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Think how far we have come. From early web designs to the visual content we now experience has meant huge technology innovations, creativity, and passionate designers who will always reach for the next level of UX. And that’s what it is really all about – UX. And user demand, coupled with the platforms that are to come, will put visual designers in charge of the web’s future.
A Little History
A lot of us remember the early days of Photoshop. Take an image and place it into a photo – a balloon or a teddy bear into a picture of a child. At that point, we realized that computers could actually be a platform for creativity.
Soon after that came Dreamweaver, and web designers could drag and drop things into a screen, although some of it was pretty frustrating. Images could not be centered, and webmasters disapproved of things that “needed more work.”
Then a lot of designers moved to coding – HTML and CSS. They taught themselves; they took classes, and they learned.
And then along came adaptive and responsive standards. Static design gave way to a more favored dynamic design. Unfortunately, a lot of designers who were looking to adapt saw neither code nor Photoshop as a good option.
Most designers have forgotten, however, that browser-based design was the first of all. That happened in 1991 when Tim Berners-Lee released the WorldWideWeb – the first web browser. Prior to this, there were no ways to graphically build websites. Tables were created a few years later.
Coding tables was really tedious, and designers were looking for some way to draw them. That’s the reason Frontpage, DreamWeaver, and others came along. They were pretty much nightmares. They served a purpose – beginners could start building websites, although looking back, the coding was pretty horrible. The remainder of website design history since then has been Photoshop, until designers began to figure out CSS – a savior.
The Current Situation
So, there are two design approaches right now – coded design in the browser or Photoshop-first. But in looking at these, both may be coming to the end of the road.
Mocking up everything in Photoshop first has been falling out of favour.
The problems with this approach are many, and pretty well-documented. The process of mocking up everything in Photoshop first has been falling out of favour for years, as fast as code-savvy designers can convince their clients to let it go.
- Photoshop doesn’t display web pages the way browsers do; so it’s harder to show the client how the site really works.
- Photoshop renders fonts differently.
- Responsive design is basically triple the work.
- It can be a lot harder to make site-wide style changes in the design phase. (To be fair, recent versions of Photoshop have attempted to address this problem with varying degrees of success.)
- When a designer doesn’t know how HTML and CSS work, it can be a real pain trying to translate their design to the browser.
In short, Photoshop-first design has trouble keeping up with the realities of building websites.
Coming from a Photoshop-first background, it took me a while to get into browser-based design.
Going from a blank canvas where seemingly anything was possible to a blank web page where I had to write code to make anything happen was a big change for me.
Designing your site with HTML helps you learn to write better code.
Once I saw the benefits, I became a strong proponent of it. Designing your site with HTML forces you to think about logistics, learn to write better code, become familiar with each browser’s quirks, capabilities, and more. I felt more creative in Photoshop, but I learned to be a lot more practical by designing in the browser.
Now, though, I am forced to ask myself if there might be a better way. As people copy and paste their way through the design process with endless templates and frameworks, I find myself asking if I lost something important when I ditched Photoshop and that strangely inspiring empty canvas.
Besides that, there are other issues:
- It’s not beginner-friendly. At all. I saw someone tell a would-be web designer to start by learning “HTML, CSS, and git”. git! If it hadn’t been for Dreamweaver, I wouldn’t be here.
- It’s harder to iterate through design options and just let stuff go if it doesn’t look right. Coding something up can take a while, and if it doesn’t work for the design, it can be frustrating to just delete it.
- Depending on the designer, it can slow down the design phase by a lot.
The new approach
Naturally, drag-and-drop website builders haven’t gone away. They have, however, seen a drastic evolution. Gone are the clunky desktop programs that were frequently, sadly left behind by newer technology. Now, we have web-based software-as-a-service platforms.
They’re based on modern web standards, everybody gets the same version, and they make better code. No seriously, with code frameworks, better file and resource management, and over a decade of new knowledge put into their creation, the code is a lot better than it was.
We get that old canvas back, where we can drag and drop things in fast, or delete them faster. We can iterate endlessly, and all within the practical constraints of a browser. People can test their designs at any resolution they like. Even better, the learning curve is a lot easier to manage.
This means that the internet of the future will in many ways be led, once again, by visual designers. Having learned the value of user experience design, page speed optimization, and other more technical things, it’s time we got back to that blank canvas. That’s where I had all my best-looking ideas, anyway. If we can get away from using the same templates over and over, the future of the Internet could look very interesting indeed.
The technology for a quality visual website builder is here, and it’s the right time for it. Give it a chance, because it’s the future of small-to-medium-sized websites in any case.
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.