As a member of the web design industry, I’ve been immersed in the going-ons of various industry trends, practices, and activities. For my own benefit, I think it’s critical to assess and analyze the state of the web design industry.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of everything that is happening in the industry. To make such a list would be too exhaustive. Instead, I boiled my list down to the few items that I think will have an impact on the industry within the next six to 12 months.
I would also impress upon those not in the web design field to skim through this. Many of these trends extend beyond web design into other industries. The web is tying things together. To operate successfully in most fields today, you must have a solid understanding of how the web works. This list could help you direct where you need to improve your own knowledge.
Price Chasers Continue to Get Screwed
Unsurprisingly, there are still a good number of people who get fooled into aiming for the lowest price possible with the expectation of quality work. With the growth of sites like craigslist.org and outsource-havens like Elance, the ability to give chase to the low-ballers is even easier. Sometimes the price chasers get lucky and find the results they’re looking for at rock bottom costs, but most of the time they get screwed. Some price chasers never leave the chase and continue to have sub-quality work delivered over and over again. However, some do break the cycle and run to more reputable firms and freelancers.
Barriers Continue to Shrink
Let’s face it: web design is getting easier and easier to do. Anyone with an ounce of motivation, ability to learn, some time, and a computer with the necessary software can open shop. I’m not saying these people are any good. The point above, though, proves that you don’t have to be good to get clients. As long as the barriers to entry diminish, so will the overall quality of work produced as well as the reputation of the industry. Unfortunately, the price chasers enable this crowd.
Quality More Important Than Ever
Quality is becoming an ever-increasing differentiator for more established web design firms. Established firms usually have the talent, resources, and knowledge to deliver true quality work. As more and more people understand the value of the web, they will look for quality to maximize this value. These clients are not price chasers because they have money and an understanding of value.
Consumers Getting Smart
As computers and technology become more entrenched in society, the level of technical knowledge required to operate on a personal basis will also increase. The ease of access to this knowledge has made efforts to advance technical competence more surmountable. Tools and applications are becoming simpler making them easy to use by average consumers.
Consumers are also becoming more intelligent in regard to the industry. With the spread of industry content through blogs and social networking platforms, consumers can learn about the web design industry and practices.
Features Falling to Benefits
Web design used to be a very feature-driven marketplace. Clients wanted a Flash splash page, cool buttons, a blog, widgets, and so forth. Since the ease of delivering such features has dramatically increased, features no longer have the allure they once had. Instead, people are focusing on value and strategy.
What can a web site do for my organization? How can it improve my ROI? These are where client questions are going to shift toward.
Freelance on the Rise
With the economy hitting record lows and the web design industry experiencing a lowered barrier to entry each year, the number of freelancers will be on the rise. People getting laid off or taking deep pay cuts will look for new sources of income. Since freelance web design is simple to start, many people will see it as an easy way out.
In a crowded marketplace, differentiation is key.
Templates Infecting the Marketplace
Templates have their place in web design, but they are unfortunately increasing in popularity and numbers. New marketplaces such as Envato make the promulgation of such templates rather simple. Web designers can only make money through volume thus increasing their motivation to sell more templates.
The infection of templates in the marketplace may or may not increase. Many consumers are weary of template-based designs. Instead, templates may serve as a great fit for price chasers.
Web 2.0 Going Mainstream
Since consumers are getting smarter, their knowledge of Web 2.0 trends is beginning to take root. Web site integration with social networking applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn will increase. Even requests to adopt fads such as light-reflecting buttons and mirror logos will increase.
Web 2.0 is still rather young and has not reached maximum market penetration yet. When it does, certain firms prepared to take on this business will flourish.
Content Management is Essential
Consumers are beginning to understand the power of content. With such an understanding, they want more control over their web site content. Implementation of content management systems, especially WordPress and Drupal, will continue to spread throughout the marketplace. Many web design firms also operate custom content management systems. These will probably decline with the popularity and wider understanding of the aforementioned open source systems. The custom systems that do not die off will rapidly evolve into superior tools.
SEO is King
The mix of smarter consumers and value-driven motivations has translated into a high demand for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Many consumers are aware of SEO and the need to be recognized in search engines. However, many consumers continue to exhibit a lack of education when it comes to SEO. They will learn.
Flash is Dying
Flash is becoming useless expect in special needs circumstances. Since most applications of Flash are useless, annoying, or SEO-harmful, consumers are beginning to understand that it is an unnecessary cost and burden. Many Flash functions can also be replicated using much easier methods such as jQuery that do not shield content or rely as heavily on compatibility. Flash will either die or transform into something else.
Mobile Design Beginning
With the release of web-driven phones such as the iPhone, many clients will want their web sites to work on such devices. Fortunately, designing for iPhones is relatively easy. And since Flash does not work on the iPhone, this will only contribute to its death or transformation.
Mobile applications are also taking root. New uses will be found on an organization-level, and the development of such applications will become easier. There is still time, though, for designers and developers to learn and understand this new field.
The days of graphic-heavy web sites are ending. With a huge focus on content, social networking, and users — consumers and clients alike are demanding simpler web sites. Minimalism addresses this demand by offering a web presence that is light on graphics and design, and strong on content.
Yellow Pages Will Fall
Like the old hat newspaper media, the Yellow Pages will also fall. The death spiral has already begun and many advertisers are jumping ship. Heaps of phone books sit outside offices untouched. As advertisers make the conversion to Pay-Per-Click advertising, they will demand improvements to their web presence. Since many of these advertisers are stuck in the past, the learning curve will be significant. In their struggle to understand the web, they will probably become value players instead of price chasers since the Yellow Pages once served as a huge source of business that needs to be replaced.
Measurement is Essential
Since many clients will shift their mindset toward value, measurement is an essential tool in analyzing whether or not that value is paying off. Implementation and understanding of web stat analysis applications such as Google Analytics will continue to increase. These applications will be tied more closely to specific web site activities such as lead generation.
Information Architecture Becoming More Important
With bigger plays on value, information architecture will serve as an important catalyst for doing things right. Strategizing and structuring web presences based on information architecture conventions, documentation, and usability studies will become increasingly important. Only a handful of firms will realize this and be able to offer such value-driven services.
CSS Taking Over
Tables will go away except under specific circumstances such as contact forms or tabular data. CSS makes things easier and it will soon be the only way to design web sites.
Browser compatibility will also become less of a problem as older browsers die off or lose support.
An underlying trend in the web design industry is rapid evolution. Things change at a very fast pace. Within a year, a quarter of the things mentioned in my list may be rendered obsolete. That’s life on the web.
All we can do is learn, adapt, and practice.