I hear it almost once a week now.
Someone looked at getting into web design but decided there wasn’t much of a future in it.
Because of new technologies and all the dang drag & drop website builders like SquareSpace, Wix, WordPress, etc.
People imagine a world where pretty soon all you’ll have to do is fill out a little survey and out pops an award-winning website.
The Truth About Web Design Careers
Listen, I can’t tell the future BUT I do believe there will always be a need for good web designers.
Don’t get fooled by the sensational blog titles out there trying to reel you in with some crazy headline.
BUT, even though web design careers aren’t going anywhere any time soon, it doesn’t mean web designers are immune to every change that’s going to happen in our industry.
If you’re not careful you might find you and your services as a web designer obsolete because of new platforms and services that come out that can do what you do in half the time at a fraction of the cost.
So, what do we do to keep our web design careers from going the way of the Dodo bird (aka becoming extinct)?
Let’s talk about a few things you can do to make sure your career as a web designer last a long, long time no matter what fancy new gadget comes out between now and the time you retire.
1. Commodity vs Differentiated Products
Okay, we’re starting out in the deep end here. Let’s talk a little bit about some economic terms and how they relate to us as web designers.
In Economics there are two types of products:
- Differentiated Products
Commodities are things that could come from anywhere and the buyer wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
For instance, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between two bushels of wheat if you bought it from a farm in Iowa or Kansas.
Do those states make wheat? I don’t know. I’m a web designer.
Since there isn’t a great deal of difference between wheat you buy from Iowa vs. wheat you buy from Kansas, the wheat farmers don’t have much of a say in how they price their wheat.
After all, if the farmer from Iowa jacks up his prices everyone is just gonna say, “Fine. We’ll buy our wheat from the farmer in Kansas.”
That makes it a commodity.
On the other hand, a differentiated product is on the other end of the spectrum from a commodity.
A differentiated product is something that is unique and different from all of its competitors.
As a result, folks that produce differentiated products are able to set their prices as they see fit. The market doesn’t dictate what they make from a sale NEARLY as much as a commodity.
Think of an iPhone. It is uniquely different than other phones out there.
Now, listen, I’m not trying to argue about whether an Android or iPhone is the best to use. But, the fact that there’s an argument at all kind of proves the point.
How does this relate to you as a web designer?
If you want to keep yourself from going out of business you’ve got to figure out how to keep from becoming a commodity.
There are two ways to do that
The first one is pretty obvious, if the work you do for clients is no different from the work they could do on their own using SquareSpace or Showit, you’re in danger of becoming a commodity.
So, you’ve got to make sure that you are able to produce something reasonably better than what you’re client could make on their own with the latest and greatest technology.
The second part of the equation is Marketing.
And, I’d argue that marketing is ACTUALLY MORE IMPORTANT than quality.
Let’s take our Apple iPhone example a little bit further.
One could argue that you could reasonably get all of the features available from an iPhone on an Android FOR A FRACTION OF THE PRICE.
So, why do so many people (myself included) line up at Apple store every time a new iPhone version hits the market?
It’s because of Apple’s marketing.
The same has to be true for you as a web designer.
Listen, I’m not saying you need to make crappy websites and trick people into thinking they’re top of the line.
People will find out fairly quickly and pretty soon you won’t be getting much business.
BUT, you need to know how to talk about yourself in such a way that a potential client can really SEE the value they’ll be getting from you vs. doing it themselves or hiring someone at a cheaper price.
I know this is hard for a lot of people. It can tend to seem like you’re bragging.
You might even think to yourself, “If they can’t see how much I’m worth then they aren’t worth my time.”
But, that’s just not how business works. You’ll likely leave a lot of opportunity on the table because you were unwilling to learn how to market yourself well.
So, step one in securing a long career as a web designer is to learn how to market yourself that sets you apart from other options.
2. Opportunity vs. Threat
Want to know something ironic?
I work for one of those website builders that a lot of folks think are killing opportunities for web designers. ?
It’s called Showit and it’s by far one of the best website builders I’ve used as a professional web designer.
Want to know something else even more ironic?
We have a group of designers that we send people to. Some easily make 6 figures a year designing websites on OUR drag and drop platform.
Some have big agencies where they employ other people to help them build websites because they’ve got too much demand to do it all on their own.
But, there’s another reality out there for some web designers.
I know some people that have left web design altogether because they couldn’t compete with the new technologies that were coming out like SquareSpace or WordPress page builders.
So, what’s the difference between people that gave up on web design because of new technologies coming out and folks that now use those technologies to run high six-figure web design businesses?
One saw the changes as a threat and the other saw the changes as opportunities.
If you want to stay in business as a web designer despite what type of changes happen in the future you’ve got to be excited about the new stuff that is bound to come out rather than nervous about it.
Some of this will take a willingness to grow and learn and adapt. BUT, good news is if you learned your way into web design you can learn your way into whatever new thing comes out.
But, you have to make sure you’re not allowing yourself to be troubled about new technologies making you obsolete.
Be an early adopter and create a new, better market.
3. Time vs. Money
What makes more sense?
For a business owner to spend a ton of time learning a platform only to find out at the end that the site they built didn’t turn out nearly as good as they had hoped it would.
For them to spend time doing what they know how to do best to make money and grow their business.
I had a similar scenario recently.
We decided to redo our bathrooms.
It’s something I’ve done before personally and I was confident I could do it again.
But, something happened when I started working on the upstairs bathroom.
I had an epiphany.
I could be using my time to remodel this bathroom and it would save me some money OR I could build a website for someone, take the money from that and pay someone ELSE to remodel this bathroom for me.
AND, after it was all said and done, I’d have some money left over.
So, you want to know who did the downstairs bathroom? NOT ME!
I was building a website for someone.
And, guess what, the downstairs bathroom looks better than the upstairs because it was done by a pro.
The same is true for a lot of businesses. Sure, they probably could take the time to build out their website and it’d probably be fine.
But, at the end of the day, they can make more money focusing on the things they are good at.
4. Big Problems vs. Small Problems
Like Ran Segall from Flux Academy mentioned, simply building a website is a small problem. And, if all you’re trying to do as a web designer is solve a small problem then I’m sorry to say you will one day become obsolete.
BUT, there are a lot of bigger problems that you can address as a web designer.
There’s messaging, brand alignment, conversion, bounce rate, accessibility. The list goes on and on.
A good web designer will know how to help with more than just the look of a site. And, those things are something that can take a lot of time and a lot of trial and error to know how to do well.
At the end of the day, no one wants a website.
They want what the website has to offer them and their business.
They want to grow and make more money and a website is one avenue of many to make that happen.
There’s an old adage that says, “No one wants a drill. They want a hole in the wall.”
If you’re just trying to sell pretty websites then you will have a tough time competing with a simple drag and drop builder.
BUT, if you’re trying to solve big problems for your clients like bringing in more money to their business through their website you will never lack for work.
5. Man vs. Machine
Technology has come a long way. It’s pretty incredible actually.
It’s estimated that truck drivers will be almost completely replaced by self-driving vehicles by as early as 2027.
No more huge gas station stops complete with showers, chair massagers and a full-service Taco Bell along the highways, ya’ll ?
But, compare something like driving a package from one point to another to making something beautiful.
How do you know if something is beautiful?
Just because it’s beautiful to you does that make it beautiful to everyone else?
These are questions that philosophers have debated and scientists have tried come to conclusions on for centuries without success.
Creativity in the same sense is just not something that’s easy quantify.
I could be wrong but I can’t imagine that there will be a technology that can replace the creativity of a single human being any time in the near future IF EVER.
Not only that but when computers were first invented it was estimated that they would reduce the hours of a workweek for employees by HALF.
Have they done that? No…
If anything they’ve made more and more work for us to do.
The good news is creativity is something you can develop as a web designer for the rest of your career if you put the effort into it. And, I’m willing to bet you’ll be able to outpace a computer any day.
6. Microwaves vs. Fast Food
The microwave came out in 1964.
It would have been reasonable to assume that fast-food restaurants would have had a run for their money.
I mean didn’t the service provided by a fast-food restaurant get pretty much swallowed up by the very purpose of the microwave?
You didn’t even have to leave your house and you could have a meal in minutes.
But, do we still have fast-food restaurants? Yes.
In fact, the industry exploded.
In part because the fast-food restaurants made meals that were BETTER than what a microwave could make AND in part because the restaurants started ALSO USING microwaves to cook their food.
The same is true for web designers.
There will always a market for quick and cheap websites. That won’t ever go away.
BUT, there will always be a market for really well done websites that are high-priced.
The point isn’t to try and keep the microwave from hitting the market. The point is to decide which one you want to be.
There are web design agencies that focus on cheaply built sites that have a quick turn around. And, you know what? They’re doing great.
They’re the microwave version of web designers.
Then there are agencies that focus on high quality, expensively built websites who are also doing great.
Those folks are the 5-star sit down restaurants you visit only on special occasions.
And, there’s every where in between as well!
Guess what? You’ve got a choice in what kind of food service…or errr web designer you want to be AND THERE’S A MARKET FOR IT ALL.
New technologies don’t close down markets, they create them!
With a new technology comes a new choice for you to make as a web designer.
But, it definitely doesn’t have to mean you should close up shop.
7. You vs. Yourself
As a web designer, I find you’re always challenged by some unfamiliar requirements for a project.
In fact, in the early days, there was rarely any job I did that I didn’t have to do a crazy amount of googling to get the job done.
It’s the nature of freelance clients to ask for more out of you than you are confident of, AND It’s in our nature to grow and explore. TO LEARN NEW STUFF!
So, even if your title is “web designer” you will likely have skills in digital marketing OR conversion rate optimization OR something similar.
And, eventually, you’ll be able to use those skills and pivot in a direction that might be better suited for you OR more in demand where you are.
When I started, I hadn’t even heard of a UX designer before.
But, I got introduced to it through clients that needed some UX work done. They could have found someone else BUT they just liked me and wanted to give me a shot.
That’s how I learned the skills that landed me in the position I have today.
A web designer is not a far cry from a UX designer. They share a lot of the same skills.
And, sometimes people say web designer and they mean UX designer or frontend developer.
So, you’re not pigeonholed to one discipline just because that’s what you spent time learning.
At the end of the day, I can’t predict the future.
No one knows for sure what lies ahead for web designers.
But, I think we have good enough reason to believe that drag and drop website builders aren’t killing web design careers and our roles won’t become obsolete any time soon.
People will always need good web designers. Business owners will always want to focus on their strengths more AND you will always be able to learn more and more along the way that makes you more valuable.
So, keep learning web design OR get started.
There’s never been a better time.