Remember the 1990’s when the word engaging first crept into the web design lingo. Web designers started designing what experts began referring to human-centric design, one that could involve humans. As far back as the 1960’s, RS Nickerson had said, ‘‘the need for the future is not so much computer oriented people as for people-oriented computers’’. Since the 1990s web design and web development had undergone continuous changes when JavaScript became the norm for creating more dynamic, engaging websites. The trend towards responsive designs lead to the creation of Content Management Systems like WordPress and Drupal, and web design became accessible to the masses without specialized knowledge of coding. The transition has been fast, and with the advent of devices of varying size and form, the user experience factor started getting center stage. So, is web design dead?

Web Design becomes a misnomer

Easy access to powerful Content Management Systems has made designing websites easier. Although it is more comfortable and accessible to those that don’t have a background in coding, web design as a discipline sure hasn’t met its demise. There are multiple facets to it now than just designing static web pages. User experience, dynamic websites, and visual design are the big things now. Responsive web design is the trend, and most of it is being designed using content management systems. Content now needs to be rendered on laptops, phones, and tablets of differing sizes and regardless of the device, websites need to look good and provide the same user experience across all devices.

Web design has thus extended to encompass a whole lot more that considers the entire web ecosystem. The web ecosystem now consists of multiple web applications and social networks, which calls for both front-end and back-end development skills. This complexity implies that it is not just about page design aesthetics anymore but what is being seen as the rise of full-stack development. This means being conversant with tools like React and development tools like Node.js.

Tools like Macaw and Webflow have changed the design paradigm. With simple drag and drop features, one can build great functional websites. Moreover, the code generated is clean, is W3C compliant, and are often much better than websites coded meticulously by hand. Well HTML and CSS are surely not going away unless browsers are changed drastically, or the web works is completely rediscovered. What is happening is that the code that goes behind designing the web is just being hidden behind wonderful WYSIWYG systems. However, since there are innumerable possibilities of accomplishing a layout, it may be unlikely that any system will be able to execute all those combinations to output optimal code. Not until self-learning systems become robust enough.

The rise of visual design

People are speculating on whether artificial intelligence and machine-learning capabilities could completely takeover web design. The way intelligent computing has grown to be all pervasive, it is no longer in the realm of science fiction. The possibilities are there but not in sight immediately. What has however happened is that visual development has really come of age. Visual development grew as a discipline mainly because of the disconnect between programmers and the designers. While a web designer would create great mockups, it was increasingly becoming difficult for programmers to implement that vision. With visual development, the creative design happens alongside code development and not without it. The code is built in the background while the drag and drop abilities help the designer experiment with intricate aspects of design that wouldn’t have been possible in a mockup. Thus, development is hands-on, and the ability to create designs that would interact well with other parts of the system is easier. The development process is also quicker as there is no time lag between conceptualizing or creating a mockup and the actual development. It brings inefficiencies too as the tools build the code alleviating the need for any hard coding.

That’s where web designers are scaling up. Since HTML and CSS are not required to be written, designers are instead concentrating on building the software, maybe coding just the extensions that are needed on top of the code generated by the visual tools.

Futuristic web design

The developments in visual design definitely show that in a couple of years, most web applications and software will be built without the need for hand coding. While the good design does require a lot of creative skills, tools like Autodesk Dreamcatcher are changing the narrative. Given goals, constraints, and a problem, the system can generate multiple designs, which leaves the designer with just a requirement to pick the best combination that meets the purpose.

Designs generated by Artificial Intelligence tools are no longer a dream. Reinforcement learning is an ongoing research area and companies like Google have successfully developed programs like Deep Q that are capable of learning and improving over time. There would be a time when a designer would just need to supply the models to an AI tool to create the designs. In fact, the Artefact program, a program that explores the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare, has successfully found out design changes required for changing patient behaviors.

Designers have through the ages been problem solvers, helping find solutions to the problems of the day. Be it the iPhone or the driverless car, and designers have used their experiences to create human-centric solutions. Take Facebook as an example. It was the need to connect, to socialize that saw web designers create a social platform. Similarly, the emergence of conversational interfaces is changing the way humans interact with the web. The need to fit multiple functionality and services into one small screen is seeing the growth of natural language processing capabilities in computing systems.

The opportunities are immense. While it is a distinct possibility that the future websites would be created entirely visually or even better by artificial intelligence systems, the role of a designer isn’t likely to go away. It will evolve to a point where designers would be visualizing the interactions that are required with AI systems. Designers would be engaged in helping AI design tools augment human creativity perhaps.