicly available and accessible - this does not automatically mean that we have the time and patience to deal with it. The profession of tax consultant is not extinct, despite tools like WISO or Elster exist. Qute the contrary: we still need his professional advice.
Perhaps in the same way our profession will evolve a little more away from the practical but towards the consultative function. That our future customers "develop" more themselves with the help of our expert guidance.
Anyone who works with technology cannot afford to stand still either, of course. Just as the profession of web designer has been constantly changing since its inception, it will have to adapt again and again in the future. We must constantly consider our value compared to automated programs and continue to expand it.
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Conclusion: Change means further development
We can specialise in different areas and focus more on the user and their experience, for example. Digital experiences are becoming more and more individualised. Who knows, maybe in the future we will 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. But how we communicate this information in the future, there are no limits to our creativity - and we have a head start on automated programmes.
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.