Last week an article came out from Smashing Magazine titled “Does the Future Of the Internet Have Room for Web Designers?” Our web guy at work sent me a link as soon as it came out and then @LizStrauss, among others, tweeted it over the weekend.
I have a lot of thoughts and sentiments about the issue. As an agency person, I would love to tell you that there is only one real answer to this question. I have a bias.
There is something I would like to add into the mixing pot, however. I think sometimes that in the marketing world, people think “design” just means “how something looks.” People say that a well-designed ad is good because it is aesthetically pleasing. The design of a website is judged on how the website looks and any fancy, cool programming the site offers. This is part of design, but it’s not the only thing. Design in marketing is like architecture. A good architect wants the building to look pretty, but she also wants the building to work the best way possible.
In the information age, information needs to be accessible
The argument that Smashing Magazine makes is that people aren’t really visiting websites anymore because everything is becoming app-based via mobile devices. When people do go to websites, they want the site to be simple, easy to navigate, and they want it to be attractively utilitarian. To me, this would be a reason for more web designers, not fewer. You see, a web designer’s ultimate job, when it comes right down to it, is to make sure that a person who has no idea where they have landed can find the information he or she is looking for. Drop-down menus, easy navigation, sensible site maps – these are all part of what web designers offer.
In an era when content is king, it seems to me that this would be the ultimate time for web designers and web design to shine. Companies have key pieces of data that they want visitors, leads, prospects, and existing customers to find. While this seems easy, it takes expertise in how the web works to bring other people into a world and, without live support, help them find not only what they need, but also what the website owner wants them to find. It takes a nuanced balance of giving information and selling. It means walking a fine line between offering enough information to avoid frustration, yet also enticing people to stay a little longer and dig a little deeper.
Not just an online question
The article in Smashing Magazine is symptomatic of what is going on throughout the marketing world. “Oh, we don’t need those people, we don’t need these people. We don’t need professional photographers, right? We don’t need people who have studied art and graphics because we can kind of sketch things out now, and there are programs that make it serviceable. And after all, people are just after information. They don’t care what things look like.
I have my doubts about how much of that is really true. I think that people want to access information with ease, but I think they gravitate towards places that make the search pleasing and maybe even fun/informative. Whether we are talking about an ad, a sell sheet, or a website, “design” means more than just making something pretty. It’s making a beautiful cooking knife that glistens in the kitchen light and cuts a can as easily as a tomato. It’s making a car that makes everyone jealous and yet also has great gas mileage.
That’s what design means to me. How about you?
image by Zsuzsanna Kilian. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/nkzs